Transportation and Energy : Solving Our Oil Dependence

In the first decade of the 1800’s a transportation revolution occurred with the building of canals and railroads, and the use of the steamboat. Early settlers of our western frontier gladly welcomed the influx of new materials and the opportunity for growth.

A century later, during the first three decades of the 1900’s, a similar revolution occurred when the automobile largely replaced the horse and buggy as the main form of transportation.

Here we are in the first decades of the 2000’s, and there is still no sign of the efficient flying car. Yet the revolution in transportation has begun to sprout up in select locations throughout the world. The answer to a great many of our problems besides just gridlock lies in a new form of transportation, the pod car.

Cars Have Driven Us to the Brink of Disaster

Every day, over a hundred people die in car accidents. The drain on the economy equals $230 billion in 2005 alone. Nearly 3 million people were injured, causing another strain on the health care system.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the year 2000 saw 3.6 billion hours of traffic delays, wasting 5.7 billion gallons of fuel and $67.5 billion worth of productivity.

The Union of Concerned Scientists insists that automobile traffic is the largest source of air pollution. One Harvard study shows that nearly 70% of the particles we breathe are from the cars we drive. WebMD cites three percent of deaths attributed to air pollution.

Oil dependency has been the source of many international conflicts, including an ongoing war in Iraq. It provides much tension in the relationship between the West and the Middle East, which has always been a bit on the shaky side. Peak oil production means skyrocketing prices.

One of the leading factor that drags our society towards economic recovery has been the rising gas prices.

Transportation and Energy Alternatives

Public transportation offers a more economic and environmentally sound alternative to private transportation, but local and state governments such as those in California, have been cutting funding to transit projects in the wake of increasing budget deficits.

Some people see public transit as an aide to increase levels of crime, as reported by Stephen J. Dubner of The New York Times. Communities, such as San Mateo and Natomas in California, and Richmond Heights, Illinois, are resistant to connecting their suburban communities with high crime areas.

Electric cars have been hailed as the newest renovation in transportation what till help the environment and the economy. One British organization, the Environmental Transport Association, claims that electric cars may not reduce the demand on oil or CO2 emissions.

A team at Stanford University has developed a driverless car that can navigate through traffic and follow driving rules without human intervention. The technology for these advancements is promising, but expensive and not likely to be commonly used for a generation.

Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) have already changed the way people navigate, including monitoring traffic. Computer program developers have provided the world with systems that monitor transportation usage through Traffic Management Centers (TMC), using cameras, meters and sensors to help metropolitan areas with their gridlock problems.

Many cities, like Sacramento, California, have established bike lanes for commuters who choose to pedal to work. This is not only environmentally and economically sound but provides a great boost to your health. Unfortunately, the inconvenience of weather and heavy traffic make this choice not as popular as it should be to have a permanent effect on traffic patterns, and can even sometimes be deadly.

The Solution to the Transportation Problem Lies in Pods

Once the product of the imagination of science fiction authors, the pod car is now a reality. In Ithaca, New York, a conference was held in 2008 regarding a Swedish experiment in transportation. Michelle York of The New York Times reports that “pod cars are computer-driven electric vehicles that run on a monorail-like loop, usually suspended above roads, with stops at major destinations.”

Pod car systems are being tested for London’s Heathrow Airport. Developers are looking into the system for airport commuters. Similar systems have been built previously, as in Morgantown, West Virginia in the 1970s.

The system of railways is one deterrent, costing developers millions and requiring the political will to allow the city to be transformed and fitted to accommodate such infrastructure. This leads some to believe that it will never truly replace the automobile.

One solution to this problem is to reduce the energy necessary to operate the system. For instance, a bicycle structure would allow people to pedal the vehicles part of the time. Innovative propulsion systems, such as hydrogen batteries or solar panels, gyroscopic momentum, and other low cost designs could be used to further the efficiency.

Considering the plentitude of wires of every kind that hover over every neighborhood in the country, perhaps some of these can be used to suspend lightweight pod cars over traffic, providing low cost alternatives to light rail infrastructure problems.

Pod cars would be a fast, low cost source of transportation that would be a revolutionary alternative to automobiles and public transportation, freeing up gridlock, travel time, and air quality. Computerized navigation systems could manage traffic flow, providing stress free riding for passengers and stress free rush hours for major cities. It would especially be a boon to low income families, school children, the elderly, and physically challenged, and would solve the DUI problem.

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