In anthropological circles, especially in the study of tribes, an object is considered a fetish if it is thought to be imbued with magical powers, often because it is inhabited by a spirit. Between the contemporary obsession with technology, and the near-divine worship of start-up culture, it may be time to shift the focus of that definition. The latest tech “innovation” to make news is placing on roads copper coils to make it easier to charge electric vehicles. More importantly, such dedicated roads could remove much of the uncertainty and danger around self-driving or driver-less vehicles — Elaine Herzberg became the first person to be killed by a self-driving car in 2018.
If a dedicated lane or road to provide safe, eco-friendly transport which spares commuters the trials and tribulations of driving through urban mazes seems like a familiar idea, that’s because it is. Wooden rails were used as early as 1515 and the carts that plied on them have never been accused of an over-sized carbon footprint. Closer home, and closer to our times, Kolkata still sports proudly the most nostalgic form of public transport — the tram. Paris, too, has them, albeit slicker, faster versions. Sadly, trains and trams still require drivers. But for would-be commuters, what does it matter how they get there, as long as they don’t have to do the driving themselves?
The tram-track idea for electric, self-driving cars has come from a start-up. By employing new-sounding, if not novel, jargon — “eco-friendly”, “futuristic”, etc — the company has figured out what second-had car salesman have long known: Slap a coat of paint on it, and sell the shine. As for the substance of the proposal, track-based transport is an excellent idea for urban conglomerations that can no longer support the luxury of fuel-guzzling, space hoarding private vehicles. Fortunately, someone already thought of the metro.