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Digitally Networked Mass Transit

This article was was written by Sarah Rich in May 2006. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

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.

Taxibus is a part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on Oct. 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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