Book Review: ‘Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future’

Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future is a collection of chapters, vignettes if you will, composed by both the conductor (lead author) – Daniel Sperling – and a cohort of contributors. Three Revolutions is chock full of information, much backed up by supporting documentation (what’s contained in the “Notes” section). Maybe more importantly, of the material contained within, much of it I agree with. For example, electrification of the motor vehicle fleet quite possibly could (though it is not a foregone conclusion) result in improved air quality and fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and I concur generally that this along with “pooling” – the bringing together of total strangers all along for the ride whether in a road-based or rail-based conveyance – if in high enough numbers, could bring about not only further improvement in air quality and lower GHGs, but also help mitigate the antithesis of free-flowing traffic: congestion and gridlock.

There are two scenarios presented: The “dream” and “nightmare,” the former which purports to being a vast upgrade over what exists today, the expectation being better, safer, smarter and more widely available mobility, transit and travel options offered to a broader spectrum of travelers, the thinking here according to that which has been detailed, being that what will transpire is better utilization of roadway space and, alongside that, decreased congestion on roadways and reduced negative impact on the environment. That’s the ideal. The second scenario, meanwhile, in essence is one where there is both continued outward and unsustainable commercial, industrial and residential land development, mobility becomes further hamstrung, the divide between the affluent and the less well-to-do is greater, and where autonomobility is concerned, very real is the presence of both automobile computer hacking and invasion of privacy (p. 8).

It definitely makes sense. The one part, however, that at this point I’m still on the fence about and for good reason, is whether electrification coupled with motor vehicles operating autonomously (without a human driver), will make for even greater fluidity or in a manner of speaking, gum up the works even more.

Case in point: In the book the point is made that for all intents and purposes, in the United States, for example, motor vehicles are only utilized 5 percent of the time; if I remember, an hour per day on average. In an autonomous world where vehicles free-wheel (operate on their own albeit with internal and external inputs/commands), such have the potential, absent an on-board driver, to be operational for what, say, 20 hours per day – a 15,000 miles per year versus a 100,000 miles per year utilization factor? Which means, if motor vehicles are running on roadways at the far higher rate, as is as well noted in the book, there is the potential for increased traffic congestion. And, on this, the jury, apparently, is still out.

That all said, what’s printed on the pages of Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future, does get the reader thinking about the possibility of a better transportation future and by extension a better quality of life, no question.

The one nagging question that still remains is whether what Sperling and company have to offer will have teeth and if that proves to be born out and should the “dream” scenario be fully realized, will it be the saving grace? There is only one way to know for sure – full implementation in a city willing to go that route.

Until that day arrives – and the presumption is it will – it is time now to start thinking about the potentiality if not, in fact, a notion less abstract, in this case, actuality.

At the end of the day, this book is an outstanding examination and a thoughtful exploration of what could be if the “dream” scenario in Three Revolutions is realized to its full potential, in other words, to be the best mobility landscape, paradigm and platform it can be.

This post was last revised on May 16, 2020 @ 2:31 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel