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Smart Jitney: A Modest Proposal


We Americans cover a lot of territory, often in a single day. Common are ten-, twenty-, and fifty-mile daily commutes to work and back. We run out to the store – whether a mile away or five – for a quart of milk. We use our family cars to take us almost everywhere: to deliver our children to their playmates' homes, to get to church or school, to visit relatives or friends across town or in the next city or two states over.

This geographic diffusion – this ability to get from one place to another quickly (or not so quickly when the car breaks down or traffic ties us up) – is at the core of the lives of many, many people. It is also at the core of the national economy.

It's going to explode, this diffusion – or rather, implode – if we do not begin to create alternatives to our current ways of getting from here to there.

Fossil fuels are finite. We may want to believe that Earth's cache of oil is limitless. But fact tells us otherwise. Careful scientific study now predicts that world oil production will peak – that is, reach the point at which half the world's oil is gone – very soon, perhaps within a year, almost surely within a decade.

The consequences of declining oil production and, eventually, depleted fossil fuel reserves, are enormous. And they will be dire, perhaps catastrophic, in the industrialized nations, especially the United States, if we do not begin to design and implement a transportation system that greatly reduces the speed with which we are depleting the remaining reserves of oil.

We could significantly slow oil depletion by significantly reducing, not the number of people, but number of vehicles on the road. The goal is to curtail the current redundancy of so many people driving individual vehicles to the same destinations.

The solution is to make the sharing of cars both convenient and efficient. But how do we create efficiency? One answer is to use our advanced technology to compile and disburse information about individual vehicles, their destinations, and their riders so vehicles can be shared.

A convenient, efficient, widespread ride-sharing program can slow oil depletion enough to buy the time – years and years of additional time – needed to make the transition from our centralized, city-based, gasoline guzzling culture to a culture of decentralized smaller communities far less dependent on fossil fuels.

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Getting Started

When our country feels the real pinch of declining oil production, expect the imposition of early generation solutions such as exist in other parts of the world: car pools, ride-sharing, well-managed and maintained mass transportation systems, better vehicle gasoline mileage. But for now, a state of denial prevails in the industrialized world, particularly in the United States. We refuse to heed the predictions of rapidly decreasing oil production later this century. Our failure to address oil depletion will bring a crisis that allows no time to develop something new and elaborate, something costly and slow to implement. For many Americans, the crisis may appear sudden, since most of us want to believe in a limitless supply of fossil fuels. We may attack and control other nations in the Middle East to sustain our belief. But when we finally awaken to the reality of depleted fossil fuels, we will need quick action that results in systems that use existing infrastructure and widely available technology.

A well-designed ride-sharing program could be quickly implemented. A "Smart Jintney" system would use the existing transportation infrastructure of private vehicles but insure that each car always carries more than one person per car, optimally 3-6. This country has no shortage of automobiles or roads. But the present average rider load of 1.5 (quote the OTA source) people per vehicle per trip demands a huge consumption of fuel. So few people in so many cars causes massive traffic problems – dangerous rush hours, huge traffic snarls – which further increase consumption.

Smart Jitney would tap the existing cell phone network as the interface between drivers, riders, and the routing system. Software experts from the military command-and-control communication systems would join engineers and programmers from the nation's airline and automobile reservation systems to create the tracking and scheduling database for a new nationwide human transport system using existing cars. Military satellite specialists would learn how to provide real-time information about traffic and weather conditions. Even the National Security Agency "listening systems" could be modified to offer information to the new transportation system.

Working in concert for the national good, all of the above can help avert the crisis or crises that dwindling fossil fuel reserves portend.

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A Brief Description

The system would use cell phones for ride reservations. Riders and drivers would have modified cell phones with a Global Positioning System (GPS) function, a technology already being installed in some cell phones because of federal emergency response mandates.

A special "vehicle cell phone" would become a permanent part of each vehicle. It would include a fixed identification code for the vehicle as well as readout capability for location and speed (modified GPS), which could be triggered by satellite systems or police and other emergency vehicles.

