Maybe it was the smell of oil and machined metal that came from the jetpack on stage, or maybe it was because I was listening to the 10th different speaker in less than three hours. But I was a little dizzy at the end of the event of the Future of Transportation [Wall Street Journal] that took place on Wednesday in Manhattan. However, when I went back to the street and cleared my head, the first thing I thought was: "Wait a minute, did anyone really talk about the future of public transport ?"  Do not get me wrong, it was a morning full of brilliant minds with relative disciplinary diversity (gender not so much – there were only two guest speakers for eight men), from space exploration to the aforementioned jetpack to the head of the global program of General Motors for electric vehicles. But for an event that was supposed to be about the "future of transport" and part of a broader one-week festival about the "future of everything," it was oddly focused on personal, not public, transportation.
It's a shame, because this has been a problem for a while, and it does not seem to be changing much. After all, throughout the country, at the same time that Uber began the second day of its second annual "Elevate" conference, dedicated exclusively to the idea of air taxis capable of taking off and landing vertically. (Or by another more controversial name: "flying cars"). In more general terms, this has been a demonstrable trend for years. When we think of the capital of the future of transport, we often skip things at random.
Maybe it has to do with the obstacles that stand in the way of improving public transportation. Typically, public transportation involves systems throughout the city that are complex and require a large amount of money to be operated. They are already deeply integrated – literally, in the case of the New York subway system – into the infrastructure of cities, which makes optimization, electrification and disruption and all the other "buzz" words that Silicon Valley and the technology industry adore more difficult. The repair of public transport requires cooperation, planning and acceptance of the community. The ideas are voted. The races were bet. That sometimes makes it difficult to separate ideas from politics.
Meanwhile, the striking ideas of the "future of transportation" enjoy the freedom to be removed from those burdens. Generally, they are proposed with the warning that mundane problems such as "regulation" or "financing" will naturally resolve themselves on the way if the idea is good enough. But most of these companies are encouraged to frame it in this way. It is solving the technology that is the real problem technology companies tell us. From course regulators will work with our ingenious idea, say the engineers. And if not, we'll simply introduce ourselves anyway and force your hand.
A plan to install modern signs on the No. 7 line in New York City seems to be delayed again until the end of this year. Signal work has already taken more than 7 years and is at least 2 years behind schedule. https://t.co/THHGntRMjC
– The New York Times (@nytimes) May 12, 2018
Another problem, perhaps, is that the best ideas for improving public transportation are simply not striking "More buses", a crude distillation of the most intricate idea of a rapid bus transportation system (which could be said to be one of the best ways in which a city can improve the flow of its citizens), is not such a response bright as "fleet of cars that drive," or "cars that fly," or that jetpack blown up. Neither does mobile ticketing, which seems to be something that could have been widely implemented years ago, but has not yet been adopted by some of the world's largest transportation systems. Upgrading existing systems – hell, even our roads – would go a long way toward improving transportation in this country. Only good luck raising venture capital for any of these ideas.
So, if we are going to have to drag our cities towards the future, we should be careful to remember public transport when we talk about the striking things. We all share that burden. The people who are raising funds to create these crazy ideas, the people who try to execute them, the people who live and have to move in the cities, the means that cover all this, all of us could benefit. of daydreaming a little less. If this week showed anything, it is obviously that there is no shortage of fantastic ideas on the table.
To be fair, the event WSJ included Lime, one of the companies that tried to promote the bicycle and scooter sharing as a solution. So far, you can discuss the methods of expansion of companies, and many do, but at least the general manager, Toby Sun, mentioned public transport.
But the highlight of public transport came from someone who exhibited a product that is not even meant to move people: Sasha Hoffman, COO of Piaggio Fast Forward, a robotics wing of the Italian giant Scoggio. "Autonomous cars are coming," he said. But, he continued, "whatever theory you've heard about how many years are far away, you can duplicate it, possibly triple it, before it's really prolific anywhere in our society."
Meanwhile, he said, there will be an increase in the number of cars on the road thanks to passenger transport services and, eventually (or potentially), autonomous travel services. The result of all this? "Actually, it will be much worse before it gets better."
That sounds like a problem worth solving.