I’ve seen talk about how instead of promoting car services such as Uber or Lyft, we should be investing in public transit instead. And while I’m a huge fan of public transit and use it for probably 90% of my transit around Portland, I also realize that it doesn’t service every area well. In our case Zip car is our supplement or taxis (such as for early morning airport rides). But I keep going back to a newsletter Deb Chachra sent out and her ideas of how self driving cars could be the answer to those final hard to serve miles. I think of this often when people talk about how transit can’t do it all, but maybe we just need to be more inventive with the ways in which we think of transit.
I still haven’t figured out all the different routings that the podtrains take as they work their way out to the suburbs—there’s a finite number, presumably, but the exact route any train takes depends on what else is happening on the network, and the podtrain cars separate off at different points accordingly. But soon enough I recognize the spur that goes into Needham, and a few minutes later I disembark at Needham Center. I debate with myself about running an errand in one of the stores in town, but decide to do it later and instead head straight for the cluster of waiting pods. I open a door and sit down, and as the pod says, “Good morning, Professor Chachra. Is Olin College your destination today?”, I’m already reaching out to tap the ‘Yes’ button on the display, my attention back on the tablet by the time the pod pulls onto the main road and heads off towards the College. A few minutes later, it decelerates to a gentle stop in the turn-around circle by my building. It’s a beautiful fall day and, as I get out, I can see students and one of my colleagues testing little autonomous robots by running them up and down the tiered fields that used to be the massive multi-level parking lot.