Riots on the road to hell

20.07.30: WORLDWIDE traffic chaos gridlocked every major city today as the Global Integrated Traffic Guidance System (GITGS) collapsed.

Irate motorists were forced to abandon state-controlled transport pods and walk.

Riots broke out in urban centres. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were able to pinpoint areas of civil unrest but ground-based police failed to gain access to quell the looting.

State monitoring of the use and manufacture of all vehicles has long been held as the only practical means of managing worsening traffic congestion. Successive governments have sought to persuade individuals out of their cars by removing pride of ownership from the equation. But even though modern cars are no more than uniform transport modules - all function and no style - there is still a reluctance to abandon the personal environment and perceived freedom of an individual transport pod for the convenience of the shared mass-transit system.

But far from giving freedom, today's compact hydrogen-powered transport modules, which are hired by the hour or kilometre when needed and are accessed using retinal-ID systems, actually represent the removal of the freedom that made motor cars so attractive.

Minutely controlled by a system of global satellite-guided integrated autopilot programs, they navigate themselves and require no input from a "driver". Development of the sort of dynamic route-guidance technology first pioneered by Debis Systemhaus in Tokyo in 1997 allows the traveller simply to enter his or her destination by voice command, leaving the system to plan the best route and monitor progress.

The system prevents bunching on highways, helps travellers avoid the worst inner-city congestion and reduces fatal accidents by eradicating driver error.

When introduced, GITGS promised a ride to enjoy. But the collapse of the core computer has revealed the system's inherent vulnerability. Some blame a new computer virus for the catastrophic global lockout; others prefer terrorist conspiracy theories.

Either way, with a transport system entirely dependent on an apparently defunct external guidance and control mechanism, and with no conceivable manual override option available, a workable solution does not seem close at hand. DL