The Honolulu rail transit project is now projected to be completed nine years from now, in late 2025. If you recall, it was also originally budgeted at $5 billion.

So unless you still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, let’s realistically push that completion date out to say 12 to 15 years from now.

The problem is that when rail finally comes to fruition, it will be a moot point. The system will be obsolete for one simple reason: self driving cars.

Skeptical? Here’s a couple facts:

Waymo (Google’s self-driving car program) has been shuttling passengers around the Phoenix area for about a year now. GM plans to launch robotaxis in 2019. Ford recently spent $1 billion for self driving software company, which will help it deliver self-driving cars by 2021. The technology is coming faster than you think.

Sure, there’s a lot of kinks to be worked out and projections may seem overly optimistic, but 15 years is a long time technology-wise. Fifteen years ago there was no such thing as iPhones. Now we use them for everything from communicating to banking, storing music to taking photos. It’s a total paradigm shift.

Hands off the wheel: A Jaguar Land Rover showcase for its connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, 2016. Flickr: Jaguar MENA

Autonomous vehicles will be another paradigm shift. Now that you don’t have to pay attention to traffic, the commute will provide a respite from the daily grind; a chance to catch up on things, relax or even snooze. Feel free to text behind the wheel. You could study for that upcoming test today or finish off your work online before you get home. Commuting would actually become extra free time, not wasted down time.

Still skeptical?

What about the AV that killed someone, you ask. The odds are low. Waymo has logged over 5 million miles in various cities with no fatality. Besides all the research shows people driving are way more dangerous than AV, which uses ladar (laser plus radar also called lidar) guidance technology.

Even if you still think AV is pie in the sky, there is a lot of other technology that can render rail obsolete. Just like how modern elevators are now programmed to direct you to specific elevators optimizing ride wait times and number of stops, the same technology is starting to be used on traffic.


In many major cities, Uber has partnered with local officials to integrate ride-sharing with real-time bus tracking in one smartphone app for seamless transfers. UberPool also provides a low cost private alternative to public ride-sharing. MIT has done research that suggests an optimized ride-sharing and vehicle-sharing system could, in major urban centers, get everyone to their destination with 80 percent fewer vehicles on the road.

As technology advances, the need to commute will also decrease. Students taking online classes, automation and ability to work from home or other remote sites will all reduce the number of  commuters. Amazon is already toying with drone delivery and similar technologies may additionally shift more cars off the road.

Autonomous vehicles will be a paradigm shift.

Driverless trains are already being used in Vancouver, while personal rapid transit systems, carrying up to six people in each driverless car, are currently running in South Korea and at London airport.

Imagine 15 years from now, if instead of WikiBikes, we had WikiCars. You’d call up an AV on your phone app and it would come to your house and pick you up.

You really wouldn’t need to own a car because there would always be one conveniently on demand. You’d only pay for it when you needed it. You could choose whatever type of vehicle you wanted. You don’t have to worry about parking or ever maintaining the vehicle. 

More pie in the sky you say. Uber recently paid $200 million for bikeshare company Jump. They ain’t thinking rail.

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