Smart Jitney's goals would be to reduce auto gasoline usage by 80 percent and commute time by an average of 50 percent within two years. As the system develops, we could expect a huge decrease in roadway accidents and fatalities. This would, of course, result in substantially fewer insurance payouts and, we hope, a concurrent reduction in premiums. Additionally, the nation would experience a major reduction in road construction and maintenance since wear and tear would be reduced. We expect that, as people became aware of the system's benefits; any sense of sacrifice would diminish, replaced by a sense of excitement.

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The Cultural Barriers

In terms of technical effort, a Smart Jitney system is not difficult. There are many computerized reservations systems, from the oldest – airplanes – to car rentals to tickets for sports and entertainment. And the benefits are obvious: less commute time, less cost, and less environmental harm. Some benefits could already be achieved simply by buying smaller cars. Unfortunately, the trend is in the opposite direction, mostly because the private automobile provides psychological benefits that outweigh the simple need or desire to get from one place to another.

There are three main cultural barriers to rapid, easy change: privacy, individuality, and personal choice.

Privacy – In the following sections, we note that a police patrol car could ticket the driver of a moving vehicle without stopping it, since the license number would allow a quick search of the data base to determine the driver. By simple extension, the patrol office could also identify the passengers. The potential misuse of the system will lead to fears of Gestapo-like practices and privacy invasions. People planning questionable liaisons or activities might worry that parents, spouses, bosses, or others could search the files for their location.

Americans are very sensitive to invasions of their privacy. Other cultures are less so. Japanese friends report that neighborhood police kiosks give them a sense of safety; providing their reasons for being in an area to a questioning police officer is not a concern. (Japan, of course, has a much lower crime rate than the U.S. and far fewer crimes of assault or passion.) On the other hand, most Americans seem to have passively accepted the invasion of their privacy by intelligence agencies and corporations. Each of us has multiple dossiers held by businesses and government agencies, the contents of which we have no knowledge.

We have learned from recent investigations leading to severe penalties to the finance industry that deleted E-mails are not eliminated: anything anyone sends by E-mail is available to some agency or corporation. The population seems to accept this.

But accepting the potential invasion of one's privacy by local law enforcement or employers or family will probably not be accepted so passively. Why the population in general might fear "local" intrusions more than those of big business and big government is a phenomenon we do not here analyze in detail. We expect, however, that the reasons are quickly identifiable and that fears of invasions of privacy because of a program like Smart Jitney can be alleviated.

Individuality – America is home to the "rugged" individual, the person who knows and insists on his or her "rights." Teenagers stroll through malls exercising their "right" to play boom boxes at maximum volume. Corporations and businesses have the "right" to run ads on TVs in public places and airlines to run them in their planes. Teenage girls have their rights to their skimpy skirts and bare midriffs and older men the right to gawk. Teenage boys get to dominate the sidewalks with boisterous intimidation.

The latest "right" is the right to talk on cell phones in public places, regardless of how you're affecting others.

The constant exercise of "rights" in public places has led to an atmosphere of rude aggression. "Good manners" are a thing of the past, to be ridiculed and avoided so as not to be ostracized by one's peer group.

The loss of regard for others – of the failure to recognize when your "rights" are treading on the "rights" of somebody else – can be a severe cultural limitation on a ride-sharing system. Should a passenger be allowed to make sales calls on his or her portable phone during a Smart Jitney trip? What happens when a bubble gum popper shares a vehicle with other riders? What about smokers, drunks, the over-perfumed or under-washed?

For Smart Jitney to work, we're going to have to re-learn how to behave towards others in small spaces.

Personal Choice – Americans lead "busy" lives; the stresses associated with that "busy-ness" are well known. When advertisers stoke America's love affair with the automobile, they often use images of sexuality, excitement, and adventure. But many a driver feels relaxed, at peace, when alone in the car. Consider the busy parent who, after a hectic morning, drops the children at school and now looks forward to the 30-minute commute to the office where pressure and activity will again dominate. Maybe she goes through the drive-thru for coffee and rolls, pops in her favorite CD, and begins her commute with the knowledge that this is her best "alone" time of the day. It may be a hard habit to break.

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The System Specifications

With the Smart Jitney system, every person may be a "driver" or a "rider" at different times. Smart Jitney would connect drivers with riders to insure optimum routing and minimum time delays.

