On Transit, Kansas City Looks Backward
Subject to a possible contract rebid, Kansas City’s political leadership seems on the brink of accomplishing something that has eluded them for years: building a rail transit system in downtown. It only took a decade of study, multiple defeats at the ballot box, and overcoming a lawsuit or two to realize their dream of using 19th century technology to meet 21st century needs.
But elsewhere in the country, forward-looking urban areas are using new technology to meet transportation needs. The TechCrunch website recently published a piece about the purchase of 2,500 driverless cars by Uber, a vehicles-for-hire service with fleets around the country. The cars, built by Google and now in their third generation, are described this way:
Due to its low weight and the latest in fuel cell technology, the GX3200 can get up to 750 miles of travel on a single charge, or about 48 hours on standby mode. Like Google’s other autonomous vehicles, the GX3200 is designed to find and dock in the nearest Google PowerUP station whenever it’s not in use.
In contrast to light rail, the rapidly progressing leaps in driverless car and cycling technology are allowing people more freedom and choices in how they get from point A to B. Indeed, the future of transportation is in flexibility, not inflexibility. Google driverless cars allow for cheap and easy transit while respecting individual freedom. In several places, state legislatures have altered their traffic laws to allow for such cars.
Why can’t Kansas City be at the bleeding edge of this transportation revolution instead of celebrating the transportation equivalent of erecting telegraph lines? Kansas City is one of the earliest adopters of Google Fiber (which, by the way, was brought to us by small efficient government, not large bureaucratic government). We ought to be looking to the future for our transit needs and championing the things that people want: individually tailored service, ease of use and convenience — and provided by the market because the people demand it, not the government because politicians do.
The fixed rail they will be installing downtown offers none of that flexibility or popular appeal. Rails do not take passengers where they want to go; rail takes people where city planners want or need them to go (not to mention a car ride to the stations in most cases).
To add insult to injury, the rail system that is being built likely will be abandoned by the hip urbanite core that it is meant to attract as soon as something sexier comes along … like a Google car.
Patrick Tuohey is the western Missouri field manager at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.