Opinion: SANDAG wants fixed-route public transport, but driverless cars are the future


Norby is a member of Carlsbad City Council and a former San Diego County Planning Commissioner.

Thirteen years ago, in 2008, when I was the San Diego County Planning Commissioner, I became a BMW Field Test Driver behind the wheel of a Mini E electric car prototype. car powered by solar photovoltaic technology during those exhilarating prehistoric years before any production electric vehicle (EV) was ever made, we – BMW, Tesla, Nissan, General Motors, EV pioneers, makers and others – have collectively dreamed of , planned, held conferences, tried, hesitated, and ultimately succeeded in making a better automobile.

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At the time, it was the “better future” that I and many others imagined would save San Diego money on fuel costs, enriching family budgets and dramatically reducing or eliminating most. major source of emissions in our region: fossil fuel engines. .

Here’s the point: what was an unknown future that only a few thought possible just 13 years ago is the very reality today. Today we are at work envisioning the near future for even brighter and cheaper transportation.

There are two reasons why we should stop before proposing to tax the people of San Diego.

1. A historic change in our transportation system is just a few years away, a change that should give all of us a break as we plan for our future.

Just as safe as the transition to the EV over the past 13 years, we are now moving to autonomous transportation. This transition is an iterative process that is well underway. Depending on your optimism or pessimism, level 5 (or fully) autonomous driving in our cities is two to 15 years away. Currently we are at level 3 (conditional automation), quickly moving to level 4 (high automation) of the autonomy ladder.

Since the Ford Model T, a private car costs an average of 70 cents per mile to operate, on an inflation-adjusted basis. An Uber / Lyft ride costs $ 2.25 per mile, a cab ride costs $ 3.50 per mile, a bus or train ride is similar or more expensive than a cab when all subsidies are included.

Now imagine for the first time in history what will happen to the car’s already inherent benefits when the cost drops from 70 cents per mile for a private car to 25 cents per mile for an on-demand self-driving car. The lower cost is mainly due to the fact that the autonomous electric car will run 24 hours a day compared to one to two hours a day for a private car. This incredible future is near.

So far, the choices of our transport planners have largely been private cars or public transport. What are we funding the improvements for? In the very near future, the choices will expand to include passenger cars, public transport (on demand) and fixed route public transport.

The important question that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) should ask is, can fixed-route public transportation meet the transportation needs of, and serve the needs of, low- and moderate-income San Diego residents? lower costs and more convenience than an on-demand autonomous vehicle?

Remember that this is not only about service from home to work, but also trips to and from the store, visiting family, running errands, taking the kids to practice and running. other trips that may not be at the end of a train or bus line.

On-demand public transport, not private cars or public transport, will become the cheapest and most convenient way to get from point A to point B.

2. We are in an unprecedented global health pandemic with an unknown future.

Sadly, transit ridership on Coaster commuter trains has been decimated due to the COVID-19 pandemic – with an almost 90% drop between april 2019 and April 2021 due to the desire to distance oneself socially and to stay away from large groups, especially indoors for long periods of time. The private automobile has not suffered the same decline despite high fuel costs.

Will public transport ridership ever recover completely? Or will future generations of San Diegans be aware of social distancing, crowds inside and personal space as these become learned behaviors cemented in our consciousness? Will we choose to ride in vehicles with fewer people inside?

This question has the most serious ramifications for the number of transit riders, both now and in the future.

In conclusion, we have not faced a pandemic like this for 100 years. And we are on the cusp of the most dramatic change in transportation history.

Both of these events are historic and unprecedented, and both are reasons our civic leaders at SANDAG should stop for several years to see how these two events unfold. SANDAG does a great job and is well run; However, now is not the time to pick a winner who promotes several new taxes to pay off $ 160 billion in public transit, railways and central transit stations primarily with fixed route.


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