Wednesday 18 April 2018

Is it a bus? Is it a cab?

How about a bub? Because I live in a rural backwater, I can speculate about a technological transport future and then find that it's already up and running in a more metropolitan hub. I was imagining that an autonomous vehicle would. because it could, deviate from its route to pick up someone who needed its services. The other passengers would be microscopically delayed but more people would have been satisfied. It's a utilitarian - greatest good for the greatest number - solution that appeals to me.

Buses, trams and trains are cheap and inflexible - especially trams and trains. Taxicabs offer a door-to-door service but cost a lot more for the convenience. I am really wary of taxis which I think are super expensive and have engaged in absurd work-arounds to avoid using them. My younger friends think nothing at all about missing the last bus, if the craic is mighty, and hailing a 'Joe Maxi' after midnight to deliver their drunken body home. It's only €20, they say. That's only 3 times my first weekly pay-packet I reply.

When I was a student, I had to deliver a tea-chest full of my gear from one bed-sit to another about 3 km away. I made a wooden trolley out of a short plank and four plastic shopping trolley wheels and pushed this skate board across the city after dark. It worked for a while, but one of the wheels failed under the stress of mounting yet another sidewalk and I more or less dragged the box the last 300m. I should have taken a leaf out of my Dad's book who had an argument with his landlady in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1946 and shifted his traps to another set of diggings further up Osborne Avenue. He had the foresight (and connexions) to borrow a wheelbarrow for 10 minutes. Nobody in my indigent student circle in 1974 owned a wheel-barrow and a taxi never crossed my mind.

The problem with buses is that they come when they please. Even if, as in Dublin now, there is a little display on some of the stops to indicate when the next bus is coming, you still have to stand at a bus-stop and wait in the rain until it arrives. Citymapper is an integrated transport planning App originating in London but now elsewhere like the Randstad in the Netherlands. Load it on your phone and you can find the nearest interface with the local public transport system and even find the most efficient way to get from I-am-here to D-for-destination. It's dynamic. It is data rich and that data is being processed by the company. At the end of last year, Citymapper realised that there was a gap in the market in East London. So they launched their own bub route.

The regulator TfL Transport for London was a little wrong-footed because they regulate buses and taxis in separate wings of the organisation and it is taking them time to open their minds to an addition to transport infrastructure which has elements of both modes. They are, for now, treating Citymapper's 'Smart Ride' [watch it shimmer] as a taxi which limits the number of seats to 8 including the [human] driver. Whereas CM's data analysis shows that it would be more efficient to run minibuses. App-based contact and 'time-table' and word-of-twitter publicity means that a new transport player can stat up really cheaply: no bus stops installed; no t-tables printed; no local radio ads. There needs to be regulation otherwise you have minibuses overtaking each other on blind corners to get to the next bus-stop first. But flexible routing and licensing is also important. We live in interesting times.

No comments:

Post a Comment