October 22, 2012

The Irony of InnoMobility

In South Carolina, "transportation" means cars. "Public transportation" means government-run buses and vans for people who are too poor to have cars. "Transportation infrastructure" means roads for cars to drive on. Sidewalks are a genteel amenity, and walking and cycling are recreation, not means of getting from one place to another. Trains are those things that carry shipping containers to and from the port in Charleston and tie up traffic in Columbia.

State funding for transportation infrastructure comes from the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Theoretically, they have a list of funding priorities created by experts at the SCDOT and they dole out funds accordingly. In practice, the SCTIB board funds projects in the districts of the legislators who appointed them, regardless of what's actually needed. FITSnews has a good example of this cronyism in Senator Harvey Peeler's summary of the I-526 debacle.
Last week I wrote to you about the horrible system of highway funding in this state, and how our state continues to funnel funding away from the areas that actually need it. The prime example of that was what recently went on down in Charleston with the I-526 extension – where the State Infrastructure Bank promised money above our borrowing capacity to pay for road a lot of people in the area didn’t even want.

Into this morass, we welcome InnoMobility 2012, an international conference for "industry, academia, entrepreneurs, and investors who are interested in exploring partnerships to develop emerging business opportunities from the global transformation of mobility." [1] Why, one might rightly wonder, is a conference about cutting-edge transportation being held in South Carolina, of all places? According to the conference web site,
The southeast region is an epicenter of a large, transforming global mobility industry with an innovative ecosystem of forward thinking mobility companies and academic centers.
On this morning's South Carolina Business Review, John Warner listed some of these companies and academic centers: BMW, Michelin, Clemson. Granted, they are car-centric, but change has to start somewhere. At the very least, we do possess the knowledge and expertise to drag our state's transportation network into the 21st century. But do we have the will? I doubt it. We can't even figure out how to actually fund the road projects we mean to, or how to run buses in our state capital.

So on November 7, InnoMobility will come and show off exciting creations that could change the way people and goods get around, innovations that could change our way of life for the better. Meanwhile, on the same day, the people of South Carolina will be voting to maintain the status quo. And then on November 8, everyone will pack up and go home, and nothing will have changed. 

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