Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Commuting Part II – A Crazy Idea!

Posted by middlerage on January 31, 2013

[Update: Nieuwguyski shows he’s just as mental as me. Make sure to read his comment for extra crazy good ideas.]

As I commute to work each day, I see the same sight we all do – packed multi-lanes of interstate filled with single occupant cars. And I think of the same old tired tropes the environmental movement trots out (and remember, I’m an enviro-weenie, so I am self -indicting here): ‘Mericans need to carpool! Americans have too  many roads, and too many cars! We need to take the bus! Let’s get funding for light rail! Have you been to Europe!? (Japan, South America, insert favorite-foreign place) – why they live NEAR their job. They walk to work!

But I say, None of that is going to work. We need to embrace ourselves, our uniqueness.

And what is that uniqueness? Land! We’re spread out! We need cars. And admit it – vanishingly small numbers of us live in the same place as our co-workers such that carpooling makes sense. Plus, our doctor/dentist/daycare is NOT within walking distance, and we need our own car to run to the doc on lunch hour. We are the way we are. So let’s find a solution that works for us.

At first I thought of motorcycles, but nah… that’d never work for a host of reasons. Then I got crazy.

How about a tiny, enclosed, one person electric commuter car with four wheels? With a reasonable top speed, say 70-80mph. It wouldn’t require the talent and skill of a motorcycle, it would be just as familiar as a car, and it would fit two to a parking space.

But wait! There’s more! Remember we have to embrace our Americaness, and Americans need an SUV to haul kids to soccer or the tuba to band practice. We can’t just go out and buy a single-purpose vehicle! Exactly, that’s why my mini-commuter-mobile would be… Free! Like the internet.  How do you get pragmatic Americans to adopt a game-changing environmental movement? Remove the barriers! Exxon, Shell, Google, and Apple are gonna buy us the cars in exchange for carbon credits. Keep the SUV you paid for, but during the work week use the micro-electro-dart.

Work with the war you have, not the one you wish you had. Or something.


11 Responses to “Commuting Part II – A Crazy Idea!”

  1. Back when I was an overpaid Silicon Valley drudge, a local company made a brief foray into the vehicle-type you describe — one-person, electric… except that it only had three wheels and I’m not sure it could touch 70 mph:


    It having three wheels was a vital feature, because in California any vehicle with three wheels that weighs less than 1500 pounds is registered as a motorcycle, and can be driven in the carpool lane by a solo driver. It failed, and I think you pinpoint the reason — or rather, reasons. You had to buy the thing, it cost as much as a small car, it had a limited range, and it only carried one person.

    I was fascinated by the concept and for a while avidly checked their website for developments, and I remember the company was really defensive about the one-person limit. Apparently they received a lot of questions about when they were going to come out with a two-person version. They hammered away on statistics about how the vast majority of commuters drove solo, and how a two-person vehicle didn’t fit that market. I suspect they were up against hard engineering limits; that a two-person vehicle would be larger and heavier, and require more battery mass, and couldn’t satisfy their performance baselines and still come in under 1500 pounds. But they never made any statement other than, “you don’t need a two-person commuter vehicle!”

    But the moment you eliminate ownership from the equation, I think you’re onto something. And let’s add perks. Outfit the things with Google self-driving technology and limit carpool lanes to self-driving cars. Use the self-driving technology to pack the vehicles into the carpool lanes inches from each-other — single-person minicars could drive side-by-side, increasing commuting efficiency.

    • Dahveed said

      Seeing that reminded me of the Corbin seat I had on my motorcycle. The same company made (and still makes) excellent aftermarket seats for long distance riding. Anyway, that took me to their website, which led me to this:


      Apparently they’re trying to revive the Sparrow. Maybe now that we paying $3 to $4 a gallon for gasoline, the Sparrow might catch on.

      • Still sticking with the one-person design and using the same statistics. I’m a little surprised — I would’ve thought lithium batteries might make a two-seater doable.

  2. Dahveed said

    Other than the free part (good luck) and being two passenger instead of one, it’s seem like a Smart car is what you’re describing.

    For better or worse, big cars are part of Americaness too (I remember Das Boot fondly!), although that’s slowly evolving.

    • middlerage said

      Yeah, I was thinking about the smart car whilst writing this. But it isn’t electric, which is a big part of my evil plan. And I totally agree with the critics John mentioned – the electro-dart needs to be twoseat. Which the Smart Car is.
      Ahhh, das Boot. The tank that could accelerate up hill. It might’ve even been good for the environment when I was hauling all my friends.

  3. Jerry said

    John, I think you’re on to something! Traffic would flow much better it people weren’t driving.

    Once you designate a lane for them and put them bumper-to-number, why not allow them to hook together temporarily? Seems like it would be safer. Some city somewhere (citing sources the Internet way!) was/is doing a pilot project/feasibility study/powerpoint presentation of some sort that essentially had dynamic trains with switches to pop little personal-sized cars off and on to get each person to a specific destination. Commuters did not own the cars (one just hops into the next available car); so the up-front cost to individual users is minimized.

    Some of Apple’s buildings around the city have designated parking spaces for electric vehicles – complete with free electricity. It falls pretty far short of buying everyone a responsible commuter-mobile, though. (Or even employees, we could start with that.)

    • Having cars physically connected would make sense on long-distance arteries, like Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Los Angeles. But in a spread-out metropolitan area the roads are filled with commuters all going varying distances — some one highway exit, others 100 miles from Turlock to San Jose. You could allow the long-distance commuters to hook together and run those amalgamations like an express train, giving them precedence over shorter-distance commuters, but then you’re rewarding people who choose to live stupid-long distances from where they work, which bugs me.

      But I suspect if you wrote the traffic-flow algorithms to simply maximize efficiency that wouldn’t happen. The median commute-distance-duration would be optimized, at the slight expense of the extremes. Of course, the improvement in commute times would probably gradually result in people choosing to live farther from work.

    • middlerage said

      “Some city somewhere (citing sources the Internet way!) was/is doing a pilot project/feasibility study/powerpoint presentation…” Ha! 😀

      Not to refute John, but core to my evil plan is facing Americans as we are not as we wish…and that means living far from work and commuting long distance. To be fair, I think a hell of a lot of this has to do with affordable housing, not (as the conventional wisdom says) to get away from it all with your own little slice of horse farm.

      How about flat bed road trains! Pulled by hybrid diesels? You could drive your car up onto the flat bed, and read the newspaper while a trucker hauls you into the city!

      • “Not to refute John, but core to my evil plan is facing Americans as we are not as we wish…and that means living far from work and commuting long distance.”

        And I would argue that I dealt with that when I suggested that maximizing commuting efficiency would result in optimizing the median commute. If most of us commute long distances, then long commutes are the ones we should optimize. I have, however, thought of a compelling reason these little commuter pods should physically connect while on the road: Power sharing. Pods programmed for short commutes could donate power to pods programmed for long distances.

        Thinking about it a little more, with auto-drive technology you could solve one more problem that mass transit faces in the spread-out suburbs common in the West. Since people don’t own these pods, they can’t take them home. But if you make people drive to the pod-center you have to have huge parking lots, and lots of people will balk at the inconvenience of having to drive to a park-and-pod. But if the pods can drive themselves, they can drive to your house and pick you up.

  4. The answer lies in our past. BMW Isetta. Google it. I am proud to say – it was my Dad’s first car in the late 60s…

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