How Do We Get an Antifragile Transit System?

It would appear that the failure of a single surge protector effectively disrupted most MAX trips during the morning rush hour yesterday.

That would seem to be the definition of “fragile” – a small failure has a non-linear (and much amplified) effect on the whole system. I could draw a similar analogy with a car taking out one switchbox bringing down Transit Tracker for a large part of TriMet’s system a few months ago.

I recently read Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. He defines systems in three major buckets:

  • Fragile – small failures have big consequences
  • Resilient – hammer the system, it bounces back
  • Antifragile – assaults on the system actually make the system stronger (think human immune system)

So how could we make our transit system not just resilient, but actually antifragile?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this, but I hope TriMet will give it some thought.

Before someone takes a (deserved) shot at Streetcar for opening a service with no spare vehicles (definitely fragile), I’ll point out that having reserve vehicles would not make us antifragile, just resilient. How do we get to antifragile?

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