Saturday, October 30, 2004

Alternative Transport Solutions

According to the third BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) report from investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, India is projected to have the largest number of cars in the world, 611 million to be precise, by 2050. A number of people have been very happy by this report. But personally, it saddened me a great deal.

Let me go over my points in sequence with respect to different transportation solutions.

Intra-city Transport
There are two main reasons for owning cars. First is the convenience of mobility being under one's control. And second is the car as a status symbol. I'll address only the first one as the second is just marketing.

The first reason cannot be denied and as more and more people can afford it, they will chose a mode of transport that gives them the most freedom. However, there are a number of factors in this which are not individual. The existence of roads and other infrastructure is a major reason. If these are not present, no amount of marketing will convince people to buy cars. And this factor is not individual; instead it is the government's decision. So that's a crucial one.

India is at a stage where it can create new and innovative solutions to the personal transport problem because we have not gone too far ahead in terms of cars like America has. Additionally, India being more a socialist democracy than a capitalist one, the corporations do not have the powers that they weild in America. Because of both of these reasons I think that India is in a unique position to create a solution which will be better than what the first world countries have found.

The third reason for looking into an innovative solution is the extent the problem of traffic management exists currently. The present infrastructure cannot cope with the amount of traffic increasing on an almost daily basis. From the way it is going in India, infrastructure is barely managing to meet current needs let alone future trends.

One solution is to improve the public transportation system. But besides having better buses and autorikshaw services, I think some form of innovative personal transportation system will help India in the longer run way, way more.

In the cities, some form of public rail system can be devised onto which personal modules can travel. That way once you're on this rail system in your personal module, you don't need to a) drive and b) control your module. Your module travels at a predetermined speed, and the rail acts as the direction controller. Only when you're nearing your destination, need you take control and 'drive off' the rail.

This way, both traffic jams as well as pollution (due to stop & go traffic), can be avoided. At the same time, people's desire of having a car for both mobility and status symbol can be satisfied!

Additionally, incentivising bicycles and providing separate cycling tracks will go a long way too! Also, how come adding a flywheel to a bicycle hasn't yet caught on? I'm sure it's complex, but not insurmountable.

Inter-City Transport
This is to a large extent is being solved by both airlines and trains. However, the need for road transport will remain, as this is the only option for accessing smaller cities and towns. I think the best solution for this something akin to the Blade Runner concept would be ideal. I just hope and pray that this solution will become way more prevalent than it is currently.

I wrote a blog about solutions that currently exist in long distance transport earlier.

Additionally, this is one concept that can be re-utilised for cargo as well. This can add to the currently existing rail network. Currently, in India, cargo transport over roads is increasing by leaps and bounds. This would be a good solution especially if the passenger and cargo modules are interchangeable.

Yes, all this will require a lot of guts from the government's perspective to implement. But I'm sure some kind of a pilot can be managed. And once the success of this is made clear, it would go a long way in terms of the environment.

Rural Transport
I think this is where the maximum amount of innovation can take place. However, the maximum amount of hurdles also exists here, starting again from infrastructure down to costs associated with alternative solutions. One of the most interesting solutions that I've seen is providing pneumatic tires to bullock carts, which not only makes the ride far less bumpy (if less romantic!), but also utilise the bullocks energy more effectively.

Here again, I wonder why a flywheel concept hasn't caught on. I think that would be very useful here.

The biggest advantage with rural transport is that speed is not as big a criteria as it is in urban situations. I think this is one factor that hasn't been made use of well enough.

A Flywheel to which makes use of gravity!
Coming to think of it, I wonder why the flywheel hasn't been used more effectively in all transportation systems. I mean, they are used but why don't they take advantage of gravity when they can?

For example, if I was driving a car downhill, why isn't the potential energy getting fed back into a flywheel. Even the hybrid cars don't utilise this idea. Only the braking energy is fed back into batteries.

Maybe some kind of a modular flywheel concept needs to be evolved. Anybody know of any?

Of course, all these things will take tremendous amounts of will power and initiative both from the private and public sector. And most importantly, from the government as well as each and every Indian.

But as one of my most favourite saying goes -
"The impossible just takes a little longer".


I wrote the blog on 'Alternative Transportation Solutions' on 30th of October and today I see this article where Toyota is proposing the same thing! It's called the 'Intelligent Multimode Transport System'

(Maybe I should stop this blog!! There are eyes everywhere-e-e-e-e!!!)

via We-Make-Money-Not-Art

Update 2

Came across an excellent article in WorldChanging called Redesigning Transportation. WorldChanging reports on an article called "Three Key Developments for Surface Transportation" by Bruce McHenry, a technology entrepreneur.

His Powerpoint presentation which talks about costs associated in a rail based transportation system is extremely enlightening.

Update 3

Roland Piquepaille (my favourite 'edge of tech' blogger) has an article on Autonomous Vehicles titled "Will Our Cars Become Our Chauffeurs?"