Self-driving Busses

Google has been all over the news this past week when they revealed the design for their self-driving cars.  This week, Muni is broke.  Which begs the question, why is Google working on self-driving cars?!  What we really need is self-driving busses!

I understand the problem that Google is trying to solve.  People are terrible drivers, and yet we still insist on driving everywhere.  It’s bad for our minds, bad for our bodies, and yet there is no alternative.  The problem is, Google just solves that one problem with driving by giving us an alternative driver.  They do not take into account the BIG problem with single person driven vehicles; they don’t scale.

Everyone who commutes knows they should carpool or take mass transit, but for some excuse or another, do not.  Tens of thousands of people driving cars meant to carry anywhere from four to seven people, only carry one 80% of the time.  While Google’s design is smaller, it’s still bigger than what it needs to be for only one person.  Which means Google will give you the freedom to work from your car–while you’re still stuck in traffic.

This week Muni once again reminded us that the biggest cost of running a public transportation system is paying it’s employees.  Which is as it should be, this post is not about fair or unfair wages.  Lets pretend that all Muni employees are happily compensated.  The facts still remain that: one, being a bus driver is more often that not a terrible job; and two, Muni does a horrible job of running a municipal transit system.

When was the last time you heard someone proclaim with glee “I’ll just hop on the N and be there fifteen minutes!”  (Trick question, never, because that has never happened in the history of Muni… ever.)  Trains are late, busses are unreliable, everything is covered in a fine layer of filth like only San Francisco can accumulate.  Creating a reliable public transportation system–which should be one of a big city’s top responsibilities, right behind keeping us safe and making sure everything doesn’t burn to the ground–is the worse experience you’ll have at any point in your day in SF.

The worse thing is, I feel like Muni is relegated to the city’s most vulnerable: the poor, the elderly and the homeless.  The rental market is already doing a decent job of dispatching the first two, so really Muni will just become a means of ferrying around the homeless while every else flees to ride-sharing private cars.  Maybe they’ll take over the busses and finally have a place to live…  They’ll become roaming RV’s carrying bands of homeless people!  Maybe there will even be rival busses, and they’ll have gang wars and fight like pirates when enemy busses cross paths!!

I digress…

While I think it should be a top priority for cities to have well managed pub-trans for the sake of the most vulnerable populations, that does not mean it should be the third class form of transportation.  Not only is that unfair, but because we ALL pay for it.  Everyone should feel like they want to use Muni.

Which isn’t cheap.  Up until now, the only way to bridge the gap between how much Muni costs, and how much Muni makes, is by raising the fare.  Which only works for so long before people get fed up and decide that their homeless camper commute is not worth five bucks.  Kudos on the valiant effort the SFMTA made by introducing Sunday meters; which was wildly successful, so of course, they stopped it.  (If you actually do read that article, you’ll learn that continuing Sunday meters was voted down because a “charitable donation” from Google will fill the expected gap instead, paving the road for corporations to directly supplement city income.  Red flags should be going off in your brain now.)

I say to you Google, instead of buying influence, develop the technology for Muni to cut it’s costs in half or more, by making driverless busses!  I realize this cuts jobs, which is a cardinal sin of politics, but who actually wants to be a bus driver?  I mean other than two-year-olds.  Even they snap out of that phase pretty quick.  Plus, if you wanted to be all ethical, you can always give people who would loose their job as a bus driver another city job–for which they will thank you–then wait until they retire and then never have to worry about hiring another bus driver ever again.

Step into my transportation utopia: With the money saved from no longer funding driver salaries and pensions, Muni is able to buy hundreds of shiny new vehicles!  They have a support staff (of ex-drivers?) that will actually keep them clean.  ALL lines run every five minutes, because the only thing stopping that would be the size of the fleet–which I just fixed in afore mentioned sentence.  Rides cost one buck, unless you’re really old, really young, really poor or really don’t have a place to live.  MUNI RUNS ALL NIGHT LONG.  All lines, all night.  Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.  I really want you to appreciate that last bit.  Finally, Elon Musk is so impressed with new Muni, (Newmi? Nuni… never-mind) he makes sleek new Tesla busses that don’t need wires to run!

But no.  Sadly, we do not live in the make-believe future world in my head.  All I’m asking for is to have a little vision when inventing your awesome new technology, Google.  Yes, I’m calling you short-sighted.

For now I’ll just suck it up and ride this wave while I’m on it.  I am, after all, an Uber/Sidecar driver.  I currently profit from both a poorly run public transit system and lack of other options to get around.  That being said, I do not want to be what amounts to a glorified cab driver for the rest of my life.  (Please, click on all the ads…)  I believe taxis provide a premium service and should be treated as such.  I couldn’t be more happy if one day I was put out of business.  But not before being able to support myself otherwise, of course.  Now get clicking!