Monday, February 27, 2012

Auto Titan Warns of Urban Mobility Crisis, Says Smarter Cars, Rapid Transit Both Are Needed for Freedom of Movement throughout 21st Century

Bill Ford, Jr., chairman of the car company, made news in Barcelona, Spain today that might just get into the local daily newspaper in a day or two. It should, because the urban congestion crisis he says could threaten our freedom to commute already has hit Honolulu.

Mr. Ford gave a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress, a forum on mobile communications, and his pitch for advanced communications between vehicles surely went down well among the tech-oriented participants.

“What I’m really worried about is the role of the car in the long term,” he said. “If we do nothing, it will limit the number of vehicles we can sell. If we can solve this problem of urban mobility, I think there’s a great business opportunity for us.”
That’s what you’d expect from the brainstorming head of the company as he tries to understand how Ford Motor Company might thrive for another century. Communication’s the key and not just between people, he says. Mr. Ford envisions a future in which cars will “talk” to one another.

Kinda Like Trains
By reducing human control and relying on communications and computers to improve car travel, cars will flow along in tight formations, maybe even bumper to bumper at speeds unthinkable today, he says. If this sounds familiar, it’s because magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics decades ago envisioned such a future, with cars computer-controlled by highway circuitry.

Mr. Ford anticipates a more sophisticated vehicle-to-vehicle network that improves upon the technological advances we already enjoy. In a way, his “vehicle trains” would retain the illusion of personal control over commuting while actually ceding it to the system.

Mass transit has been doing this for generations with bus and rail systems, of course. Mr. Ford understandably is fighting for a future that includes a place for his company’s product.

Too much success in selling that product could produce gridlock beyond anything already experienced in a world with 1.2 billion cars today. That number is expected to double or triple in the decades immediately ahead.

The Congestion Issue
Mr. Ford’s assessment of urban mobility and the consequences of population and vehicle growth is the perfect antidote to Cliff Slater’s anti-rail message. Mr. Slater is forever saying Honolulu rail will be a failure because congestion will continue to increase after rail is built.

As the DailyTech piece linked above notes in the summary paragraph, “Ford said as the population increases, auto sales will increase, but congested highways will prevent us from traveling/commuting.”

Maybe that obvious connection articulated by the great-grandson of Henry Ford will finally prompt the local media to examine Mr. Slater’s rhetoric deeper than ever. Why must it always be left to rail supporters to peel away the layers of Mr. Slater’s anti-rail messages? Where are the media's questions in digging into the platitudes of rail opponents who promise a better alternative but fail to actually describe one in detail?

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