The private automobile is the transportation backbone of most of today’s cities. Its on-demand point-to-point service is the best option to meet the needs of the majority of urban dwellers. But for visitors to the city, who have left their cars at home, there need to be other options. Taxis or ride-hailing services are a good choice for a few trips in well-traveled areas. For more frequent trips into outlying neighborhoods, a rental car might be a better fit.
For those who cannot drive, or who have abandoned their cars because of chronic traffic congestion or inadequate parking, there must be a public transit option. Mass transit systems, such as subways or light-rail trains, have the ability to quickly move large numbers of people between widely-spaced stations. But that means that each station must serve a large area. So you need a way to move lots of people to and from those stations. This is called the “last mile problem”. (Although in many cities, it’s more like the last five miles.) To address this issue, you need a network of busses. Even then, few cities are able to provide bus stops within walking distance of most places. And neither busses nor mass-transit are economical to operate during off-peak hours.
Private cars, rental cars, taxis, ride-hailing services, mass transit, and buses each have their strengths and weaknesses. Since none of these systems alone can satisfy the full range of needs, the conventional wisdom has been that we need them all. The result is a complicated patchwork of travel modes that is difficult to navigate. And each mode must compete with the others for scarce resources.
Multimodal transportation often involves one or more transfers. To a transit planner, this may seem like a solution to a problem, but for the passenger it is a problem in need of a solution. Every transfer brings with it extra waiting, extra ticketing, and a chance of a missed connection. Given a choice, people avoid transfers wherever possible.
The advent of automated transportation changes all of this. By combining the convenience of a car with the accessibility of public transit, there’s no longer a need for multiple modes. An automated vehicle is cheaper than a taxi, and faster than a bus. It provides the same high-quality service to visitors as to residents, to the young and the old, to the poor and the disabled.
And in combination with advanced infrastructure, such as above-ground, dedicated guideways, self-driving vehicles can also rival the capacity of mass-transit. And elevated guideways have a smaller footprint than any conventional transport.
In a multimodal system, you have a backup if one system is out of service. But Automated Transit Networks can be designed to have no single point of failure, so they can continue to operate even after a breakdown of a vehicle or guideway segment. They can offer speed, safety, simplicity, and economy to everyone without the need for multiple systems.