Uber, Lyft Creating Traffic Congestion, Time to start Transportation Transformation

by Diane Francis

DORVAL, QUE.; DECEMBER 9, 2009--Afternoon rush hour traffic moves slowly along Highway 20 in Dorval, a suburb of Montreal, towards the West Island during the first snowfall of the season Wednesday, December 9, 2009.(THE GAZETTE/John Mahoney)

Traffic is the bane of human existence and Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal now share the dubious distinction of being among the ten most congested cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Los Angeles takes the cake, of course, where rush hour is every hour.

The problem could be resolved if personal cars stay off the road and people opt for public transit or car-sharing outfits like Uber and Lyft. But ironically, their existence is making traffic worse as thousands of cars and cabs are now plying the roads in search of customers.

This situation cannot continue and the world is about to undergo a Transportation Transformation.

And Singapore provides a glimpse into the future.

Singapore is a city-state, the size of the City Toronto, with twice as many people, or five million residents, and 600,000 vehicles. It is brilliantly governed, with the highest per capita living standards in the world, but its population will be seven million in 20 years and there won’t be enough roads to go around.

So in February, Singapore will ban the purchase of any new cars and introducing the world’s first driverless taxi service. This is the first step in a series that will transform the city-state into the future. In 2020, driverless buses will be in service, and billions worth of improved public transit will be ready to part people from personal vehicles.

The City of Toronto is headed for the same gridlock, thanks to commuters from a region with five million already. Density increases and another 260 high-rise condo projects are on drawing boards, making traffic unbearable, along with thousands of Uber — and soon Lyft — cars on streets.

As Singapore explains on its website: “Cars and limited land area poses a stiff challenge to our urban quality of life.”

Singapore has restricted car ownership since 2000 by charging exorbitant license fees and by running a system of bidding for the right to own a vehicle and for only ten years. The result is that costs to own a car there are four times higher than in North America.

But this hasn’t solved the problem which is why Singapore is taking the next step to rid the city of personal vehicles. As ten-year rights expire, they won’t be renewed.

Singapore is also testing a truck-platooning system – a sort of “train” where a pilot in a truck will lead a convoy of driverless trucks via a wireless communication system.

This type of system would be ideal for Ontario’s overcrowded 401, one of the world’s most congested truck routes. Platooning could transport goods off peak hours and would use a fraction of the road now taken up by trucks because they would form closely packed truck “chains” moving at the same speed.

Other traffic solutions include road space rationing, or licenses that restrict driving hours or days of the week, also to combat pollution as well as congestion.

Another pioneer is Estonia which is going driverless after 2020 and is already using parcel delivery robots on wheels.

An even bigger idea to fix the problem comes from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the company’s driverless car inventor, who also spearheaded Google Maps.

His idea is that autonomous or driverless vehicles should adhere to a ground traffic control system (as airplanes now do) that would save space, reduce pollution, congestion, and replace public transportation.

An instrument panel with the Tesla Motors Inc. 8.0 software update illustrates the road ahead using radar technology inside a Model S P90D vehicle in the Brooklyn borough of New York.Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

Driverless cars, once perfected, would stop the carnage on roads. An estimated 1.2 million people die in car accidents globally each year because humans are lousy drivers

“On a normal operating highway or road, cars take up a tiny fraction of the space,” he said. “Mostly, it’s all air between you and the car in front of you, to the sides of you. Self-driving cars can chain together and use highways far more efficiently.”

One study showed that controlled traffic flow could allow four times’ as many cars to travel through a corridor, safety and quickly, as is now the case. Spending trillions on roads, public transportation and parking could be eliminated.

Driverless cars could be off the road, parked until summoned by cellphone or text to perform a journey. They wouldn’t be cruising on streets by the thousands looking for fares.

The use of a ground traffic control system would enable commuters to be driven long distances to work in vehicles with office equipment or meeting spaces. Driverless cars could pick up disabled people, children, pets and take them to doctors’ appointments or wherever necessary.

Driverless cars, once perfected, would stop the carnage on roads. An estimated 1.2 million people die in car accidents globally each year because humans are lousy drivers.

So far, about 40 cities have driverless car pilots underway and most are building out public transit in the hope of eliminating the scourge of the car.

But Singapore, out of necessity, and Estonia, by choice, are the world’s petri dishes and the systems they devise will eventually spread to the rest of the world’s cities.