Everyone seems to be talking about the future pickup and semi trucks, but I’m more intrigued by the urban transport.

In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport. Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. [...]

With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager. Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.

(Emphasis mine)

This sounds less like a bus to me, and more like some kind of autonomous pod.

The only way I can currently think of to eliminate the aisle and the doors, would be to turn the whole side of the vehicle in a sliding or upwards opening door (perhaps segmented), and to lower the number of seat in a row. This would lead to an extremely costly structure (imagine falcon doors along the length of a bus), unless the bus is seriously downsized, i.e. a pod.

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The EZ10, a test project for a self-driving shuttle

Additionally, taking people all the way to their destination would lead to low average occupancy rates and routing problems, unless the buses have low capacity, again resulting in small shuttle pods.

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Musk indeed mentions those shrinking dimensions, but that seems at odds with the goal of increasing the areal density. Let’s take the Mercedes-Benz Citaro as an example of your average city bus. It’s got a capacity of 105 passengers (32 seats) for a length of 11,95m, or about 8,8 passenger/m.

Mercedes-Benz Citaro

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If we take the EZ10 as an example of what a Tesla pod could be, we have a capacity of 12 passengers (6 seats) for a length of 3,93m, or about 3,1 passengers/m. Assuming a safe inter-pod distance of 30 cm (seems reasonable in case of full autonomy and V2V communication), this ratio drops to 2,8. Granted, the EV10 is spacious inside, but it’s not like you could cram a lot more passengers into it.

I expect a pod system to be beneficial for low-density areas, where buses run practically empty most of the time, and people need to walk a long way for a bus stop. On busy city lines however, I have my doubts. But hey, perhaps they’ll design a full-size Tesla bus for that application, who knows?

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What do you think, Oppo?

Also, can we get Torchinsky on this for potential designs?