IMAGE: Yuliyan Velchev — 123RF

We have to start rethinking our notions about transport and mobility

On Friday I gave a talk in the 23rd National Urban and Metropolitan Transport Congress in the Spanish city of Bilbao. Among the topics under discussion were high air pollution levels, traffic congestion, restrictions, and an outdated model, privately owned cars, which with each day this seems a greater and greater historical mistake: in short, cars and cities are not a good fit. It is only logical that more and more cities are planning to impose a total ban on them.

Buses, taxis, the metro, the train, or bikes are all logical alternatives to replace privately owned cars, along with car-sharing, ride-sharing or car-pooling. Which is why it is essential for public transport to think about how it can adapt to the times we live in and the fact that many of the companies involved in this task rely on franchises or municipal licenses means that the incentives of competition are not applied equally.

It’s only logical that more and more companies start looking to provide alternatives to traditional mobility. Outfits like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuaxing, Zipcar, Getaround, DriveNow, Car2go or Cabify provide alternatives that the public can use via apps that offer multi-modal transport such as Citymapper or Moovel..

We are now moving toward a scenario where the car is simply one of many transport options, and one that we share, from a limited number of options to more and more choices about how we move about our cities, from publicly financed transport to a mixed model, from transport systems that are disconnected to ones that are connected and based on supply and demand that rely on information to generate efficiency.

In our report, “Upgrading urban mobility” (in Spanish), myself and Gildo Seisdedos outlined three fundamental lines of evolution: inter-modality (integration), accessibility (a pool of available options), and energy (propulsion). In my presentation at the congress, I outlined the advances being made by companies such as Tesla and its impressive Model 3, along with the evident superiority of the electric motor in terms of simplicity, fewer breakdowns and of course cleanliness, and the impact we can expect from technology such as the self-driving car, which aside from Google, companies such as Tesla, Uber, Apple, Fiat Chrysler and many more are all working on.

Finally, there is the question of competition, which has always driven technological progress. Public transport companies need to be aware of competition and embrace new alternatives, as well as overcoming their disbelief that cars, buses, trains, and trams can be self-driving: by the year 2020, which is to say in less than four years, these kinds of vehicles will be appearing on our roads.

(The presentation I used for my talk is available in Slideshare)

(En español, aquí)