Right now the transportation world seems polarized into two camps. Depending on where you live, what your past is, and who your patrons are, the vast majority of experts seem to place themselves into one of two sides. And it does feel like a polarity. Trying to avoid characterizing these as 1 vs. 2, A vs. B, loaded names vs. loaded labels - how about columns? Darn, there is still left to right. It seems impossible to be balanced.
Because of many countries' pasts - cheap fuel; government spending priorities (flyovers versus transit) and tax incentives (that fuel sprawl) - we find ourselves today with this reality: The fastest, most convenient, cheapest and often only alternative to get from A to B is the car for the current built environment. Therefore, as soon as people have means, they choose car ownership. Then almost all of their trips become car trips, and almost all of their travel is done alone in that vehicle.
The costs of cars:
- High cost of participation in the system (middle income Americans spend about 22% of their annual incomes on cars and the lowest 20 percent income bracket spend 42 %);
- Escalating number of hours, number of affected roads, and parking lots classified as congested;
- 34,000 traffic deaths and much larger number of injuries,
- High rates of asthma, obesity, and other adverse health affects;
- Loss of farmlands, wetlands, water resources and other negative land use impacts;
- 50% of the American population unable to participate directly because they do not have a license or own a car;
- 20% of CO2 emissions.
As we move toward the future, in which we are both an active player - infrastructure can be destiny - and passive recipient of unfolding demographics, we can make some confidant predictions about some aspects of 2025. And 2025 is where we will fully feel the results of decisions made over the next four years around government infrastructure spending priorities, tax incentives and regulations.
· Almost 60% of the world's population will live in metro-areas.
· Dramatically aged, particularly in the West.
· Fossil fuels will be more expensive (increased world demand and reduced supply).
· Carbon taxes (whatever form they take) will shape energy demand and type.
If we turn this into Tom-Friedman-speak, and try to describe America, for example, in 2025, it will be urban, older, fossil-fuel efficient. Therefore, the bulk of our transportation investment dollars should go to meet the needs and desires of this population shape.
Urban means less car-dependent because there is no space on the roads or in parking garages to accommodate the 1 driver to 1.1 cars ratio we find in America today. We see this reality in the more free-flowing cities of New York City (50% car ownership) and the gridlock found in the dramatically denser Beijing that is adding cars at a staggering pace of 2100 per day.
Older means less car-dependent - if we don't want to spend increasing portions of local budgets on transporting the aging around to meet their routine food, medical, and social needs.
Fossil-fuel efficient means that yes, all motorized transport will prefer fuel efficient and alternative fuel sources.
We need to move from our increasingly broken status quo that is almost entirely car-dependent (or imagining that it could be) to one that reduces both the burdens of today's car-dependent costs (remember that list above) and looks ahead to meet the needs of our future. Moving countries and the world toward cleaner transportation fuel and better vehicles is absolutely critical, but low carbon cars alone will not solve today's problems nor meet tomorrow's needs. I repeat: low carbon cars alone will not solve today's problems nor meet tomorrow's needs. For that, we need to improve the balance, and enable more people to lead pleasant car-independent routine lives. Not no cars and highways, just fewer and better ones.
What's the future for personal transportation?
· More access to jobs, education, services, products with less or no movement
· Walking, biking and public transport will be the primary modes of our routine lives.
· When cars are used, they will be right-sized and pay-as-you-drive
· And of course, there will be exceptions.
And where does technology come in? The combination of the Internet, which holds the world's knowledge, wireless, which gives us ubiquitous and low-cost access to it, and smart phones that make our interfaces portable and cheap, is transformational. The word "transformational" is inadequate to describe the changes these three will bring to way of life. In the realm of transportation, we will see:
· Teleworking and shopping increased as a percentage of the total.
· Multi-modal trips are easy and obvious, thanks to providing frictionless access to schedules, routes, payments and options.
· Ditto the above for accessing ridesharing and carsharing when car travel is the mode of choice.
The technology is here, or almost here. Our challenges lie exclusively in how quickly politics and our existing built environment can respond to meet the shape of the new world population.
Founder and CEO, Buzzcar
Robin Chase is founder and CEO of Buzzcar
, an online ridesharing community. She also founded and leads Meadow Networks, a consulting firm that advises city, state and federal government agencies about wireless applications in the transportation sector, and impacts on innovation and economic development. Robin is also founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world.
She is on the Board of the World Resources Institute, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce's National Advisory Committee for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee. She served on the World Economic Forum Future of Transportation Council, the Massachusetts Governor's Transportation transition team, and the Boston Mayor's Wireless Task Force. In 2009, she was included in the Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list. Robin lectures widely, has been frequently featured in the major media, and has received many awards in the areas of innovation, design, and environment. Robin graduated from Wellesley College and MIT's Sloan School of Management, and was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow.