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Rebecca Solnit: Public Transit Is Greater Than Self-Driving Cars

Rebecca Solnit writes a pointed criticism of the wave of optimism attached to the self-driving car. Her preference: public transit.
April 11, 2016, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Mikel Ortega

Renowned author Rebecca Solnit begins an editorial for The Guardian by describing a utopian scene with a surprising (to some) setting:

I am rich beyond Google’s wildest driverless-car dreams; I own a fleet of swift and reliable driverless cars that take me where I’m going while I read or stare out the window or watch beautifully limber kids turf dancing in the aisles for my entertainment. I have been riding these liberating transportation marvels for many decades; I have seen the future; it is all of us in these driverless cars we already own together.

Solnit doesn't mean driverless cars in the way Google or Uber does, but she does mean one human driver "per 50 or 500 people"—otherwise known as buses, streetcars, trains, and ferries. According to Solnit, public transit means many city dwellers can afford to skip cars altogether.

Yet with the possibilities offered by transit, Solnit is dismayed by the growing attention paid to self-driving cars.

Here in the shadow of Silicon Valley, it is dismal to see the obsession with privatization when the shifts we need to respond to climate change should include enhanced public transit, both in what fuels those fleets and how well they serve us. Enhanced public transit and reduced private transit. 

The way Solnit sees it, self-driving cars are a mechanism by which humans can perpetuate the destructive consequences of the automobile age, while shirking the potential benefits of public transit.

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Published on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 in The Guardian
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