Each person who wants to take a trip, whether to work, school, shopping, or recreation, would use his or her cell phone to request a ride from the system. The system will locate the appropriate vehicle and driver to pick up and deliver the rider (or riders) making the request. Drivers are those who have planned trips of their own and need riders to fulfill the requirements for ride-sharing – individual trips would no longer be permitted in normal circumstances.

While discussing the myriad social and physical aspects of what we were trying to conceptualize, we came up with nine sets of parameters, which we began to refer to as "rules." The classes of rules are: Function, Vehicles, Drivers, Riders, Police, Privacy, Dispatching, Fleet, and Reporting.

A. Function Rules

The Function Rules list the capabilities required for the system to work. The main functions available would be:

1. Ride request - entering time, location, and destination or using information stored in the rider's phone memory for Most Frequent Destinations. The request would include the rider's special needs or wishes, if any, and space requirements, such as for luggage or packages or for extra large physical size.

2. Ride commitment - rider accepting time, location, and destination or an alternate ride if the requested one is not suitable.

3. Ride arrival notification - alerting the rider that the vehicle will arrive in, say, 2 minutes, allowing time to get to the street.

4. Check in - assuring that the correct rider and driver have found one another.

5. Check out - notification of the rider leaving the vehicle.

6. Emergency - asking for police assistance in case of accident or illegal/improper confrontation.

7. Transgression report - reporting smoking, drinking, or harassment violations.

8. Radio turnoff/other special requests - requesting no music, smoking, news radio programs, or other unwelcome stimuli.

9. Random ride request - available for pickup immediately at listed GPS locations.

10. Non-emergency accident notification - contacting dispatcher for towing services or accidents not requiring emergency service.

A person wanting a ride would enter the preferred time of departure and destination into his or her cell phone. Often, the request would be pre-programmed, including the typical time and destination for work or school. The system would locate a nearby vehicle with available seating going close to the desired destination at close to the desired time. The driver would receive and accept the request and receive directions if needed. The rider would be told the time of pickup and get information about the driver and vehicle. The rider's phone would ring when the driver is getting close to the pickup.

The rider would be delivered at or near his or her destination. If direct ride scheduling is not possible, the rider could be dropped at a place closer to the final destination and request a second or third ride. A rider suddenly needing transportation could request a ride based on the GPS location given automatically by his or her cell phone.

A successful system will deal with accidents and transgressions by drivers or other riders. Having a "transgress" button on each cell phone to contact the authorities would prove a powerful deterrent to inappropriate behavior. Using the button would be a request for police to begin monitoring the vehicle as a further discouragement of aggression or other unwanted behavior.

B. Vehicle Rules

The vehicle rules apply to the vehicles in the Smart Jitney program. A Smart Jitney Vehicle's (RSV) role in the system includes:

1. Rider Reporting - reporting rider arrival and departure times, and pickup and drop-off locations.

2. Vehicle Reporting - reporting the RSV's location, average speed, and load factor changes.

3. Other Vehicle Reporting - through use of radar or other technology, reporting other vehicles in unsafe proximity or otherwise being driven unsafely.

4. Police Response - responding to all police requests.

This reporting would be done via each RSV's cell phone. The accumulated telemetry would aid the central system in planning and dispatching.

C. Driver Rules

Drivers would be volunteers in the community with excellent driving records who would be paid a stipend to cover auto expenses and depreciation. Accidents, police records, or moving violations would be considered potential grounds for suspension of driving privileges. The drivers would:

1. Pick Up-Drop Off scheduled riders

2. Report No Shows and any relevant information (tardiness, confusion about location).

3. Report Rider Behavior violations.

4. Pay Penalties and Collect Bonuses based on his or her success.

5. Accept Random Change - try to incorporate unplanned riders, those needing spur-of-the-moment rides, and unscheduled stops when requested to do so by the system.

The driver's reporting responsibility would work to weed out those riders who are rude, are habitual no-shows or late arrivals, or otherwise act as a drain on the efficiency of the system – and perhaps serve to encourage those riders to modify their behavior.

D. Rider Rules

Riders would go through an elementary screening process to determine their needs. Records would be kept for each individual, including records of complaints or commendations from other members of the ride-sharing community, both drivers and co-riders. Excessive violations would result in suspension or restriction of ride-sharing access.

