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Eclipse 2017: Drive All Night

by Roger Lanctot | Aug 23, 2017

The reports are coming in now that Apple is working on self-driving car technology in support of developing shuttle buses - not unlike the dozen or so other companies like Local Motors and Navya working on the same idea. The message is clear that the only way to reduce traffic and congestion is to get human beings to pack themselves more tightly into fewer vehicles.

My wife and I got that message loud and clear Monday night. We flew to Greenville, S.C., to experience the totality together - a week or so ahead of our 32nd anniversary. Due to the lack of flights out of Greenville we planned to drive home. That is when I got my eclipse epiphany.

Leading up to our eclipse escapade I had had several signals as to the future of transportation. I simply wasn't paying attention. But, now, I finally get it. I am on board.

My education came as I commenced what I thought would be a seven-and-a-half-hour drive home, but which became a 12-hour life-or-death ordeal. Not even Waze or Google could cope with or overcome the mass of humanity striving to drive en masse from points southeast to points northeast up the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

At the outset of our journey we thought we were being clever using Google to find alternative secondary roads to avoid the parking lot that was once Interstate 85. But it was clear, early on, that we weren't the only ones trying to outwit the gods and the gods were having none of it.

There were simply too many people traveling simultaneously from too many points of origin to too many destinations clustered in roughly the same geographic area. It was like a massive national rush hour happening at night - and thoughout the middle of the night at that.

I could see from the license plates on the cars surrounding us that all of the cars from places like Charleston/Columbia/Greenville, SC and Knoxville/Nashville/Sweetwater, TN and Bowling Green, KY were shifting at once up a two-lane highway toward PA, NJ, MD, VA, NC, NY and, yes, even Rhode Island. That meant that the traffic would only get worse during the night, not better, with Interstate 85 and, then, Interstate 81 acting as a giant funnel - and a funnel that conveniently had construction shutting down various portions of the road.

But this is no different from the kind of day-long gridlock that can be seen on the 405 in Los Angeles, where I was a few weeks earlier getting my introduction to Lyft Line. There's a reason Uber and Lyft are pushing carpool options: it's the best way to maximize profits, revenue and passenger share while mitigating traffic and congestion.

This is also the reason Ford acquired Chariot. Transportation experts want more people packing themselves into vehicles of all kinds. It is the only path to fewer vehicles on the road. In New York City alone you have Gett, Via, Juno and Bandwagon all offering shared rides.

The phenomenon ought to represent a huge opportunity for both General Motors and FCA. Both companies are shifting massive quantities of large SUVs and crossovers into the market in the midst of a passenger car sales deficit. Both companies could cleverly enable mobility services connecting customers with shared commuter routes.

Washington, DC, like a handful of other metropolitan areas around the country, has slug lines at various locations around the city to enable drivers to pick up passengers thereby allowing them to use HOV lanes on the way out of the city. Why can't GM's OnStar offer a slug-line app to enable drivers of connected GM Suburbans, Equinoxes, Cadillacs and Traverses to pick up passengers and do their part to reduce congestion? Why can't FCA equip all its minivans and SUVs with connected services and enable ad hoc ride sharing? (It's worth noting that our first Lyft ride of our journey - to the aiport in DC - was in a Chrysler 200 and our last in Greenville, SC, was in a Dodge Avenger.)

You could say that my wife and I went to the eclipse and I saw the light. But will GM and FCA see the light? Why sell all those mini-vans, FCA, if you aren't going to make it possible for the owners to pick up some extra passengers and maybe make a little money on the side. OnStar as a ride-sharing service provider? That's a no-brainer, especially in the context of saving the environment.

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