Why We’re Stuck at a Red Light

The field of mobility is stalling because the U.S. regulation system makes it very difficult to test out innovations. Plus, the regulated have become the regulators.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Do you see any radical leaps forward coming in other aspects of mass transit?

Richard Schaden: Well, it’s interesting.  I’m driving 100% electric car, for example, the Tesla, which is a great concept because I think Tesla has done what needed to be done to let people know that to have an electric car didn’t mean you had to be driving a breadbox, ugly looking green sort of thing that we might find in Boulder, Colorado, but you could actually look kind of sporty and go fast and it’s a great performer and a great little car, and it’s 100% electric.  I think that we still have to look at what it costs to make the electricity and how much carbon fuels were used to make the electricity to store in the car to make the car go.  But It’s a great performer.  It’s highly competitive to a Porsche in terms of performance, I think that is great. 

Not that it’s new and innovative, but electric boats are very easy.  That’s why there aren’t more electric boats.  It’s hard for me to imagine, but at Christmas time I rented a 100% electric boat and spent Christmas Day on an electric boat.  It works fine.  It has a lot of advantages over carbon fuels and motors and internal combustion engines, and diesel engines, and what have you.  So, I think that’s another area where we can do real well, and the ocean is a bit part of my own passion.  And I do a lot of sailing, which is another, again not innovative, but there has been some real new innovative ways to make sailing more efficient and even more available for commercial use.  I think that some of the things in sport sailing could be some of those ideas and some of that technology could be really transferred to commercial shipping.  I love it because it’s a combination of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics.  So, that’s great.  So those are some things other than aviation, those are on the surface. 

And then, the idea of traveling beyond the atmosphere is, you know rocketry and space mechanics are also very interesting because I think they can solve a lot of problems.

Question: What are the factors contributing to the stasis in the field of transportation? 

Richard Schaden: Well one of the problems is that we have a regulation system that makes it very difficult to take risk to try new things.  For example, if you tried to design a new airplane today, many things that inhibit airplane design are the Federal air regulations.  Now, on one hand, that’s real important from the standpoint of safety, but it makes it very difficult for innovation because we’re stuck in these old regulations that were the design criteria that were back – basically created back in the mid-‘50’s, or even before that for air transports. 

So, that part of the infrastructure, if you will, call it infrastructure, is inhibiting rather than helpful.  Understanding that it’s necessary for safety, there just has to be another way to be able to advance this technology and to take the risk for new ideas without having the infrastructure prevent that from happening.  Things – so many aviation ideas just haven’t come to fruition because of the infrastructure. 

Another problem is that the regulated have become the regulators.  To a large extent, in the aviation industry we could say that the Boeing Airplane Company certifies their own airplanes, or tells the FAA when they’re going to certify them and how they’re going to certify them.  So, the system has kind of turned around on itself a little bit. 

Question: What could the government do better to regulate and incentivize advances in mobility?

Richard Schaden: I think listening to people that have expertise in the areas, or in the fields of transportation rather than, and I’m talking about people as compared to corporations that are in control of the economy, and I want to make that distinction.  I think there are a tremendous number of people that never get listened to and if you go to Congress and you go to a Sub-Committee and to a hearing and what have you, all of the people who testify for the most part are the heads of industry.  The heads of the airlines, the heads of the airplane manufacturer.  We need to get some of the people out of the universities.  We need to get some of the ideas out of the hangers, out of the experimental aircraft association, some of the grassroots people who have some great innovative ideas and get the people who are in control of government to listen to them. 

One of the things I loved about the courtroom is, to a large extent, we had the experts we used were people from the university.  They were people that were learning and teaching as compared to people who were in control of industry. 

Question: What can businesses do to help catalyze the revolution?

Richard Schaden: Well one thing that would work would be to have some system in place where Congress listens to the teachers and the students from the academic institutions, some of the cutting edge academic institutions.  I know at the University of Colorado where I work substantially, there are some great things going on in the minds of young people and there’s some great things going on in the laboratories.  But that’s where they are.  You know, I want those things to be on the floor of Congress to be competing with the industry input. 

I grew up in Detroit where when I was in high school, the phrase was, “What was good for General Motors, was good for the world.”  Well, we all know better. We knew how to make vehicles when I went to the University of Detroit in mechanical engineering; we knew how to make vehicles with very high qualitative fuel usage per mile, or per gallon, as compared to what they did.  I mean, the idea of driving an internal combustion engines with 12 mph fuel usage was ridiculous.  But the industry perpetuated that for 40 years.  And to have to have that challenged.  They knew how, in the universities and in the labs and in the best scientific thinkers years ago knew how to fix that problem. 

Question: What are the questions that Congress should be asking transportation innovators today?

Richard Schaden: The first question I would ask is, how do you fly through the atmosphere with a fuel that is alternative to carbon fuel?  That would be one of the first questions I’d ask.  What’s out there?  What can we find, and how can we find it, an alternative to a carbon fuel for flying through the atmosphere?  Or, to reduce the use of carbon fuel by say 50% or 75% and that would be the result of clean air dynamics. 

So, how do we make aerodynamics clean enough so that we use half the fuel we use now?  I think that Burt knows the answer to that, and I don’t know Burt that well, I know of him, I think he knows the answer to that, but I think that he would say that it isn’t being done because I can’t get it by the regulations, or we can’t get the capital, or we can’t get it through industry, we can’t get it to fruition in the foreseeable future. 

Recorded on January 25, 2010