A Modest Transport Proposal

(Inspired by the great Daedalus)

This morning’s rapid bus journey in to work provided further confirmation of what we observed during London 2012. The bulk of traffic congestion on London streets is caused by delivery lorries and the school run.

Children need to get to school, shops need to get deliveries so it is not feasible to simply ban these activities. And whilst we may be able to shift some deliveries out of daytime hours, this would not be possible for all and definitely not possible for the school run. 

So the fundamental challenge is to get both deliveries and children off of the streets during rush hour.

Perhaps the answer lies in a visionary initiative of the past? Pneumatic tube technology is still widely used in shops to transfer the contents of tills to the safe and to send purchases to pick up points.

So why not implement an underground pneumatic transfer system for school children and freight?

Because of their small body mass, children can withstand quite high accelerations and decelerations, and their small body size also makes it easier for them to fit into compact spaces. 

It should therefore be possible to use the same capsules for both children and relatively non-fragile deliveries.

So we build a hub and spoke system with spokes within easy reach of houses, shops and schools. Each day children assemble at their nearest spoke and are sent at high speed to the local hub, they are there transferred to their school spoke and sent on.

Goods are delivered either straight to the hub or from factory/dock spokes.

Speeds of 90kmph should be perfectly feasible meaning that the trip to school should take a matter of 10 minutes or so.

There are obviously some downsides – capsules are unlikely to hold more than 1 child at a time which will make copying homework more difficult, but children are adaptable and simply putting the brightest children in the capsules first and having them leave a copy of their homework inside should address that.Image


3 thoughts on “A Modest Transport Proposal

  1. Your solution is elegant, fully thought through, and thus ready for implementation. I am not quite so sure of the problem.

    What the evidence actually shows is that congestion is caused by a very slight excess of demand over supply. Reduce demand a little, and everything flows. Increase demand a little and everything seizes up.

    So the next question is what you choose to see as a the base load, and what the excess. The congestion charge takes a simple and only partly successful approach to that. We clearly need something a bit more rigorous, and fortunately the ingredients for a better solution lie close at hand.

    Most of the traffic holding my bus up consists of cars, each containing one person who has an incomprehensible but overwhelming desire to park in central London. Around London there are parks of all shapes and sizes, owned by local authorities which are struggling to find the money to maintain them. At the same time, there must be a sudden superfluity of horses, no longer destined to enter the food chain.

    Put that together, and you have park and ride: randomly require lone drivers to abandon their cars and complete their journey on horseback. Congestion would very rapidly become a thing of the past.

    (By the way, if these tubes are operating at (90k)mph as you suggest, the children might arrive somewhat overheated and rather crushed. That may or may not be part of your intended outcome.)

    • This is a beautiful plan. I have observed the same issues on Newcastle streets (although, admittedly, our rush is shorter and comprises generally slow-moving or pause-move-pause-move traffic rather than gridlocked). I would also like to commend you on your effective project planning and elegant Gantt chart.

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