The year is 2050, humans have achieved a life free from famine, plagues and war, 60% of the tasks previously made by humans are now automated, we can reconstruct organs and muscles using STEM cells, we have driverless cars wandering in the streets and trains travelling between cities at unimaginable speeds. The world has never been so efficient, yet it has never been so miserable…
This post is about the future, about our type of future… It’s an exploration into the trends, opportunities, threats and the policy implications related to the future of mobility. In the next decades, technology and innovation will play a crucial role in transforming our mobility systems, but whether that change is positive or negative for us as a society will only depend on the decisions we make now. This is the moment to decide what type of transformation we want and what do we want it to deliver.
What kind of future?
Innovation and technology have as many benefits as risks for our society. Realising their full potential requires us to consider how users’ travel behaviour will respond to it, and how all of society and our economy can benefit. The future of transport needs to balance a wide range of considerations. Technology has a role to play, but it must be linked to making travel more sustainable overall, be this through lower emissions, less travel or better linking our journeys to housing and work.
While it’s absolutely exciting to think about the impact that technological innovations can have in our future, we must guarantee that this impact is connected to larger society’s goals. in other words, the city of the future should not be one where everything is automated, it should be one where people have a good quality of life, can breathe clean air, access opportunities and walk or cycle safely, all of this enabled by technology.
When technologies enable participation, interactivity and accountability, they can become a tool for increasing inclusion in cities. Driver-less cars can supply mobility needs for disabled or elder passengers, public electric bikes or scooters can provide a transport solution for the transport poor, democratization of transport data can help us understanding the needs of disadvantaged groups, Internet of Things can help us planning user-centered places and overall technology can help us building better places for all.
A focus on people is central to the future of mobility. Understanding how citizens from all groups make decisions and interact with technology provides an opportunity to place the user at the heart of an inclusive system. It holds the key to understanding and optimizing the acceptance, adoption and impact of new technologies. Behavioural and social science can help us better design our built environment and its transport system around users, and allow technology to improve the lives of individuals and society.
What does our future hold?
Advances in Artificial Intelligence, data science, clean energy and sensing technologies as well as economic and social changes are driving a rapid transformation of our transport systems. We can expect to see systems that are connected, automated and efficient. Likewise, the increased choice of transport options will lead to a more informed demand for mobility services by users around the world. According to a research made by McKinsey group, by 2030, citizens in dense cities like New York, Paris and Tokyo could spend up to 40% of their budgets on modes that are practically non-existent yet. In a city like London, that adds up to $10 billion each year!
There are hundreds of trends that are changing the world of mobility, which is why, we decided to put together a list of top trends for you to think about the opportunities and threats of each one.
- Autonomous vehicles: cars driving themselves in traffic seemed a far reality a few years ago; however manufacturing and tech companies all around the world are working in developing autonomous vehicles better and faster. Driverless vehicles promise to improve traffic in our cities, creating more efficient networks and reducing the need for private cars. They also promise an improvement of road safety thanks to taking human errors out of the equation. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles can also be a threat for our cities if they are not managed adequately. We could see an increase in the average number of vehicles, worsening congestion and air quality. A poor interaction between automated and non-automated traffic could result in the collapse of the network. Furthermore, if we don’t take careful consideration of the implications on urban design, we could end up with car-dominated streets of autonomous vehicles travelling at super-speeds. In the worst-case scenario, we also end up with the ethics discussion that has held up the development of these technologies: How will we decide what to do in case of system failure?
- Electrification: This already sounds like a technology of the past rather than a technology of the future; however, electric vehicles are expected to gain a larger relevance as issues related to climate change and pollution continue worsening. Important advances have been done so far in this area, stimulating the manufacture, production and commercialization of cleaner vehicles; however, the ambitions fall short as they centre on individual mobility. It doesn’t matter how non-polluting our vehicles are if we are trapped for 3 hour in a traffic jam, it doesn’t matter how many kilometers a car can travel without charge if our cities don’t have spaces for the people. Furthermore, the industry and the governments are being short-sighted when thinking of electric vehicles only as an individual mobility solution. Our public transport systems should also make the transition towards cleaner technologies, this includes buses, taxis and even airplanes. Are we bold enough to go that road?