The technical problems associated with such a vast new system are trivial compared with the human element. Americans are so isolated in their lifestyles that they avoid interactions with strangers, resulting in the need for a prescribed ethic of conduct. Some rules might be simple, such as no smoking. Others would be more controversial but necessary, such as a limit on perfume and a requirement for basic hygiene.

The rider's part of the bargain would be:

1. Promptness - arriving promptly for pickups.

2. Decorum - maintaining conversational decorum and basic politeness.

3. Behavior - not smoking or playing personal media if it bothers others.

4. Consideration - not wearing perfume and being reasonably clean.

5. Reporting - reporting violations of safety or dangerous conduct by drivers or other riders.

A central database to correlate the upkeep of vehicles, misconduct by drivers, and notations about riders could result in a community that is mostly self-policing through access to information and subsequent peer pressure. Fair but rigorous reporting would tend to limit the traveling options of those who insist on their right to act in a manner not acceptable to all.

Such self-policing communities already exist. For example, technology workers restrict access to online information through peer complaints – a rudimentary model upon which to base Smart Jitney's protocol.

E. Police Rules

The Smart Jitney Program would greatly simplify traffic control and vehicle law enforcement. Traffic accidents and injuries would certainly decrease significantly if fewer cars used our highway system. Law enforcement responsibilities would include:

1. Ticketing – of moving vehicles remotely.

2. Enforcement - stopping vehicles, making arrests, investigating system violations.

3. Investigation - performing corollary investigations involving use of the system for criminal activity.

The reporting functions built into the Revs would allow law officers to ticket a vehicle, without stopping it, for speeding and other offenses. The driver would be notified immediately via the vehicle cell phone. Witnesses would be automatically available from the rider records. Since the driver has his or her own identifying cell phone, the police could match the driver with the vehicle and access a database of driving and other records – in seconds, with a properly designed system. The police could initiate status readout from the cars under observation, with the vehicles easily identifiable visually from existing satellites.

A high-level traffic monitoring and reporting system would have effects on crime not vehicular in nature. When automobile escape routes from crime scenes are monitored as a matter of course, the criminal's options become limited. Smart Jitney's personal cell phones, all equipped with emergency signal capacities and GPS transmitters, would give crime victims a chance to summon assistance quickly. With traffic no longer clogging transportation arteries, emergency personnel could respond much more quickly. With proper legal review (available instantly), police could listen to remote situations via vehicle or personal cell phones. We could expect a drastic drop in crime rates with minimal invasion of the privacy of the law-abiding.

F. Privacy Rules

Since 9/11/01, government agencies have increased the monitoring of civilians, challenging our right to privacy. Smart Jitney's tracking services must be used for traffic efficiency and crime detection only, and not by any American secret police agency that arises. The current political situation, including Congressional approval of expanded wire-tapping powers by the Office of Homeland Security, makes privacy a sobering issue in the implementation of Smart Jitney. Privacy laws would be needed to maintain:

1. Confidentiality - keeping trip records confidential except for criminal prosecution.

2. Data Security - allowing compilation of data to better manage the system while protecting people's privacy.

Smart Jitney records must only be made available based on appropriate requests from law enforcement personnel. We might suggest, however, that so much information is being gathered on people even now that Smart Jitney's requirements are less radical than they might at first appear.

G. Dispatching Rules

Smart Jitney will require large start-up costs, including vast amounts of human capital. Dispatchers, particularly in the early days, will make or break the system. Dispatchers will need to be responsible for:

1. Monitoring Equipment - monitoring automobiles and trucks.

2. Monitoring People - monitoring for troublemakers and criminals.

3. Responding - responding to drivers and riders.

4. Dispatching - dispatching vehicles and drivers and clearing status of vehicles and drivers upon trip completion.

5. Contacting - contacting police/highway patrol/towing as necessary.

6. Rescheduling - rescheduling riders because of problems or sudden destination changes.

Dispatchers would bear the brunt of making the system work in the early stages but could eventually become a supplement to properly functioning technology. With real-time operating experience to draw from and a fluid design, most functions could eventually become automated. Dispatchers would become troubleshooters instead of the active schedulers.

