A Swedish Transit Agency Cuts Through the Autonomous Car Hype

We already have the technology to address a lot of the problems that self-driving cars purport to solve -- it's called a bus.

futureof_mobility

You can thank Västtrafik, a Swedish transit agency, for this great ad that spoofs driverless car hype.

The ad uses car commercial cliches — tight shots of a sleek exterior, an overbearing soundtrack — to express a point that doesn’t get made often enough: We already have the technology to address a lot of the problems that self-driving cars purport to solve.

Buses may lack the novelty and sheen of autonomous technology, but they have advantages that a four-door sedan never will — namely, the efficiency of moving more people in less space. And they work fine right now, not in five, ten, or 20 years. We should see buses held up as the elegant transportation solution they are more often.

Hat tip: The Verge

  • AnoNYC

    Well it’s sexy.

  • com63

    It seems obvious that as automated vehicles become viable, they will be very expensive and will first displace other vehicles that are already expensive to operate. I would guess the order will be:
    1. Buses
    2. Long distance trucking
    3. Taxis and TNCs
    4. POVs
    I think we will have autonomous buses long before we own autonomous cars.

  • I spent 10 years of my professional life riding a bus into downtown Denver from the suburbs, so I’m not anti-transit. That said, the whole reason such an advertisement is necessary is because people (by and large) do not want to ride buses. They never have and an advertisement like this isn’t going to change many minds. It’s the convenience factor…and time. A trip that takes 15 minutes by car or 20 by bicycle takes 30-40 by bus, especially when you consider first and last mile and time spent waiting for the bus to arrive. Buses work well in some situations, but in many they do not and the proof is that people continue to reject them whenever another option exists. Autonomous vehicles (shared and callable on demand) will work really well. The fact that there are new players in the space is exciting. It’s an emerging technology. Outcomes will include increased capacity on existing roads and more safety for all. What’s not to like?

  • Guy Ross

    Other than being free of established routs and not having a driver greet you when you enter, what exactly will make AVs ‘work really well’ despite the fact that buses suck?

    I also use a bus as an absolute last resort and totally agree, I just don’t get how AVs are an improvement other than offering some sort of more expensive premium service.

  • Hi Guy. Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a crystal ball so I may be way off base here, but I assume AVs would be a shared resource…I wouldn’t own my own AV so I would use a phone app to dial up a vehicle when I need it. It would show up and already know where to take me.

    Lots of advantages as I see it. I could dial up the perfect vehicle for each trip…a small vehicle when it’s just me or a larger vehicle for my family or team. My garage and driveway can be repurposed into the cabana and garden I’ve always wanted since I no longer need that space to store cars. I would choose to use a bike more than a car (something I already do) because I would think in terms of per trip cost instead of the sunk cost of a $30,000 asset.

    AVs would save states and municipalities billions on infrastructure by increasing the carrying capacity of existing roads. They’d likely be lighter and more fuel efficient. They’d be fleet vehicles, so properly tuned and generate lower emissions, etc. I’m sure I’m missing a lot but what I see more than justifies it, and I think that’s a primary reason why new players like Google are invading the transpo space.

  • zentierra

    I think that most, if not all of the problems you have mentioned with public transit would be solved with the implementation of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lanes, buses that come by 5 to 10 minutes (at most) apart -including weekends!-,better connectivity between routes, and greatly expanding both routes and lengths. Think Portland, Oregon, insofar as transit in the USA. Feel like taking a hike, or going on a camping trip…there’s a route to get you there:-)

    That also goes for pedestrian and bicycle travel, insofar as creating *fully BARRIER separated* lanes for pedestrians and bicycles…all it would take is the political will. It it the lack of it, and the sad lack of vision that keeps people in cars.

  • Jason

    People do not have some magical irrational hatred of buses in and of themselves. We see time and again that people are more than happy to take BRT, such as the Orange Line in Los Angeles. The reason people don’t want to take buses is a failure of planning. They sit in the same traffic as everyone else, but have to keep pulling in and out of it to make stops so they experience traffic worse than if they were going from point A to point B. This is a lot of the extra time that you experience.

    Then, they’re often nowhere near frequent enough. In Santa Monica for example there’s ONE bus line that runs better than every 20 minutes for more than a couple of hours a day, and none do so on the weekend. Exacerbating this, no thought is ever given to making connections work (say, timing intersecting routes so that they arrive halfway through each others’ headways, assuming that you don’t have the resources to just improve headways)—watching the bus you’re trying to connect to pull out just as you arrive, forcing you to wait the entire lengthy headway.

    And then on top of THAT, bus stops are built with no regard for the experience of waiting at one. You have the stereotypical sun-soaked smog-drenched LA bus stop bench, of course, but then you have transit agencies like Big Blue Bus spending lots of money to install “improved” bus stops that are STILL a complete fucking joke.

    To compare, people will avoid infrequent/unreliable trains too. Look at the G train in NYC. There’s a reason for the reputation of only crackheads and homeless people riding buses in cities where the buses run once an hour and may just randomly miss trip; who wouldn’t avoid that if they can at all afford it?

    Click on this link to see one of the “improved” Santa Monica bus stops: https://goo.gl/maps/bswjtzrcgr72

  • Jason

    I think autonomous vehicles will absolutely serve as an important last-mile bridge in areas that aren’t dense enough to support good transit. But cars still simply take up too much space to replace transit in dense urban settings.

  • thielges

    There’s a significant subset of Americans who have an aversion to riding in a shared vehicle. Some are motivated by a fear of germs. Others simply think riding the bus is low class. Others have fear of strangers. These folks will cling to the concept of a private car as the only acceptable solution.

  • thielges

    While the nonrecurring R&D costs of creating the first viable autonomous car are indeed very expensive, the per unit cost won’t be much greater than an ordinary car. Physically the only difference between a normal car and a self driving car is that the latter has a larger computer and an array of sensors. That might add 10-20% to the cost of an ordinary car.

    If any recurring cost makes em more expensive it will be the liability costs. When a self driving car causes a collision that is traced to an engineering defect, the manufacturer will be on the line to settle.

  • William Kay

    Bob how awful. In some areas in my country (UK) we now have buses that can keep up with cars but the best example of this can be seen in Turkey of all places where they have a bus line that departs every 14 to 15 seconds and peak travel times and drives along the highway in fully segregted lanes for a distance of up to 31 miles. The buses are never held up by cars and there are no same-level intersections.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4UdWr7RQVdw

  • Brandon

    before fully autonomous vehicle become available there are driver assisted vehicles. The driver will still have final control on their own vehicle. I think it will take long for the public to trust a bus with absolutely no Driver or other staff on board. With a train at least you know that there are at least a few attendants at each stop in case of emergencies.

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