- MaaS: In simple terms Mobility as a Service refers to the conjunction of three things: a digital interface to source and manage the provision of transport related services, an intermodal journey planner and a single payment portal and booking system. MaaS intends to bring transport closer to the user, to understand the individual needs and to make our transport systems more efficient. As we move forward, these systems gain more popularity; however, they still have to solve issues related to the core of our transport systems, such as the integration of fares when using different transport modes. Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves if these systems are just a door to the privatisation of public transport, and if so, what are the social and accessiblity implications for different types of users?
- Changes in logistics operations: Globally, urban freight represents up to 25 percent of urban vehicles, takes up to 40 percent of motorized road space and contributes to up to 40 percent of urban transport-related CO2 emissions. Reducing urban freight emissions and improving the eficiency of our delivery systems will be essential for the future of our cities. Companies and start-ups around the world have found great value in the logistics sector and have started to develop solutions based on drones, delivery robots, or automated trucks for solving the last mile problem. Nevertheless, we haven’t found yet a solution that is as efficient as the existent systems and while using drones might seem very futuristic and cool, they can result in a serious safety problem.
- Micro-mobility: This business model has gained tremendous attention recently. shared electric bikes and scooters are revolutionising personal mobility.
This market has already attracted a strong customer base and has done so roughly two to three times faster than either car sharing or ride hailing. We expect to see this market growing and becoming more popular; however, little regulation has been developed and we have very little knowledge about how a legislation could look like. Who is responsible in case of a casualty? who is to be blamed? what infrastructure should they use? should they have speed limits? we don’t know yet, but we need to start finding answers
- Data-based decisions: Cities of the future will rely on the new value created by leveraging data to anticipate, predict and influence behaviour. Data is one of the most important features in the mobility revolution. Information gathered from mobility apps, shared systems, contactless payment methods or GPS systems (to mention just a few of them) will be useful to improve services and create more user-centered strategies. Nevertheless, as private sector interests increase, issues of data privacy and sharing are becoming more important.
All these innovations and technologies are changing our mobility systems and will continue doing so during the next few decades. Some countries such as the UK have started preparing themselves for what the future might look like; however, this is a global revolution driven by international markets. Undoubtedly, global cooperation will be necessary to maximise the benefits of these systems and minimise the threats.
Challenges for policy-making
Left to the market, new transport service provision or new business models may not be equitable, either socially or geographically. Policymakers could seize local and national opportunities, and consider ways to mitigate any negative impacts of new transport modes or services.
Governments all around the world have the responsibility to start planning for the future. Urban mobility is highly complex and leaders both in the private and public sector, would do well to consider their city’s specific mobility goals and how the tools can be used in concert. Looking forward to 2050, and given the scale of changes we are facing in the transport sector, it is clear that government intervention could play a significant part in routes to adopt new technologies, mitigate market failures, maximise equitable benefits to cities and drive industrial policy goals.
There are multiple policy challenges to effectively manage change; especially given the uncertainty that the future holds; however, governments around the world need to start setting the policy direction and need to shift from a reactive mode to a more proactive role, facilitating and supporting new services. The high level of uncertainty suggest that both policymakers and industry will need to be better prepared to deal with unexpected situations and need to be as open and flexible as possible, prioritising social values and balancing the promised benefits with issues such as safety, data security, privacy and equity.
Our role as a society
We, as a society, need to transform our passive view of the future… If the ones making the decisions about our future are the industry concerned about earnings, the drivers who want more space for their cars, the rich who can pay for access to the new technologies… what kind of future are we going to have? It is time for us to demand actions from our governments, to support socially responsible ventures, to understand the likely implications of our actions and to make more informed decisions.
What can we conclude?
In conclusion, the future of mobility should be equitable, should be just, should create better places to live, better air to breathe, and better societies to grow old. The future of our mobility systems need to care about accessibility, access to opportunities, services and activities for all, and it can only do so, if we start using the tools we have available to create the best possible outcomes. Then the future will be efficient, and it definitely won’t be miserable…