by James Ray Deaton 10/4/15
I like a good Jetsons episode as much as the next guy, but this whole (mostly left-wing) push for and fascination with self-driving cars and super-fast and super-expensive ($68 billion? $98 billion? $200 billion?) California bullet trains is troubling on many levels. And it’s not just the cost, taxes and resources required.
Why this rush to a driverless future? I generally like to drive and enjoy the simple independence of asphalt and internal combustion. And I don’t think I’m alone on that. I wouldn’t mind an autopilot car for some routine jaunts around town from time to time — but if we had that technology it wouldn’t end there. There’s a fundamental difference between driving, or being driven, from place to place. A philosophy of independence, if you will. Of your own good self being in control of things. Wherefore this sudden urge to develop these real-life futuristic people movers? Did I miss the memo? Where’s the big public outcry for driverless cars and super-fast trains? And why is it leftists always seem to be behind their advocacy and development? It will surely be more egalitarian fifty years from now when we’re all whisked about so efficiently in little pod-cars or super fast trains. It will be called sustainable. Green even. But the whole agenda seems contrived, somewhat forced and mainly the desire of a small wealthy minority with a bent towards central planning. I smell Utopia.
Could the impetus be (at its core) mostly a fancy new high-tech way to finally get the masses out of their cars? If all your utopian public transit plans to get drivers out of their cars have failed — are these new technologies a roundabout way to at least control their movements and whereabouts? These chock-full-of technology driverless pod-cars will be able to be tracked, monitored, rerouted and controlled much easier than granddad’s Galaxy 500 Ford.
Newly installed “smart meters” in many California homes already allow central planners to dial down energy use when the electric grid is stressed — will someone someday be able to “take offline” a certain percentage of driverless cars when the transportation grid is overloaded. When a motorcade passes through town, will you be re-routed “until further notice?” It will make things much more convenient for central planners and authorities. Next time a Pope visits Philadelphia it will be much easier to reroute and shut down the city than the old-fashioned way of roadblocks and red lights.
And high speed trains and train stations will be chockablock with high tech systems to monitor and “secure” the teeming masses yearning to train-port from Bakersfield to Fresno. Authorities will be able to track your movements and travel plans much easier. And it will be much safer. Security will be provided. Metal detectors, TSA workers (union jobs!), sniffer dogs, security cameras, facial recognition systems, full-body x-ray scanners and para-militarized security will likely be part of any bullet train enterprise. Customer services will be the best that minimum-wage service workers can provide. (But don’t worry because by then the minimum wage will be $35 an hour). It won’t be like a bus depot at all. It’ll be like going to the airport — but without the glamour!
Skeptics say people won’t leave their cars for bullet trains, but the calculus may change. Liberals plan long-term. It’s not so much “build it and they will come,” but “build it and then change things to force them to come.” Once the infrastructure is in place and trains running — the powers that be (both private and public) would not let any good crisis go to waste. World events, radical political changes or natural disasters could very conceivably cause gasoline rationing or sharp price hikes. If a gallon of gas cost $5 or $10 or $15, would train ridership increase? What if gasoline were $20 or $25 dollars a gallon? Bullet trains would start looking attractive to those who could still afford to travel. Jerry Brown would be hailed as a visionary leader who fixed the problem before there even was one!
I know I shouldn’t worry — there will always be room on the roads for a few old-fogy “retro-drivers” like me. But we Ret-Drives better make sure we are rich. And have very good insurance. Once the pod-cars take over, insurance rates for old-fashioned drivers who insist on missing the train and driving themselves will necessarily skyrocket. A few rich elite will always be able to indulge in the old-fashioned off the grid American road trip. They will be kind of like what private airplane pilots are today and the cost of such extravagance will keep their numbers relatively low. Driving yourself will be seen as an inefficient and dangerous way to travel. A little anti-social. Selfish, really. You will be expected to pay for such indulgence. And have the proper permits. And pay the proper fees. And have sufficient gasoline ration coupons. And have a valid and chipped Ret-Drive Class C driver’s license. And have an approved pre-trip physical exam with an approved “Data-Link” eye test. Then you’ll be ready for the freedom of the open road. And it should be more open — the hoi polloi will be on the train.
And why do I get the feeling that the people most interested in self-driving cars don’t like cars or driving very much? If you don’t like driving — don’t drive — but don’t ruin it for others. A poll by Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute revealed that a large majority of Americans are not interested in self-driving cars. According to a July article in fortune.com, “The most frequent preference for vehicle automation was no self-driving capability at all.” A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle said that riding in the prototype Google-developed driverless car “feels like taking an airport tram — comfortable, safe, quiet and dull.” Wow! What more could a good liberal want?
James Ray Deaton, one of six known conservatives living in Berkeley, Calif., is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
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