If there’s one thing all Commonwealth residents can agree on, it’s that pre-pandemic traffic in and out of Boston was some of the worst in the country. Long commute times and crowded highways became so ingrained in our identity as a state that residents felt there was no hope that traffic congestion would ever improve. In fact, this sentiment was validated when a 2019 survey by MassInc of Boston commuters said they reached their “breaking point” with commute times.
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic Massachusetts, there is a high likelihood that riders who typically utilized public transportation will shift their preference to driving – pushing traffic to be more congested than ever before. There are far more hidden costs to the people of the Commonwealth than just the loss of time sitting in rush hour traffic. According to a 2019 study, Boston drivers forfeited $2,205 on average in lost productivity because of congestion, the highest total for any domestic city that was tracked. The traffic crisis has also contributed to our Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), which in 2016, were 14% higher in Massachusetts than the national average.
With these overt concerns in mind, we need to make a change for the future of our state.
At the end of our last legislative session, the legislature passed a Transportation Bond Bill which included legislation I sponsored to spend $1.3 million to develop and implement solar-powered mobility networks. The bill provided us with a legal framework to allow private companies’ access to build green transportation networks in Massachusetts. In essence, this would introduce an entirely new mode of transportation to give the average commuter the option of a faster, cleaner, and greener commute.
So, what is a solar mobility network? It’s the combination of self-driving car networks with solar-power, similar to what companies such as Hyperloop and JPods (pictured below at Boston Green Fest), to aid in combatting the longstanding congestion crisis in Massachusetts. JPods, for example, can be offered at 50 times less than buses, 25 times less than trains, and 10 times less than cars in terms of cost per passenger-mile and at an infinitesimally smaller scale in terms of carbon foot-print.
JPods are similar to horizontal-elevators. Anyone, regardless of age, ability, or wealth, can have their cell phone tell the network where to take them. They are personal, so there is no waiting for a schedule or riding with strangers. JPods are networks of self-driving cars on grade-separated guideways. The grade-separation guideways are like freeways that preempt traffic congestion and the complexities self-driving cars face on city streets with other vehicles and bike riders. This grade-separation also provides the structure for deploying the solar-collectors to power the networks.
Given their smaller real-estate footprint and low capital cost, these networks could provide feeder networks to the existing MBTA system and be ideal to be built into existing underserved communities.
Ultimately the implementation of this technology would not only introduce greatly needed competition to our transportation system but it would do so in a green, clean, cost-effective, and less frustrating fashion.
By thinking out-of-the-box and utilizing the amazing ingenuity those looking to reimagine transportation, we can create a greener, more efficient future.
Senator Patrick O’Connor represents the Plymouth and Norfolk district, which includes the towns of Cohasset, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate, and Weymouth. Sen. O’Connor and his staff may be reached at the State House at 617-722-1646 or by email at Patrick.O’[email protected].