The future of transit is self-driving medium sized vehicles with no fixed routes or schedules


Most of our focus these days is on self-driving personal cars. In spite of that focus, the effects on mass transit will also be quite dramatic, in ways far beyond taking the driver out of the bus. Indeed, for various reasons, I believe traditional approaches to mass transit (large vehicles on fixed routes and schedules, sometimes with private right-of-way) will be obsoleted by robocar technology, and that the result will be almost 100% good -- transportation that is better, faster, more convenient and even more sustainable. (The latter shocks people, who think that anything with small vehicles is inherently less energy efficient.)

I have a new special article on outlining potential visions for the future of transit, and what they might mean. The vision is a work in progress, but I invite debate.

Click for The Future of Mass Transit


For a wider audience to fully understand and rebroadcast these visions, you may want to solicit (or even commission) illustrations.

For this most recent installment, I'm thinking especially useful images could be...

• a typical solocar-to-RoboVAN transfer lot

• the 8-door, 16 'business class' seat RoboVANs themselves: interior & exterior

• rail rights-of-way refit with pavings and fly-arounds to mix in wheeled vehicles

I have been meaning to get some but have just not had the time and I was sitting on the article too long.

Yes, I want illustrations of these very things. The van actually only needs 4 doors for the 4 rows (emergency punch out windows on the other side like a bus) though it would be faster to load and unload with 8 doors.

In addition the "doors" could be a single door which hinges up, providing rain shade, or two double-width doors. Unlike regular vans which have to be able to open the doors when parked in a parking spot, these vans don't need that, though if you can't open the doors after a flip that's why you need the emergency push out windows on the other side.

Another option is the last row people face backwards -- they get a picture window if they want, and more to the point they can put the seat over the wheel well which you need to do. Not everybody will face backwards but 1/4 of people would.

Several shapes of van are also possible, including 3 x 5 (a bit narrower and longer) and open floorplan with fold-down seats for super-peak times with most people standing, like many transit vehicles today. However, at some point you get the weight up where you are damaging the roads -- it's the 4th power of the weight, so you really want to avoid too many heavy vehicles.

Just found your very similar vision for the future of transit that I have been working with for a while, interesting! I saw one key feature required to make the service attractive enough for a wide acceptance: Privacy. Sharing a ride with unknown people in a small vehicle without a driver may feel uncomfortable and even unsafe for many people.
The solution I found out is very simple, separate cabins for each passenger, a CabiBUS.
In 2014 CabiBUS was nominated to the finale in an idea contest for the future of transit in Sweden.
I am quite confident that by 10 years from now, 2029, this concept will be the way most people do their daily trips, resulting in a big reduction of private (fossil fuel) cars on the streets and roads.
In evenings and weekends the vehicles can also be used for parcel delivery.

Yes, I have other articles outlining concepts like that, with private compartments. One of the big problems with doing such designs is that it must be easy if the vehicle rolls on its side and blocks the doors on that side, for people on that side to get out other ways. As such, I have been moving to more of a design with business class seats with low walls and privacy curtains, but you have to be able to easily get out the other side in an emergency.

I added roof windows in all cabins to make it possible to get out in case of accident.

Great read about replacing traditional mass transit with robotic vehicles. I see one issue, and that's the mapping systems. Let me give you an example. I recently took an Uber to a business I had never previously been to. My Uber driver had never been there either. As we approached where the Uber app said the business was, the driver's app instructed him to make a turn. The app directed him to the back entrance of a large parking deck, and declared, "you have arrived at your destination." Neither of us knew what to do. It took nearly half an hour for us to find the front door of the business. If the driver had ignored that last instruction to turn right and go to the parking deck and had gone straight instead, we would have arrived at the business 10 seconds later. But since neither of us had been there, all he could do was follow the app's instructions.

This happens a lot with Uber and Lyft, with mapping software that can get you to the general area of a destination, but cannot get you to the front door. And if you're going somewhere you've never been before, it's going to end in disaster.

Mapping will need to improve for this kind of system to replace mass transit. I hope it does.

Today they have errors like this because we mostly tolerate them. But would it have been so different had you been driving yourself rather than being driven by somebody else?

When it's robots driving, the maps will definitely mark the places where one stops for pick up and drop off at various locations, and how to get there. Today's maps don't have that, relying in people to figure it out when they get there.

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