We don't need self-driving cars – we need to ditch our vehicles entirely

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by Rebecca Solnit
April 6, 2016

I am rich beyond Google’s wildest driverless-car dreams; I own a fleet of swift and reliable driverless cars that take me where I’m going while I read or stare out the window or watch beautifully limber kids turf dancing in the aisles for my entertainment. I have been riding these liberating transportation marvels for many decades; I have seen the future; it is all of us in these driverless cars we already own together.

OK, by driverless cars I mean vehicles that get me there while I am not driving them, brilliantly efficient vehicles that get by with maybe one human driver per 50 or 500 people. You own them too. We call them buses, streetcars, trains, ferries. I own a car, I take taxis, but I make extensive use of my feet, my bike, and public transit, and the mix works very nicely for this city dweller.

Here in the shadow of Silicon Valley, it is dismal to see the obsession with privatization when the shifts we need to respond to climate change should include enhanced public transit, both in what fuels those fleets and how well they serve us. Enhanced public transit and reduced private transit. The Tesla cars are the best of big tech’s vision of the future; it is now possible to put solar panels on your roof and run your electric car for free in a nearly carbon-neutral way (once the panels and cars are built). Which is literally cool.

But existing technologies already allow us to keep our climate impact comparatively dainty. These technologies, when it comes to trains, have existed since long before the private automobile. The first passenger railroad ran in 1830 (and yeah, it ran on coal, but we can run passenger trains on clean electricity). We can go forward in part by going back. And around. And look out the window while we do it, while trained professionals navigate.

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