H. Fleet Rules

Having the populace at large sharing private vehicles will require standards of care and maintenance, including:

1. Checkups every few thousand miles.

2. Certification for use within the ride-sharing system.

3. Maintenance Records kept in stringent detail.

4. Logging of accidents and damage.

Stringent rules would be set for all RSVs. Most important would be periodic safety inspections, which would become more extensive and frequent if the vehicle is in an accident. Vehicles with expired certification or failed safety tests would be reported and removed from the system.

I. Reporting Rules

A traffic system as complex as Smart Jitney must adapt, which requires information from all parts of the ride-sharing community. Reporting and analysis would allow the system to respond to regionalized travel phenomena, such as rush hours or weather disruptions, and to generalized transportation trends, such as summer vacations. Reports compiled from the databases could include: personal travel, driver travel, vehicle travel, average waiting time, average gas mileage, and many others.

The system would automatically maintain and update the extensive records to help optimize travel efficiency and maintain a high quality of driver and rider satisfaction.

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Expected Results

Smart Jitney will change the ways we socialize as individuals and groups. Our dependence on fossil fuels has stifled our innate ability for cooperation. The result is a walling off, a distancing of one person from another that mirrors our increasing geographic isolation. We can break this pattern by re-socializing ourselves to interact with others and by making relationships more important than possessions.

The things Americans say they want – more time with family, shorter work weeks and commutes, better quality and more carefully prepared food – used to be in greater abundance. They're still available. We simply need to find creative ways, perhaps ways from our past, to get them into our daily lives.

Many folks, for example, wouldn't think of attaching a motor to a bicycle and making it their basic vehicle. We have cars for that, and the powered bike sounds suspiciously non-street legal under today's statutes.

Yet a powered bicycle, requiring some muscle power and used to fetch organic produce from the community garden, accomplishes several quality-of-life goals at a very low cost. At some point in our lives, either sooner or later, such a bike will be a luxury. This creativity, this flexibility, this willingness to make do with less is no longer part of our national character. We must recreate these characteristics in ourselves because the century-long party of wealth derived from fossil fuels will peak soon – and then diminish.

The transportation system of one car-one driver is going to change radically. Other systems and social institutions will be forced to change at the same time. Our social landscape will change into something different. We hope it will be better for all.

Smart Jitney has tangible savings, such as money, time, and safety. And these savings, brought about by our conservation measures, will result in great changes in how we work, live, and play.

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Changes in Transportation

The far-reaching effects of minimizing car transportation are many:

Accidents - Car accidents are the leading cause of death for many age groups. Almost 50,000 people a year die, and more than 1 million are injured annually in the United States alone. World traffic deaths are approximately 500,000 yearly. Fewer traffic fatalities and injuries, along with fewer deaths from automobile-based air pollution, would save us tens of billions of dollars. There are cities in the world where infants and the elderly die from smog, mostly produced by vehicle emissions. The human savings in pain and suffering would be enormous.

Reduced Crime Rates - A dramatic drop in crime rates would result from the de facto monitoring of vehicles necessary for the Smart Jitney program. As discussed earlier, Smart Jitney limits escape routes after a crime has been committed, and citizens' cell phones would allow immediate calls for emergency assistance. Additionally, fewer fender-benders mean more police officers concentrating on crimes instead of traffic accidents.

Gasoline Savings - As families use cars less, they will see a reduction in their gasoline, auto repair, and auto purchase budgets. The reduction in family transport spending can be reinvested to enhance local vacations. The current style of vacation – a plane flight to a far away place such as Hawaii or Disneyland – will be too resource intensive to continue. But Americans are capable. We can easily build local amusement parks and recreation facilities. A county fair can be as exciting as Disneyland for some of us, and a vacation week in the mountains or at a lake is fully satisfying for many.

Other Savings - Further savings would be realized when people no longer require an entire car for themselves. Innovation can produce new designs on our many one-person vehicles: bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, powered skateboards, powered wheelchairs, and golf carts.

The facilities previously used to manufacture cars could produce such devices in mass very quickly. This sort of quick adaptation of America's physical plant occurred during wartime and could happen again with the proper impetus.

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Changes in Play and Recreation

The human is a playing animal. Without recreation, productivity and satisfaction decrease. How much oil is now used to alleviate boredom, to satisfy our need to be with others?

