I love TED and I’m ecstatic that they are moving to my current base, Vancouver. However, sometimes there talks miss the point. Often it is when they get someone big to share an idea as opposed to someone sharing a big idea.

That’s sort of what happened here. When I first saw the title Transforming Transportation I was intrigued. It had Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX and Tesla Motors. It was about transportation – a favorite topic of mine. However, it became clear a few paragraphs in that this is still the same old hogwash that the key to solving all our transportation woes is clean fuel technology.

Assuming that they rapid move to electric vehicles is a good thing (though electric power is only as clean as what was used to generated it), focusing on fuel technology misses the bigger problem with transportation: mismanagement. We are moving large numbers of people using a mode that requires huge amounts of land for roadways and parking and encourages the growth of settlement into agricultural land and natural habitat. 

What I’m referring to is our addiction to the private automobile. And these are only the environmental consequences; the private automobile also brings with it a slew of equity concerns (a lot of people can’t or cannot afford to drive) and health consequences (people are less active and more likely to become obese).

Instead of perpetuating the same, unenlightened discussion that electric vehicles will “transform” transportation, we should be focusing on policies that will transform how we manage and provide transportation. These policies include road and parking pricing, but also simpler things like improving cycling and walking infrastructure. 

When we start looking at the real problem of transportation, then we may be able to really transform it.


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