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Daniel Sperling is a distinguished professor of civil engineering and environmental science and policy at the University of California at Davis, where he is also founding director of the school's Institute of Transportation Studies. Sperling, a member of the California Air Resources Board, recently gave a talk at MITEI detailing major technological and societal developments that have the potential to change transportation for the better—or worse. Following the event, Sperling spoke to MITEI about policy, science, and how to harness these change agents for the public good.
Q: What are the downsides of the "car-centric monoculture," as you put it, that we find ourselves living in?
Cars - Value - Thing - Transportation - System
A: Cars provide great value, which is why they are so popular. But too much of a good thing can be destructive. We've gone too far. We've created a transportation system made up of massive road systems and parking infrastructure that is incredibly expensive for travelers and for society to build and maintain. It is also very energy- and carbon-intensive, and disadvantages those unable to buy and drive cars.
Q: Can you tell me about the three transportation revolutions that you say are going to transform mobility over the next few decades?
Revolutions - Electrification - Automation - Electrification - Way
A: The three revolutions are electrification, automation, and pooling. Electrification is already under way, with increasing numbers of pure battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles that combine batteries and combustion engines, and fuel cell electric vehicles that run on hydrogen. I currently own a hydrogen car (Toyota Mirai) and have owned two different battery electric cars (Nissan Leaf and Tesla).
A second revolution, automation, is not yet under way, at least in the form of driverless cars. But it is poised to be truly transformational and disruptive for many industries—including automakers, rental cars, infrastructure providers, and transit operators. While partially automated cars are already here, true transformations...
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