In Part 1 of this three-installment series, I characterized the development of MCI's new ramp-equipped accessible motorcoach (the MCI D45 CRT LE) as a "paradigm shift." While I will expand on why this is so in the third and last installment next month, this installment will overview the most unique features of this remarkable vehicle -- a vehicle whose ultimate potential I feel has not yet been realized.
As an urban planner by background, there are certain clichés I have grown to loath. Among my least favorite is the phrase 'paradigm shift.' This is because few things in the transportation field ever comprise a paradigm shift. Among the true exceptions were the 45-foot-long coach, the proliferation of double-deckers, Megabus pricing, and the advances in super-clean diesel engines. Autonomous coaches seem decades away (even while exploding on the scene in Europe). Otherwise, nothing else close to a paradigm shift in this traditional industry comes to mind.
Speeding would seem like the most obvious safety compromise. Speeding would seem like the most natural remedy to a schedule too tight, and the most obvious way to pick up more passengers, increase system capacity and maximize revenue: Just drive faster.
Among all the safety compromises pandemic to the public transportation industry, wheelchair tipovers are, by far, the least common to the motorcoach sector compared to other services which deploy accessible vehicles. Of course, this is largely because so few wheelchair users travel by motorcoach.
In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the notion that roughly half of all public transportation-related incidents are the result of a deliberate trade-off of passenger safety for some system or owner's benefit. The most common benefit is the service provider's operating a schedule that is too tight.
This new National Bus Trader piece is the first installment of likely a year-long series about types of incidents that result from trade-offs of safety for other benefits -- adherence to unrealistically-tight schedules (or drivers running behind schedule) being the principal culprit. Frankly, of the more than 600 public transportation-related lawsuits in which I have served as an expert witness, roughly half of all incidents see to be the result of some deliberate safety compromise.
The past eight installments of this series covered a lot of ground -- some technical, but mostly socio-economic and conceptual. But in the debate over the pros and cons of human versus robotic drivers, is it not possible to have the wisdom to take the best of both worlds? In early articles I acknowledged some of the advantages of Highly-Automated Vehicles (HAVs), including:
What is interesting, and the focus of this installment, is the glaring disparity between the magnitude of information available about a vehicle or driver's performance and the general disinterest in examining it. This disparity is not a technological problem. It is largely an institutional and attitudinal problem. Or one might characterize it as a cultural problem. Or a values problem in a money-oriented society. Nevertheless, it raises an important point about driverless vehicles: While a vehicle's brain may contribute to and/or improve safety (fewer accidents and incidents) and performance (e.g., better mileage, less pollution), this brain's extraordinary analytical capabilities may be pointless because no non-robot is likely to ever examine the data.
When an asteroid strikes a planet, things tend to change quickly. Most other changes occur gradually, even while a small handful are occasionally more significant. These latter changes are sometimes referred to as "paradigm shifts," largely because they affect so many things around them, and cause such dramatic changes in the things they affect directly.
At the rudimentary level at which most crossing procedures are executed, schoolbus drivers are supposed to "direct" the students across the roadway when they are certain that either the traffic has been stopped in both directions or it is so distant (if even visible) that the students could easily complete their crossing before any oncoming vehicles reach the bus. The bus would obviously have its red flashers and stop arm engaged as a "fail safe."