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Bus Rides More Uncomfortable Than Ever Thanks to Government Surveillance Devices

Because berserk homeless people and the combined smell of the passengers' rancid body odor didn't make riding the bus enough of a horrible experience, government officials are currently in the process of installing surveillance devices to record any and all conversations during bus rides -- and we mean from everybody on board. The plan will be put into action in a number of major city transit hubs across the nation ranging from San Francisco, California to Baltimore, Maryland. Advocates say that this system of audio surveillance will aid in law enforcement and resolving service issues, but, frankly the public would probably rather not have the government hear their thoughts on last night's episode of American Horror Story.

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Amtrak’s $7.5 Million iPhone App Brings Conductors Into 21st Century

If you've been on an Amtrak train in the past 40-odd years, you know the routine. Have your ticket out, wait for the conductor to come and use his hole punch on it before placing it above your seat. That will all be changing soon, as the government-owned rail corporation prepares to roll out iPhone-based electronic ticketing across its routes.

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Google Maps Now Has Live Transit Updates

Public transit is great, but it can be nervewracking not knowing when your bus or train is going to arrive. To help alleviate that sinking feeling you get at the bus stop in a strange neighborhood at 2 AM when it seems like your bus will never come, Google is now bringing live transit updates and delay notifications to Google Maps and their mobile Android App. So far, the service is only available in six cities that have partnered with Google: Boston, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Madrid, and Turin. On maps of these areas, users can click or top on the icons for public transit stations. A window will pop up listing the lines, estimated arrival times, and any service alerts that might affect the station. Google plans on adding the transit information of more cities in the future, but hasn't given any word on how quickly other cities will rollout nor what cities will be involved. While certainly useful in its desktop form, the app seems even more valuable on a mobile platform. Coupled with their recent addition of traffic jam avoidance technology, Google is bringing a huge amount of transit data it has access to bear on its Android platform. While Android's open architecture has always been a major selling point, it's useful apps like this that take advantage of Google's efforts to organize the world's information that could give it an even greater competitive edge. (Google via Techmeme)

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Driver-Free Cars Now Running in Masadar City

The eco-utopia of Masadar City in Abu-Dhabi has started up a driverless car system, designed to move passengers around the Masadar Institute of Technology. The Dutch-made, and admittedly quite cute, cars whiz along the ground using a network of fiber optic cables and magnets embedded in the ground to find their way. The cars are part of Masadar City's stated intent to be a self-sufficient city powered on renewable resources with no waste and no carbon emissions. The model for the system, called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), which uses a network of small vehicles to move commuters quickly to their destinations. PRT is meant to sidestep a major issue in more traditional, scheduled forms of mass transit because it allows users to skip stops between their location and the desired destination. With a sufficient number of vehicles, users could arrive at their destinations faster than train travel and give the system greater flexibility overall. The Masadar system, which began operation in November, is only the first step in such a system. From Wikipedia:
The system has 10 passenger and 3 freight vehicles serving 2 passenger and 3 freight stations connected by 1.2 kilometers of one-way track. The system is in operation 18 hours a day, seven days a week serving the Masdar Institute of Technology. Trips take about 2 and a half minutes (i.e., an average speed of roughly 12 miles per hour) and are presently free of charge. Average wait times are expected to be about 30 seconds.
The major limitation of the system in its current few is the limited number of stops. With only two stations, the prime benefit of PRT is negated since there are no other stops to avoid and speed up commuter travel. At this stage, it's certainly more of a technology demonstrator, and will have to be expanded upon to prove its worth. While the driverless cars project certainly has its heart in the right place, experimenting with new ways to move people around with as little an ecological impact as possible. However, I wonder it wouldn't be more beneficial to encourage Masadar's denizens to make use of another eco-friendly transportation method: walking. To see the cars in action, and the observe their disconcerted passengers, read on after the break.

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This is a Train Going Fast

As in: really fast. As in: 260 mph fast. This is the $1.3 billion Shanghai Transrapid train, which cruising speed around 268mph. Though oddly short for a train so fast (19 miles, according to Wikipedia) it is nonetheless a marvel of engineering. Coming from Michigan, mass transit to me means "lots of cars, lots of highway." So perhaps you can understand why I am in complete awe of trains that not only take you places, but do so at impossibly fast speeds. Perhaps someday I'll be able to ride a maglev in this country. Until then, I'll keep watching Chinese YouTube videos.

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