Imagine a future without cars. Does that sound like utopia or a nightmare? That depends on what options exist in your vicinity and whether a car is your only choice to get around. The idea of a future, carless city started the conversation at Financial Times’ recent Future of the Car event, where the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility participated on a panel titled, “Driverless Cities – Smart Mobility Solutions for Cleaner and Safer City Centers.” The panel covered not only the changing business models of transportation, but the emotional decisions behind choosing a transportation mode.
Choosing What Makes You Happy
Over 92% of Los Angeles residents have cars, while only 29% do in New York City. This isn’t a surprise considering each city’s infrastructure: Los Angeles, with a population of nearly four million, has only six rail lines to cover a sprawling area of 502 square miles. New York City, with almost half the land at 303 square miles, has six times the number of rail lines.
People choose transportation options most convenient to them. However, their choice isn’t always the most economical or sustainable one. No matter where people live, they should have at least two accessible and affordable transportation options available. It’s not about eliminating choices, such as driving a car, but about creating more options.
How we get from one place to the next is an emotional choice. Whether it’s the comfort of your own car, the excitement of a bustling subway, or the mental clarity that a bike ride gives you on the way to work, people should be allowed to choose between multiple modes of transportation, ultimately deciding on the one that makes them most happy.
Cooperating and Changing Business Models
So, how do we build those systems? We set the stage. The public and private transportation sectors haven’t always seen eye-to-eye and have lost sight of what’s most important: providing reliable service to as many people as possible. Cooperation is desperately needed. Automakers, transit system operators, rideshare and micromobility companies need to buy-in to a shared vision for the future that puts people and the planet first, not profits and their self-interests.
This means change for many of them. Automakers need to rethink their business model and consider how they can participate in a shared rights economy and grant people more access to transportation. Rideshare companies need to provide access to the elderly and different-abled populations as much as everyone else, and transit system operators should focus on technology that will expand access to ridership, not limit access to those who don’t have a phone or who have trouble using one.
Flexible Regulation, From the Inside and Out
Have you ever rented a scooter or bike via a micromobility app? If you have in a busy city, you likely encountered different rules for where you can ride your bike or scooter, and where to park it based on what city you’re in. Before setting regulations such as where you can and can’t park a micromobility device, or taking extreme measures and banning all micromobility services or gas-guzzling vehicles, it’s important to evaluate how many alternative options people have and who will be most impacted by these regulations.
Without taking inventory of the different transportation modes first and understanding people’s needs, you risk creating a similar scenario to the events that unraveled in Paris during the yellow jacket protests. In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed tax hikes on gas to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. He didn’t consider the thousands of truck drivers who rely on their trucks, which use a ton of gas, to deliver goods to the city from outside. These truck drivers, many in the working and middle-class, took to the streets to protest.
The key takeaway: Do not overlook those who live outside a city, and who rely on different means of transportation to deliver goods and services to keep a city running.
The Future with Cars. And Bikes, and Scooters, and Buses, and Railways
The Jetsons, a TV show from the 1960s but set in 2062, predicted a future of flying cars. While imaginative, this Financial Times panel detailed more concrete advice for the many different players in the transportation ecosystem: the need to capture data to understand how people are using public transit services and other alternative modes to a single occupancy, combustion engine vehicle on a real-time basis and make informed decisions based on those insights.
This is the future of smarter mobility that’s clean, equitable and safe. A multi-option, multimodal transportation reality.