In a quick search of beloved childhood songs, it is not unusual to notice how lyrics—at face value, can be ordinary and playful, while at the same time, these innocent tunes contain dual messages.
It seems appropriate to rely on this metaphor when exploring and explaining the future of transportation services in Massachusetts and the implications from what the public is told to believe versus what their future experiences hold.
We are not claiming to be experts in the business of moving commuters from place to place, but we have our ears to the ground. From this, we hear dissatisfaction from a watchful public; simultaneously, we are paying attention to some of the greatest minds in today’s world and regularly monitor their predictions for an unknown future.
In this month’s issue, you will find “Impressions; Wave of the Future,” offering a sampling of forecasts made by a few high-profile and successful people. In the op-ed, voices that matter bet their money on what life will look like in a post-pandemic world.
Today’s prognosticators see a future much different than a decade ago. Visions, backed by evidence of progress, include a large segment of society—found higher on the employment food-chain or working as subcontractors or freelancers, moving from larger offices in big cities, to smaller accommodations located in their newly purchased home. This change is statistically noted by business leaders and exemplified by the massive climb in real estate markets throughout the New England states; there is also a phenomenon taking place well beyond its borders.
Zoom, Skype, DocuSign, Teledoc, and many other communication applications, and exciting transportation concepts are still in the pipeline, or quite possibly, a mere outline or drawing on a computer screen. As each idea is refined and delivered to the marketplace—allowed to survive a challenging climb—a plethora of new ideas continue to arrive at an unyielding pace, forcing dramatic changes to our futures.
Today’s innovation is historic and will be viewed as the new technology revolution, more innovative than the first computer, cellphone, or search engine. Advances in tech and AI will touch every part of our lives but, much like a ride on a locomotive, it will quickly pass us by, only to be noticed once such advances arrive at the station for our consumption.
Interestingly, this explosive pace of change is coming to transportation. Whether it is back to the moon, a visit to Mars, reusable rockets to deliver the public into space for a lunar vacation, or to get around the globe; entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, and federal officials cast their eyes on impossible solutions to problems most people have not considered.
Bringing our thoughts back to earth, let us armchair quarterback the ideas surrounding projects underway, but remain insignificant because of obsolete technology and old tools being considered.
When propositions are first presented, they are considered timely and neatly placed into the realm of advancement; but, without pushing the envelope and adhering to changes taking place with the evolution of time and matter, those initial pathways and projects become antiquated quickly.
Considering where we find ourselves today, it seems we face significant issues when it comes to public transportation.
When traditional taxi services came under assault—for various reasons, Uber and Lyft came on to the scene, causing one of the most extensive disruptions of local transportation ever to be presented. Then, the birth of on-demand delivery services followed, so that just about anything you need, or want—was a keystroke away.
Recently, Door Dash went public after reports that it generated almost $2 billion in revenue. Of course, with its Prime membership program, Amazon gets products to consumers practically overnight—all for free; this is what innovation looks like today.
Because of this giant retailers’ aggressive approach in meeting the public’s incessant need for immediate gratification, pressure was put on other retailers, forcing them to offer similar courtesies and get online purchases to homes where both shipping satisfaction and returns are included in the price.
Oh, how well competition and free markets work regardless of attacks on capitalism.
Recently, an article was published regarding Amtrak’s Acela Express service and how the next generation of highspeed “trainsets” will replace current equipment (which is not that old) for the northeast corridor. As many readers are aware or experienced, the Acela highspeed bullet-type train can cut significant time from travel between Providence, Boston, and NYC.
While under the pandemic lockdown, commuting is not as important as it was previously, but using forward-thinking as a guide, it will not be long before the public’s need to travel returns; not so much for business, but certainly for pleasure.
These notions lead us back to a story that we ran in June 2008—found in our first issue—“Where’s the Train.” At the time, including follow-up articles, we discussed the lack of progress on the idea of a commuter rail from New Bedford and Fall River to Boston. Old technology, the amount of time it would take for the project to come to fruition, and the cost of equipment up to the day it hits the rails should have caused it to become a non-starter.
At the time, we made predictions about the cost to taxpayers, ongoing subsidies, and excessively long commuting times the public would face, likely causing them to seek alternatives methods—this still stands.
Few would disagree that the SouthCoast needs access to Boston, but the current plan and effort to chase old technology for use in a new world are careless and will further enhance the image of being behind the eight-ball; it is a point of view the area has been longing to shed.
It is troubling to think that millions upon millions of dollars will have been invested in a system that is obsolete before an engine is started and passengers board for the first time. Plus, many more dollars will be spent in the next few years to finish the work, and then be evaluated.
Unfortunately, local and state officials have placed their desire to show their endurance for completing a formidable task; at the expense of consumers, the equipment will become irrelevant—living years behind other modes of transportation.
Using common sense and understanding the progress we are making in related fields, the SouthCoast Rail Project’s success is more of a boondoggle than a vision of the future.
As we enter an age of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, self-piloting cars, individual flying automobiles, in search of a carbon-neutral environment; we need to ask why good money is being thrown after bad, and what is the ultimate goal when we invest in 20th century ideas while living almost a quarter of the way into the new millennium?
Time will tell.
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