Are driverless cars a viable alternative to light rail?

Some distinguished scholars believe they are:

The failure to come to an agreement with Duke University has profoundly discouraged many advocates for mass transit in Durham and Chapel Hill. Even if Duke issues can be worked out, escalating costs are almost inevitable.

We propose that large, building-shaking trains be replaced with 6-9 passenger self-driving vehicles, propelled with plug-in technology (just like a Volt or Tesla automobile). Such vehicles would shake Duke medical buildings much less than an existing delivery truck, and the internal battery would not generate electro-magnetic interference. They would also have many other advantages.

My initial reaction to this was it is just a step above "people-pods," which have unfortunately captured the imagination of otherwise logical thinkers. In my opinion, taking the "Mass" out of Transit is a huge step in the wrong direction, and using an inappropriate example to back up your theory doesn't give me a warm fuzzy either:

We would like to close with the “elephant in the room.” This is the bedrock belief among light rail advocates that “people will not take busses, but people will take trains.” What we propose is neither a bus nor a train.. The high-tech bus transit system developed in Brazil (and diffused elsewhere in South America) has been affectionately called the “Ligeirinho “ (little quick one). Given the size and potential acceleration of what we propose, this would not be a bad name for a technologically advanced transit system here in the Triangle.

First of all, that is not a "bedrock belief" among light rail advocates. Nearly every one I've spoken to references laterally-connecting bus routes as integral to the success of the project.

Second, the "little quick one" in Brazil is not really that little. It probably carries more passengers than our standard buses. But even more important, one of the main reasons it was successful is because they decided not to make the city center palatable to automobile traffic, so getting to downtown (Curitiba) almost requires the use of that system. I'm okay with doing stuff like that, but I'm not okay with university professors citing examples in the absence of context that might call that example into question. Or making logical leaps:

Second, it has not been widely reported, but the state Department of Transportation has plans to add a lane in each direction along 15-501, even with the LRT. We propose that new lanes be reserved for the new transit vehicles, as well as private-self guided vehicles, which would pay a toll.

DoT is not going to the hassle of adding an extra lane just for shits & giggles. The current volume of traffic on 15-501 is horrendous, even during non-rush traffic times. The idea they would dedicate that new lane for vehicles that don't even (really) exist yet is a jaw-dropper. Now, if you wanted that new lane to be set aside for multiple passenger vehicles (to promote car-pooling), which your little electric cars could also use, bring it on.



Also a little perturbed over the timing

of this article. Tossing this out while many are trying to put pressure on Duke University to moderate their obstinate and ever-changing opposition to light rail is somewhere between opportunistic and propagandish, especially considering one of the authors is a Duke University professor.