Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Honk! Can Segway do the trick?

We wish engineers, inventors and anyone else who chooses to get involved, all the good luck in the world when it comes to trying to bring on line new and more emissions/energy effective vehicles and power sources.

Indeed, we are convinced that the shift from old to new mobility will in large part be mediated by technology. However we have to be a bit careful with this because at the same time it is important to bear in mind the time window which we believe is the proper focus of policy and practice, and of course of technology – i.e., the two to four years directly ahead.

This is significant and in many discussions of various ways of achieving more sustainable transportation arrangements, we often hear much about the advantages of new vehicle, motive, and fuel technologies, as if they were going to be able to do the job that needs to be done. This of course is impossible, unfortunately, when we bear in mind the realities of the penetration path of these technologies, which are measured in many years and indeed decades by a time they begin to have a significant global impact on greenhouse gas reductions, energy savings, etc..

It is tempting of course for us to look at proposals for this particular class of technologies, all the more so since they often are well supported by institutions and interests behind them. You do not have to look very far to find many such proposals, often wrapped up in very appealing packages and arguments. But we really need to think hard and keep them in perspective.

Here is one example that has been brought to our attention today by our "eyes on the street" colleague in Ottawa, Chris Bradshaw, in which he makes the point: ”It seems Segway's announcement today,, is right up your alley.”

Well, if we check out that reference here is what the Segway people have to say about their product:

“Think of it as a digital solution to an analog problem. Segway’s P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility) prototype represents the shift that’s needed for the future of transportation. It values less over more; taking up less space, using less energy, produced more efficiently with fewer parts, creating fewer emissions during production and operation, all while offering more enjoyment, productivity, and connectivity”

Hmm. I invite you to have a look at the Segway product and proposal as outlined here, and to share with us your reflections and reactions to it, perhaps both in general but more specifically within the time and strategic framework that World Streets is working with. Personally I do not see it.

True enough, if Segway and other innovators with similar softer technology packages are able to bring to market vehicles which people will buy and use instead of less efficient and more wasteful technologies, this would be useful at that specific micro level. But from the global and time perspective that we are destined to work with, it just doesn't add up. Sorry.

To end a more positive note, I would with your permission like to cite the statement made under the heading “Full speed ahead with new technology” in the welcoming note posted here.

“New mobility is at its core heavily driven by the aggressive application of state of the art logistics, communications and information technology across the full spectrum of service types. The transport system of the future is above all an interactive information system, with the wheels and the feet at the end of this chain. These are the seven leagues boots of new mobility.”

Thus it is our view that technology is no less than enormously important in the party moved to sustainability, but the way in which is going to make its difference will be when it is brought in to provide the information and communications infrastructure needed to render our new mobility systems effective and competitive. We will never get there without them

Your comments are as always very welcome on this.

Eric Britton

Editor, World Streets

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