The Future of Transit

I took the subway to work this morning, just as I always do, but because I got a seat, I was able to rest, and I started thinking about things. What exactly? Transportation.

More precisely, the fact that transportation seems to have progressed very little in the last 50 years. I won’t go into any timelines to prove this, but if you think about it, you’ll agree. We had walking, then horses, then trains, then cars, then planes. And today we have all of the same, except no one really uses horses, and the trains, cars, and planes are a little faster and (allegedly) safer.

That’s weird, right? Kinda. The thing is, we know that cars are kind of a failed system. They take up space, are pretty dangerous, aren’t wonderful to the environment, and are expensive. However, since they were introduced, the world has been designed around their use, with roads and highways making up a large proportion of the landscape in developed areas.

I’m not trying to make a case against cars, or even the other modes of transportation, but I don’t think you can deny that we haven’t yet found the perfect way to get around. This won’t be easy, clearly, and is perhaps impossible. It will require completely transcending our current infrastructure, which, it seems, is what is holding us back from real progress.

So I was thinking, “What would the characteristics of a perfect system of transit actually be?” Here’s what I came up with, and I’m interested in hearing your ideas.
  • Fast - Way faster than cars are allowed to travel. Plane fast. Speed-of-sound fast. Faster.

  • Clean - No smog, no oil, very little environmental impact. I don’t want to have to hold my breath like I do in some subway stations.

  • Safe - I don’t want to have to worry about dying.

  • Reliable - I need it to work when I expect it to.

  • Convenient - I need it to work when I want it to. And it can’t be out of my way.

  • Controlled Environment - Air conditioning and heating are necessities. And no exposure to the elements. I shouldn’t have to wait for it to cool down during the summer, nor for it to warm up in the winter.

  • Comprehensive - I should be able to get anywhere, anytime. Even if no one else is going there.

  • Simple - I don’t want to have to think about how to use it. I shouldn’t have to think while I am using it.

  • Human-proof - The system should not rely on the inevitability of people doing stupid things.

  • Comfortable - Like really comfortable. I should be able to sleep on it, if I want. And not like you can “sleep” on planes.

  • Cheap - And easy to pay for. No filling of the tank, purchasing of cards to swipe, or tickets, or tokens. Even easier than “Tap and Go.” Maybe call it just “Go.”

  • Wired - Let me use my laptop, cellphone, or any other current or future internet-enabled device. And if I’m using my cellphone, how about a way so it won’t bother anyone else?

  • Smart - The system should know where to go and how to get there. And traffic should not ever exist. Ever. No latency.
What am I missing? What do you want? And what could this system possibly look like? Ideas?