In the first of a two-part feature, we look at how the demands and limitations of urban living will influence how we travel
How we live is changing. According to UN figures, today 50% of the world’s population lives in our cities. By 2050, this will rise to nearly 70% as the size of our cities grows and – for developing nations in particular – migration into cities continues.
With our communities increasingly concentrated in urban areas, the signs are that our transport requirements will also change significantly. One of the key areas that Our Future Mobility Now seeks to explore is how people will live in the future and how transport will adapt to reflect these new needs.
A good way to start thinking about the future is to look at where and how we live today. In Europe, many of our urban areas are shaped by the transport we use, with towns and cities able to spread over increasingly large areas due to the system of roads and public transport available.
Indeed, whole sections of the economy have been brought into being by the popularity of road travel. Look at supermarkets or out of town retail parks. These take advantage of the cheaper real estate outside of urban centres to provide spacious stores that can offer more choice, higher volumes of stock and lower cost. The ability for customers to reach these locations by car could be taken for granted and so the stores were built.
Today we live in a world where transport has created the way we live, but in the future it is likely that this relationship may be turned upside down. According to a survey of automotive industry executives by consultancy KPMG, the nature of our towns and cities will start to influence the design of cars rather than the other way around. The KPMG Global Automotive Executive Survey describes “a rise in low-emission zones, declining numbers of parking spaces, charges for entering certain areas and the proliferation of car-free streets and neighborhoods”. As a consequence of challenges like growing congestion and the need to control emissions from vehicles, a very different environment of legislation and urban planning has been created.
This new context can be seen at both international and local levels. The European Union’s vision for the region’s future transport sets benchmarks for greenhouse gas reductions that include an aspiration to phase out ‘conventionally fuelled cars’ in cities by 2050 and to try and increase the environmental performance of freight transport.
While the EU’s roadmap is only indication of how governments could act in future, taxing vehicle use based on emissions is already widespread and some of the continent’s cities are already implementing specific programs that clearly match the EU vision. For example, London’s Congestion Charge scheme sets a daily charge on road users travelling into the centre of the city at certain times. Stockholm has a similar scheme. Notably, vehicles with low emissions are exempt from both schemes – which has already proved a key selling point for manufacturers of electric and hybrid vehicles. Schemes like these create a legal deterrent against needless journeys and an incentive for positive action to buy more environmentally-friendly vehicles. In London, tough action on personal transportation is also being backed by a voluntary programme to clean up freight operations through better maintained – and less polluting vehicles.
Globally, schemes to control traffic are also being implemented or considered as far afield as Singapore and San Francisco suggesting that such legislative forces are becoming a fact of life. However, as the EU notes “curbing mobility is not an option”, and change will not be easy. The future of mobility will inevitably involve setting a new balance between environmental and legal considerations and the needs of transport users.
What are the likely outcomes? One view is that car design will be heavily influenced, with the rise of city-friendly cars tailored to be quieter, cleaner and of a size appropriate to crowded streets. 76% of auto execs surveyed by KPMG believed that vehicle design is already being influenced by urban planning. With the rise of vehicles optimised for daily commuting, it is also believed that people will start thinking differently about owning vehicles. Today we tend to buy cars according to what we can afford or to satisfy every possible need we may have. A report by IBM describes this trend: “Vehicles today are purchased based on financial constraints or to satisfy “maximum” needs (i.e., buying a pick-up truck to fulfill an occasional need to transport loads)”. Both IBM and KPMG think this trend could change, predicting that the daily modes of transport we use could be more suited to fulfill the demand for more economic efficient mobility. However, the occasional need to go off-road, transport larger loads or take a trip with the whole family will still exist, and one view is that these needs could be fulfilled by gaining access to suitable vehicles as and when needed.
This is a very different way of thinking: With new ways of living, we could need to change the way we access transportation altogether. In the second part of this article (coming soon) we look at how changing needs may lead to new and more flexible models of transportation.