The Future of Public Transportation Technology
Public transportation is a necessary facet in so many lives today. From those who rely on publicly funded transport to get to schools and work to those who use public transport in big cities that do not effectively facilitate the use of private transportation such as cars, how this mode of traveling works affects countless people worldwide. Ohio University’s Online Civil Engineering program, which has a very large overlap with public transportation, reports that from 1995 to 2013, public transportation ridership has grown by a margin of 37.2%, outpacing population growth in the same span of time (“The Future of Public”). Public transportation also has wide-reaching effects in the realm of environmental sustainability. With fewer individual vehicles traveling at once, fewer emissions are released creating a more environmentally friendly alternative. Public transport has also been praised as a much safer method of relocation as they have a much lower fatality rate than cars. In an article from the United States Department of Transportation: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it was reported that in the year 2010, there were 32,885 fatalities due to car accidents on the highway alone; however, there were only 215 fatalities on public transit (Chambers). From the inception of public transportation with animal-drawn ferries to the current technological marvels such as maglev trains, the future of public transportation will involve the incorporation of artificial intelligence, environmentally conscious forms of transport, and faster speeds to connect remote places.
The Past of Public Transport
While not a new invention, public transport looks drastically different today than it did in its first forms. The first form of public transport was animal-drawn carriages and ferries, but this classification is not finite as these modes often only carried a few people; therefore, many consider the 1826 invention of the omnibus to be the first form of public transportation. The Omnibus only carried 8–10 people at a time in a frequently uncomfortable horse-drawn carriage (Wallas). Roads at this time were not yet suited for wheeled vehicles and being mainly cobblestone, many avoided the discomfort that came with the jostling of the car as the wheels hit the textured surface of the roads by choosing even further antiquated forms of travel.
Once again, this form of transportation is unrecognizable from the astounding technologies of today. As discussed in the Evolution of Urban Mass Transport in Britannica, “the history of urban mass transportation is first a story of the evolution of technology, from walking to riding animals, to riding in groups on vehicles pulled by animals and eventually to cable cars, larger-capacity steam-powered trains, electric trains, and motor buses powered by internal-combustion engines” (Schofer). Transportation in a public capacity has followed a path that is first and foremost driven by technological advancement. As society has developed the capabilities to create engines and vehicles that are quicker and more efficient our transportation sector has sped up to match that pace.
Current Public Transport Technologies
Currently, society’s public transportation sector is operating in varying degrees of disparity. The available technologies range from bullet trains as seen in Japan to the subway systems of New York City, to buses around cities, to rideshare apps that can be used anywhere. Furthermore, the MaaS, Mobility as a Service, software business has begun to take hold in many European states. MaaS is similar to programs like Lyft and Uber but instead, deals with existing operators that increase business efficiency and safety (Ota et al.). MaaS shares many similarities with some of the characteristics of cybernetic cities that will be discussed later in the article but it is not very environmentally efficient. It is a great alternative for accessibility standards; however, its practicality is comparable to that of rideshare applications.
The subway and metro systems available in many metropolitan areas are another current public transportation technology that is frequently referenced in this context. These systems are among the more environmentally sustainable of most public transportation technologies that exist today. They run entirely on electricity that is conveyed through a special conducting rail between the two tracks ensuring that the train always has a steady supply of power (Wilson). Although this is more efficient than other forms of travel, it can be costly with daily repetition and it requires a vast amount of power to run which is not always garnered in a sustainable manner. Furthermore, this form of transportation is nearly exclusive to metropolitan cities and urban hubs which do not account for the needs of those in more suburban and rural areas.
The Future of Public Transport Technologies
The future of these technologies is not entirely unfamiliar to some of the advancements we have already made. Many of the improvements are either an adjustment to current technologies or the expansion of those that work. Technology is often a reflection of societal changes as it progresses and transportation must also rise to meet the needs of those in that society. The blog, Future’s Platform, is dedicated to reporting on what the future may look like given the new technologies that are being produced and the changes the society is undertaking. The three authors of the post “12 Trends That Will Drive the Future of Transport” also have experience in this field being a foresight analyst, a futurist, and a foresight professional specializing in future intelligence respectively. They list the most important trends as remote work and distance education, high-speed travel, tourism, passenger economy, urban space redefinition, luminous pathways, solar panel roads, artificial intelligence, maritime transport, and environmentally-friendly options (Ota, et al.). These trends, as stated earlier, drive technology to meet the societal needs presented by people as the world changes.
Many of the large technological revolutions of the 21st century concerning the way that people travel have been large shifts rather than just individual technologies. The three main revolutionary shifts include the rise of autonomous vehicles, the use of vehicle electrification, and distributed energy (Roberts). Each of these technological shifts has a unique potential to drastically change the way that technology functions in the field of public transportation. The use of autonomous vehicles will improve the reliability and safety of transportation; the use of vehicle electrification will contribute to a greener method of transportation, and the use of distributed energy will make transportation more accessible and affordable.
Maglev Trains are not currently one of the most widespread technological advances in the field of public transportation but they are certainly one of the most advanced. The only existing systems are currently located in Japan, China, and South Korea. However, high-speed train networks (not all as sophisticated as bullet trains) exist in Spain, France, Germany, and China along with eleven other nations. These high-speed railway systems are classified as those with sections of railway that reach speeds of 250kmph or greater (“Everything You Wanted”). The maglev trains are based on magnetic repulsion and levitation that thrust trains forward without the hindrances of friction as well as a high speed of 431kmph (“Everything You Wanted”). This technology is not only more environmentally friendly but a much more efficient way to travel between large cities and around countries. With a more comprehensive application of these trains, emissions can be reduced for travel across larger spans of an area as well as travel time can be cut down to boost the economy amongst multiple different cities.
