Travellers in urban environments face a personal dilemma: should they use the crowded subway or train system, or endure high traffic while in the private comfort of their own cars? Both of these systems have their benefits and drawbacks. Subways have the benefit of communication—all subway trains can know the position and route of all other trains. On the other hand, cars provide cozy comfort, keeping their drivers away from the masses of commuters. The best solution to urban transportation would be private vehicles that are controlled by an all-knowing authority. To go one step further, such a system should also account for changing traffic conditions and calculate the shortest (in terms of time) possible route for a particular vehicle.
I propose a transportation system of individual, self-driving vehicles connected by a network of rails controlled by a central control unit. Each vehicle would hold two to four people, with no driver. A passenger would enter a vehicle and denote his/her destination. The request would be sent to the central control unit, which would determine the best path for the vehicle to take. It is important to note that a communter cares not how much distance lies between him and his destination, but rather how much time it will take to get there. The shortest path from point A to point B may not be a straight line if that line passes through a point of traffic congestion. The control unit can easily determine, based on the requests and routes of the other vehicles, which path will take the least amount of time for the vehicle to reach its destination.
A control unit that responds in real time has many benefits. It would be able to respond to changing traffic flow, weather, and other factors. If a part of the rail were to be under repair or, say, in front of a burning building, the control unit could route vehicles out of the area to keep it cleared. The control unit could also predict traffic patterns based on past experience. For example, if there are a high number of requests to leave Main Street at 5 PM on weekdays, the control unit could prepare by routing empty cars into the area at 4:30 PM in anticipation.
There also would not be any crashes between vehicles since their routes are pre-determined and constantly monitored.
This system could be used most effectively if the rails were placed along every street in a dense urban district. Potential passengers could request a vehicle by pushing a button on a post, which would be located in several places along every block on both sides of the street. The passenger would then enter an empty vehicle when it arrived, deposit fare, and denote a destination. The destination could be inputted via a touch screen displaying a map of the town, by typing in an address, etc. Users could also have a unique “key” that would bill their fare as well as keep track of frequent destinations, such as their home, office, friend’s home, favorite restaurant, etc. Upon establishing a destination, the control unit would be contacted with the request and the passenger would just sit back and relax. The vehicles could contain a radio, advertisements, storage space, etc.
The rails could be built into the road surface like trolley rails. Since the system would supplant many cars, the road space used by the rails would not be missed.
Each vehicle could be assigned a priority. Users may pay different fares depending on how quickly they would like to arrive at their destination. For example, for two cars travelling the same route, the passenger who paid more would be able to take a more direct route as traffic could be routed away from him. The posts that are used to request vehicles could also bear an emergency button that would request a vehicle, give it a high priority, automatically send it to a hospital or police station, and notify law enforcement of the position of the vehicle and where the button was pressed.