With reduced availability of fossil fuels, the way we play will be different, with more focus on the quality of the interaction than in distances traveled or options taken. The personal interaction now lost in car travel would be reversed. Community life would blossom in public spaces. Restaurants would relocate to neighborhoods and distant malls would be a thing of the past. Massive amusement parks would give way to local ones. Hotels and motels would be less necessary, less expensive, and more amenable to lengthy stays. Once we've invested the time and money to travel to another town, we'd be more likely to stay longer.

Recreation plays an important role in a healthy community. We'll certainly create new ways – or re-create old ones – to play and to entertain ourselves at home.

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Changes in Social Interaction

Depleted fossil fuels will force us to change, throwing us together, physically together – providing us opportunities for community building.

Social interaction will change as we try to maintain our American standards of privacy and personal distance despite the increased proximity resulting from the Smart Jitney system. Like the Japanese, we will gain the ability to keep our own sense of privacy in crowded places without the need for physical distance. In particular, we will see a greater sense of personal reserve as interaction increases. This reserve, this formality, is already present in the world's more physically crowded cultures, where people lead compartmentalized lives despite close physical proximity.

Americans will adopt a "lower profile" of less individualistic manners of dress and speech when interacting. Personal noise and scent pollution might become misdemeanors. Outdoor radios without headphones will be banned, along with other offensive and noisy media in public spaces. Visual or aural assault by commercial advertising will be reduced or eliminated. Obnoxious or overly loud speech, especially into a cell phone, will be discouraged. We will develop a code of conversational ethics and silence-keeping that will stand us in good stead.

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Changes in Work

What can we expect our jobs to be like with less access to private cars? At first glance, not owning a car may appear to be less convenient, but maybe the reduction in commute time will make up for this. Less traffic congestion and no rush hour might be well worth it for many people.

Some people will lose jobs, particularly those who depend on driving. Jobs will also be eliminated in the military and in auto insurance and other auto-related industries, although the oil companies, possibly reduced in size, will be around for a long time packaging and selling energy. Making bikes and scooters for the American population could keep factories in work for years.

With fewer, more efficient vehicles, gas stations will begin to provide services such as charging batteries. Autos will still need repair, and mechanics will be needed for small engine repair and the maintenance of mechanized transportation devices and bicycles. But much skilled labor will move to retrofitting, repairing, and remodeling buildings for the optimum use of renewable resources. Companies which manufacture and install alternative means of heating and cooling will proliferate, as will manufacturers of bikes, buggies, and other simple transportation devices. The number of agricultural workers will increase because of the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels for fertilizer and machinery. The large retail chains dominating America today will break apart, resulting in smaller, locally-based suppliers. Specialty items will still be available via US mail and the Internet.

Businesses that provide a new American technological infrastructure will flourish. Communication companies that manage transportation will arise. Good communication will be vital. We must gain the ability to project people and interaction and speech over distances without having to spend resources relocating the physical body. We need reliable networking systems, video phones, phone bridges, and integrated instantaneous document and photo transmission.

Medical care costs will shrink because of fewer auto accidents and because people will become healthier from a more active lifestyle and organically grown food. Yet with medical care made available to everyone, the number of health care workers will not diminish. With the decrease in the conflict caused by trying to control oil-producing countries, resources of time and money will be channeled into new jobs in energy, health, and other research.

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The idea of Smart Jitney may seem farfetched, but all the basic elements of the system already exist. We cannot doubt that, based on current usage, we will run out of oil within a few decades, and no existing technology offers a renewable energy solution.

The European model of standardizing the work day for carpooling purposes is effective and will be implemented. To make the system work, managers pay penalties if they make employees stay late, something that, at least for now, is unthinkable in America. But this and other measures will be implemented for greater satisfaction in the work force.

Without access to oil, our country will change – we hope for the better. Self-reliance and a cheerful willingness to face a future we have created will result in Smart Jitney, or something very much like it.

Read more about the Smart Jitney program in New Solutions #12.

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 Article Contents
> Introduction
> Getting Started
> A Brief Description
> The Cultural Barriers
> The System Specifications
> Expected Results
> Changes in Transportation
> Changes in Play and Recreation
> Changes in Social Interaction
> Changes in Work
> Conclusion


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