The Hyperloop system is a technology first invented by Elon Musk. This system is poised to rival the speed and environmental efficiency of the aforementioned maglev systems. This system works through “pneumatic steel tubes that transport pods to carry people from one end of the tube to another- all at supersonic speeds” (Lumenici). Inside of the tube is a vacuum-like state in which the tube can move with virtually negligible friction and run entirely on renewable energy sources. If properly implemented, the Hyperloop could result in a reduction in fossil fuel emissions by 58% if it replaced every flight ranging in the distance from 310 to 930 miles (Lumenici).
Furthermore, this technology is poised to be far more cost-effective than competitor high-speed systems. In the United States, “a high-speed rail network called the “California High-Speed Rail” has been approved at a staggering cost of more than 60 billion USD… In comparison, Hyperloop is expected to cost [USD]$6 billion” (Lumenici). This cost, which is ten percent of the projected cost of the other high-speed rail system, has the power to revolutionize transportation technology.
As with all technologies, the Hyperloop is not without variations, a competitive market, and those who fear the implications of such technologies. Within the market itself, there is a multitude of stakeholders including, but not limited to, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Virgin Hyperloop One, Hardt, Transpod, and DGWHyperloop. Despite these many companies entering into a growing sector of technological advancements, some claim that numerous jobs are at stake due to the growing use of computational labor. This point can be countered by showing that there are so many companies requiring employees in a growing technological field. This ensures that although some jobs may become obsolete due to this technology, other jobs will flourish and require new skill sets to keep up with the ever-changing technological needs of society.
Urban Trends and Cybernetic Cities
The notion of public transport has always been closely linked with urban areas. With much greater population density, efficient transportation infrastructure is a necessary part of everyday life and it is noted that technological configurations of these public transport systems are frequently correlated with the urban state itself. It is from this concept that the vision of a cybernetic city arises. One of the transport systems considered for this type of city is a European Union CityMobil project that involves a technology called the Passenger Application Matrix. This system of transport has the capability to cater to the individuality required for most transport today while helping to ensure that pollutant emissions remain low to negligible. This system would run through an automated car-sharing system that would allow users to simply use a cell phone app to find the nearest docking station, take an available dual-mode vehicle (cars with “ultra-low emissions, driver assistance systems, parking assistance, collision avoidance, and can be fully automated and driverless”), and go to their location’s nearest docking station (Alessandrini, et al.). The Passenger Application Matrix would use demographic and population information to determine where the cars would be located as well as ensuring that they can self-check for maintenance when necessary. In a time of increasingly individualized schedules and atypical hours, this form of transport that can be catered towards every individual’s needs is a step in the right direction.
This system also provides much greater mobility to those who have conditions that preclude them from using traditional forms of transport. Those with disabilities often cannot use typical forms of transport or have great difficulty in doing so. By allowing an individualized experience, the CityMobil project is creating greater accessibility to public transport. Public accessibility is becoming more and more of a necessity as opportunities improve for those with disabilities and those who face obstacles in their day-to-day lives; therefore this technology is welcomed with open arms.
The rapid improvements in public transportation serve many purposes in today’s society and provide a great benefit for those who use them. The future of public transportation technology is a broad and constantly adjusting field. As discussed earlier, public facilities, such as transportation, must reflect the needs and changes of society to properly serve the people. These needs, although different for each individual, are often broadly categorized which allows them to channel into specifically tailored public transportation innovations. The future of public transportation technology is a rapidly growing field that is currently innovating to meet the needs of environmental efficiency, high-speed travel, and the incorporation of artificial intelligence and smart technologies (self-automated vehicles).
Alessandrini, Adriano, et al. “Automated Vehicles and the Rethinking of Mobility and Cities.” Transportation Research Procedia, vol. 5, 2015, pp. 145–160., doi:10.1016/j.trpro.2015.01.002.
Chambers, Matthew. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2018, Transportation Statistics Annual Report 2017, cms7.bts.dot.gov/sites/bts.dot.gov/files/docs/browse-statistical-products-and-data/transportation-statistics-annual-reports/215041/tsar-2017-rev-2–5–18-full-layout.pdf.
“Everything You Wanted to Know about Bullet Trains.” The Economic Times, The Economic Times, 18 Sept. 2017, economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/transportation/railways/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-bullet-trains/what-is-a-high-speed-railway/slideshow/60731138.cms.
“Hyperloop — Is It the Future of Transportation?” Lumenci, Lumenci, 27 Oct. 2020, www.lumenci.com/post/hyperloop-future-of-transportation#:~:text=The%20Global%20Hyperloop%20Market&text=Currently%20valued%20at%20%241%2C870%20million,is%20burned%20to%20transport%20cargo.
Ota, Shiori, et al. “12 Trends That Will Drive the Future of Transport.” Future’s Platform, 29 May 2020, www.futuresplatform.com/blog/12-trends-will-drive-future-transport.
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Wilson, Tracy V. “How Subways Work.” HowStuffWorks Science, InfoSpace Holdings, LLC, 27 Jan. 2020, science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/civil/subway3.htm#:~:text=A%20few%20early%20subways%20used,equipment%20all%20run%20on%20electricity.&text=The%20third%20rail%20lies%20outside,to%20the%20train’s%20electric%20motor.