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Sarah Rich, 6 May 06

taxibus.jpg What do you get when you combine the convenience of a door-to-door taxi ride, the environmental benefits of mass-transit, the intelligence of satellite technology and the speed of cellular communication? Taxibus. The UK company, Intelligent Grouping Transportation (IGT), has created a model for urban transportation that aims to take the best from a number of existing transit and communication modes and make something superior.

The Taxibus functions like a taxi, in that you call for it when you are ready for a ride, and it picks you up at your door. IGT promises that their system would guarantee 3-minute rapid response based upon computerized itineraries in each taxibus that instantaneously updates upon each new ride request. The computers also have GPS technology that directs drivers to their destination and adjusts continuously to accomodate new circumstances.

To me, this sounded immediately like the standard airport van shuttles, many of which now use computers, cell phones and GPS units to keep things running like clockwork. But IGT asserts that Taxibus "bears little operational resemblance" to these systems. Why? Mostly due to to the fact that with those "old" services, you have to make advanced reservations and endure prearranged routes. Taxibus fleets can roam designated urban zones, offering much more flexibility of service and destination. It may take a little longer than driving your own car, but not if you live in an area where once you've arrived home, you still need to hunt for a parking space.

IGT has developed Taxibus as a scalable and transferable model, meaning that cities can purchase small fleets and test out a limited region, then scale up to accommodate demand. According to their site,

"A fleet of just 20 thousand taxibuses, introduced to a major city such as Paris, New York or London, will provide the city with an astounding 8 million passenger journey during each 24 hour period. We can compare this to London's 20 thousand licensed taxi cabs which transport around 0.5 million passengers during the same period, or London's 6 thousand buses which carry a total of 4 million passengers each day (i buses that have a capacity of around 80 people). Another point of comparison is the London Underground which provides 2.5 million passenger journeys every day."

Further, the system costs less, requires no infrastructural disruption, and promises dramatic improvements in air quality. According to them, "transportation generates 90% of a city's air pollution, and contributes to about 30% of an industrial nation's greenouse gas emissions..."

"Analysis indicates that in major cities, for every 10 thousand taxibuses introduced, 60 thousand private automobiles can be cleared from the roads, assuming car drivers travel by taxibus instead. In London, for example, there are around 250 thousand vehicles on the roads during the day, and a fleet of 20 thousand taxibuses could reduce this by a net 100 thousand vehicles - a cut of nearly half."

Fast, direct, digitally networked mass transit. Sounds smart.

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I like it! I like it! Sounds a lot like the jitney services I used to run across occasionally when I travelled more. The one in Port of Spain, as I recall, allowed people to hail a jitney, just as we now (try) to hail a cab. They followed a more-or-less prescribed route, but would turn off it to deliver a passenger. Don't know if it's still operating.

Posted by: Will Koroluk on 6 May 06

I like this idea. I wonder if its feasible to just launch as a business or whether you would need public sector support to make it work. ie. Do we need to lobby for it or do will some entrepreneur just introduce it anyway?

Posted by: NickF on 7 May 06

Is anybody else bothered by the fact that you now have a great way of tracking the movement of people? Think about the info exhaust from this system. You've got a GPS derived track of the path of the vehicle. You know cell phone number of the passenger and the location they were at when they made the call, the source and destination addresses of each passenger stop as well as the start and stop time of the transit run for a passenger.

It's bad enough in traditional public transit where you have predetermined entrance and exit points which can be used for surveillance but it's a little crazy enhancing the capabilities for the surveillance of an individual?

I think I'll stick as far out in suburbia as I can with my scooter and bicycle for transport.

Posted by: Eric S. Johansson on 7 May 06

@Eric: With automatic electronic ticket pricing models on their way it doesn't matter what way they gather private data from you. Especially London seems quite 1984-like with their camera-fleet watching the crowd 24/7.
Most ppl take a mobile with them all the time already, so tracking them is no big problem as of today. Even you travelling w/scooter & bike can be tracked having your cellular "sleeping" in your bag.
With RFID coming from every direction (car speed measurement, shopping, ...) the whole privacy issue gets more and more critical. Good to allways keep your eyes open though 8-)

Posted by: Daniel on 7 May 06

Sorry to brake it to you, but this will never work. I don't want complete strangers to know where/how I live. You never know who you'll be riding with. Without the existence of determined stops, a level of privacy, the last one perhaps would be lifted; this would end up a failed experiment, and since you need city gvt involvement with stop sights, unless this is a sort of subscription based model, it will likely end up a political football.

Posted by: Bealzey on 7 May 06

Bealzey: Word to the wise: spell check. It is an unfortunate fact of life that ignoring social conventions regarding how things should be said will make it all too easy for other people to ignore what is said.

Privacy concerns, if these were dominant, could be addressed through the use of common meeting points. If the service level was sufficiently dense, then people could walk to these meeting points and press a button, calling the nearest taxi. If, on the other hand, delays were common, they could send a text message stating their desired meeting point and receive back a message informing them when the next vehicle would pass by.

Also, in suburban areas, such a service would be more likely to be a feed for other public transport (buses, trains) than an alternative.

Posted by: Daniel on 7 May 06

Privacy has gone out the window long ago. You must assume your emails are read, your phone calls are listened to, and the government knows where you sleep.

What are you privacy fanatics really trying to hide that someone probably already knows about anyway?

This system offers a level of effenciency not yet available in public transport. Especially in spralling Western-US cities a system like this could work much better than a locally subsidised transport system or expensive taxis.

Expense of privacy for effeciency - I'm alright with that. And if you really want to disapear ditch your cell, head for the hills and don't tell anyone you know you are leaving :)

Posted by: Tyler on 7 May 06

This will only work if everybody is living and working in urban areas or clusters. If that was the case in the real world you would not need a system like this anyway.

What happens to the suburbinite who lives 25 minutes out of the way down some lonely road?

Posted by: killjoe on 8 May 06

What happens to the suburbinite who lives 25 minutes out of the way down some lonely road?

They'll move back to the cities, of course, which they'll have to start doing pretty soon anyway as the rising cost of fuel continues to cancel out the lower cost of land. If you want to take advantage of economies of scale, you have to go where the other people are.

Posted by: Mars Saxman on 8 May 06



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