Monday, July 10, 2006

Post-mycar wired transit-on-demand

I have often thought that there should be an alternate means of transportation in the developed countries that is like the jeepneys of the Philippines or songthaews of Thailand, but networked to a database of incoming trip requests so that people could enter their time, start and end points, and have the nearest van routed to incorporate their trip. Someone with a serious business plan has picked up on the idea, and the result is the "taxibus". It turns out that the pre-networked version is a universal and common idea around the world, but the jitneys, as they were called in North America, were killed off by the streetcar monopolists before the streetcars were killed off by the automobile. From Wikipedia:

Jitney (USA and Canada)
A jitney is a North American English term which originally referred to a livery vehicle intermediate between a taxi and a bus. It is generally a small-capacity vehicle that follows a rough service route, but can go slightly out of its way to pick up and drop off passengers.
In some US jurisdictions the limit to a jitney is seven passengers. In Rhode Island a jitney license plate is used for all public passenger buses, even for larger ones.
While jitneys are fairly common in many less wealthy countries, such as the Philippines, they have appeared in the past in the U.S. and Canada. The first U.S. jitneys ran in Los Angeles, California in 1914. By 1915, there were 62,000 nationwide. Local regulations, demanded by streetcar companies, killed the jitney in most places. By the end of 1916, only 6,000 jitneys remained. [1] Similarly, in Vancouver, Canada, in the 1920s, jitneys competed directly with the streetcar monopoly, operating along the same routes as the streetcars but charging lower fares. Operators were referred to as "Jitney Men." They were so successful that the city government banned them at the request of the streetcar operators.
Since the oil crisis of 1973-74, jitneys have reappeared in some areas of the United States, particularly inner city areas once served by streetcars and private buses. (An increase in bus fares usually leads to a significant rise in jitney usage.) Liberalization of jitneys is often encouraged by libertarian urban economists, such as Rutgers' James Dunn and USC's Peter Gordon, as a more "market-friendly" alternative to public transportation. However, concerns over fares, insurance liabilities, and passenger safety have kept legislative support for jitneys decidedly tepid.
I really think their time may have come again, as the population is more wired. I'm not sure why the fares or insurance would be a problem in the US. Maybe there are too many barriers erected to protect automobiles, taxi companies, and city bus monopolies.

Make it a rechargable electric hybrid, put solar panels on the top, keep an average of more than 1.2 riders inside, and this could keep a lot of CO2 out of the air. Somehow they are a hell of a lot more fun than busses or taxis, too, probably because of the feeling of freedom and random variations in the ride.

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