The fracas began when Wired on Thursday published comments made by Musk at an artificial intelligence conference earlier this month. Musk said that “public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end?”Not that different in general disdain from the pitcher's comments. But it's common to a theme, that riding the buses or the rails might not be for everybody. Perhaps it is not, and perhaps transit exists in order for Thought Leaders to make it available to The Rabble.
Musk further said that using public transit meant rubbing shoulders with “like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer. . . that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”
Musk doesn’t want to share a vehicle with “a bunch of random strangers.” But the presence of random strangers is what a city is, and what successful transit is. The unique achievement of transit is to transport so many people in so little space with so little labor. Crowding—however much it bothers some people—is the essence of transit’s success.Interestingly, his hyperloop is a plan to fill a faster vehicle with a bunch of random strangers, and perhaps those random strangers, even with toll roads and self-driving cars and all the rest, are choosing transit because it's still faster or less nerve-racking. (The shame, to take one example, is that there is only track capacity for three Naperville Zephyrs an hour without cutting off some of the shorter-turn fast trains during the rush hour, otherwise you'd likely have more people staying off the toll roads and expressways.)
Designing a transportation system, or any other public project, to reflect either the preferences of the designers or the perceptions by the designers of what is For Your Own Good, is unlikely to turn out well.
Elite projection is the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential people, that what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole. Once you learn to recognize this simple mistake, you see it everywhere. It is perhaps the single most comprehensive barrier to prosperous, just, and liberating cities.Bet on emergence, dear reader, and fight shy of the fatal conceits.
This is not a call to bash elites. I am making no claim about the proper distribution of wealth and opportunity, or about anyone’s entitlement to influence. But I am pointing out a mistake that elites are constantly at risk of making. The mistake is to forget that elites are always a minority, and that planning a city or transport network around the preferences of a minority routinely yields an outcome that doesn’t work for the majority. Even the elite minority won’t like the result in the end.