Tony Seba, Autonomous vehicles and Public Transport Solutions

Of recent times I have been a follower of Stanford University futurist Tony Seba. His message appeals strongly to me as one of hope so I dearly want most of his predictions to materialise. Consequently I can be called a ‘sebarite’ (not to be confused with ‘sybarite’). Some of his predictions of 10 years ago especially of cheap solar energy are happening now and in fact have turned out far cheaper than his prediction. Seba has made similar predictions about costs and adoption of batteries, electronic vehicles and sensors but his most contentious predictions are about autonomous (ie driverless) vehicles.

A recent pedestrian fatality in Arizona caused by a collision with an autonomous vehicle resulted in a flurry of mostly unfavourable news items around the globe. An article on the accident in the Conversation noted that 5,984 pedestrians killed in 2017 did not warrant similar news items and examined questions of legal liability. Autonomous vehicles or ‘vehicles as a service’ may take some years more to be adopted than Seba predicts. Certainly Gippsland will probably be one of the last places to do so.

Other more readily and rapidly adopted solutions to the public transport problem have been recently offered by retired CSIRO climate scientist Barrie Pittock. He noted “The solution is really rather simple and quite economic. It is to install rapid express…buses on all our existing major urban transport main roads/freeways, with connections to feeder buses on major crossroads. We could economically generate the required electricity by installing solar panels lining all freeway cuttings and noise barrier fences and bridges, and bus stop shelters. These would be close to where the demand would be and on free public land, and often exposed to good sun lighting. They could have their reserved express bus lanes, which would speed transit and help people to decide to use them. Short-term energy storage would be necessary, but this is becoming cheaper and more economic by the day…” *

It should be noted that unlike Seba, Pittock has no preference for fuel to transport the express buses and whilst the quote above specifies electricity it could easily be by “solar generated hydrogen or ammonia, which can be quickly and economically converted back to electricity or else used directly in hydrogen or ammonia driven engines in buses.”

How the suggestions of Pittock and predictions of Seba can be applied to Gippsland is another question but is no doubt linked to the train in some way with improved services. Any drastic improvements in the Melbourne transport jungle will also greatly benefit gippslanders. Perhaps autonomous electric vehicles could also be trialled in the suburbs of Sale or Morwell?

*from Barrie’s notes for an ACF workshop on Public Transport