Moving people much faster is the only truly viable solution to traffic congestion and the way forward is not to build more roads to fill with vehicles, whether electric, autonomous or combustion engine – the way forward is through an integrated personal travel system using pods.
Futuristic as this may sound, a system is up and running at Heathrow Airport in the UK but, according to future transport consultant, Pat Hansen, the South African economy is barely trickling along, the economic outlook is not great and unemployment is painfully high.
“With a willing and employable workforce readily available what the country needs (and the continent for that matter) at this time, is an industrial led economic breakthrough to turn the tables.”
The most common belief and the only transport solution that seems to be offered, is autonomous vehicles will be the saviour.
Hansen rejects this as a possibility, saying: “Finding the solution must start with planning. All people and organisations presently involved in transport planning are faced with an impossible task and they are doing a great job considering the hand they have been dealt.
“With respect, unfortunately the end result (beyond their control) is there for all to see, and no one should kid themselves, it is an unmitigated failure. The reason for that is simple. The problem is being approached from the wrong direction, with all kinds of vehicle being produced (including electric and autonomous) leaving the planners with the impossible task of trying to create a functional system for an unknown and changing mix of vehicles, pilots and combinations therein.
“When one works within a fundamentally flawed system, even at best, one can only create a flawed outcome. With clever design the net outcome might be less flawed than current reality, but it can only be as good as the framework and parameters it exists within.”
Running on dedicated networks of guide-ways, and possibly utilising currently unused rail rights of way where available, the vehicles would be summoned to the station of the rider’s choice by a cell phone app. This system would know the passengers individual details and requirements and be customised accordingly.
With a destination station programmed, the driverless vehicle would silently (and with almost no emissions) accelerate away, travelling at up to 150 km/h before slowing at coming to stop.
“Because the individual pods are small, it is easy to snake routes in and around city centres – even to the point of having stations within large corporate buildings,” says Hansen. “Each journey is individualised and the whole system is electronically controlled to provide rapid and safe people movement.”
While the concept is not entirely new and places such as Delhi have been considering a form of the system for several years, Hansen believes Africa is the ideal place for it to start in earnest.
“Most of Africa still lags a long way behind the rest of the world in terms of vehicle emission control and fuel quality,” he says. “Instead of governments spending huge money on playing catch-up to bring those standards up to par, spend that money on jumpstarting the future by approaching the congestion problem from a completely new angle.”
Take into consideration the enormous economic cost (to every country) of the carnage on the roads, plus time wasted stuck in traffic due to congested roads, not to mention the ever increasing cost of fuel/energy, and add to all of that the environmental damage being done by pollution as a result of the inefficiency of it all.
“We are talking big money here, very big money,” he says. “There must be huge economic benefits by coming up with a viable plan to demonstrate how things can be made to work sustainably for the future. This does not just apply to here, but to the world at large. Experts with a comprehensive understanding of the economics of transport place the value of a viable solution in the trillions of $US.”
Pat Hansen is not just a radical ‘greeny’ and his history is indelibly inked in motor racing. Now retired, the New Zealand motor racing engineer lived and worked in South Africa through the 1970’s eventually winning the South African Formula Ford championship with Mike Hoffman in 1978 before heading to Europe to engineer race cars for Basil Mann.
His Hansen Engines formula Ford race engines won multiple championships in the UK. Hansen Engines undertook development work for the motor industry before turning to full time car production, producing a variety of different vehicles and becoming the UK’s largest producer of replica AC Cobra sports cars.
For the last eight years he has been tackling the daunting task of finding a solution to what has become and can only be described as a global transport crisis.
“Efficiency must become a crucial consideration for sustainability, but has never been a key consideration in other so-called alternative transport solutions,” he says. “Cars and roads are a case-in-point. In this day and age such hugely inefficient use of energy and land simply is not acceptable and equally is unsustainable.
“Another essential future requirement that needs to be at the heart of and factored into future transport is speed. Transport infrastructure will always have capacity limits and with the inevitable increasing volumes of traffic, these limits will be reached, resulting in yet more congestion and blockages.
“There is only one way this problem can be avoided or mitigated without infrastructure expansion and that is by increasing speed, as faster individual movement yields more capacity.
“The economics of any transport system has to be volume and patronage dependent, so increased speed results in increased volume through put, enhancing economic viability. When reductions in travel times and cost become evident increased patronage naturally will follow.
“Even though speed is essential for progress, at present it is also totally off the radar, when the mind-set is stuck with cars. It is not even remotely possible or plausible to consider this as an option with cars and roads as they currently operate, due to very real safety concerns.”