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The Future of Transportation: Well-Funded Buses (Not Self-Driving Cars)

While autonomous vehicles still face regulatory and technical challenges, investment in basic transportation infrastructure like buses and bike lanes can go a long way toward improving safety and taking cars off the road.
May 12, 2021, 12pm PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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D-Link Bus
Philip Lange

Despite rosy predictions that autonomous vehicles would rule American roads by now, writes Jacob Silverman in The New Republic, the technology still faces plenty of challenges, signaled in part by major ride-sharing companies shedding their autonomous vehicle divisions. "Across the industry, autonomous vehicle efforts have proven to be stubbornly difficult to bring to fruition, consuming billions of R&D dollars and thousands of engineering hours. Meanwhile, the infrastructure needed to support autonomous cars—government investment in roads, highways, communications, along with proper regulatory oversight—remains inadequate to the challenge." But in order to increase safety on roads, "[w]hat we need are not more energy-efficient cars or self-driving cars … but fewer cars entirely," argues SIlverman. 

"In contrast to all the hype and expense of autonomous vehicles—along with the regulatory and technical and economic uncertainty—bicycles, sidewalks, and public transport work exceedingly well. They are known quantities that can be strengthened and made more accessible with a fraction of the resources that have been poured into A.V. research. They are safe and enhance the urban experience. They contribute few, if any, emissions and don’t enrich a handful of oligarchs at the expense of the common interest."

Instead of investing in "very expensive and glitzy pilot projects" that work, at most, as tourist attractions, Silverman proposes that "a better way of saving lives is to have fewer cars on the road, replaced by mass transit and other public options."

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Published on Monday, May 10, 2021 in The New Republic
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