Thursday, June 16, 2022


My peculiar obsessions usually have broader implications than are necessarily immediately obvious. I don't really care about Musk the man, but I have long cared about how the promise of self-driving cars was used to help derail any investments in mass transit. 

 This type of thing is nothing new. Mass transit opponents have long referred to rail (for example) as "19th century technology" (unlike cars, for some reason), and dangled various ridiculous gadgetbahn proposals or other "just around the corner" technologies as reasons to not do what everybody else in the world does.

Self-driving cars and robotaxis were the ultimate realization of the promise of "mass transit for people who hate mass transit" which is basically "what if a bus, but it's a taxi." Before we got to robotaxis we had endless attempts by Silicon Valley types to give us "buses on demand," essentially buses without fixed routes but you tap your app and they pull up to your corner instead, because none of these people will talk to anyone who knows anything about anything.

Robotaxis don't work and won't work, and even if they did they wouldn't solve the congestion or cost problems. Musk promised existing Teslas would all be robotaxi-capable by the end of 2020, and journalists dutifully typed it up.

Transportation policy and investment is made by people who can't envision not traveling everywhere in cars. People who don't comprehend that their "resort town" and "European city " vacations are largely about paying a lot of money to temporarily experience just that (people in small and midsize European cities often own cars, they just don't use them for everything because they don't have to and being able to walk to buy a baguette in the morning is pleasant).