Big changes in the transport system are happening now — and must be handled smart
The next few years will include major changes in the transport system. And now it is not about what you think — that we have to, because we have very few years if we are to cope with climate change. In Sweden we have a climate law, with goal of reducing transport emissions by 70% up to 2030. And here we do not seem to be on track at all. We have not at all have reduced emissions at the pace required to achieve this objective.
We have simply not succeeded in taking the necessary decisions. Of course, this applies not only to emissions from transport, but to climate emissions in general. And despite the fact that the COP 24 in Katowice succeeded in agreeing on a plan how to measure emissions, this does not say anything about how to reduce them.
But when it comes to transport, the changes will take place anyway. The only question is whether the changes are moving in the right direction.
Already today much is happening linked to the digitalization we see in society in general, and in the transport system in particular. And it is actors that we have not been used to seeing in the field of transport. It is not the public transport companies, nor the traditional car manufacturers who are responsible for the major changes.
What is happening now with new so-called mobility services, such as floating bike systems and electric scooter systems, new taxi services, autonomous vehicles and transport as a service, is largely driven by the tech Industry. And as part of this also by investors who created fortunes on different parts of digitalisation, like various network services, e-commerce etc. Currently “urban tech” is generating more venture capital than most other sectors such as pharmaceuticals and AI. And about 60% of these investments are in the transport part of “urban Tech” (Richard Florida 2018).
What are then the effects of all the systems that suddenly appear in our cities? In several American cities, the new taxi solutions — ride hailing, commonly called TNC (Transportation Network Companies) like Uber and Lyft actually increased car traffic in the city. In a larger evaluation of people using TNC, it turned out that 60% previously used walking, cycling or public transport. The remaining 40% is distributed evenly between those who would have gone with their own car, and with ordinary taxi. These groups increased the car transport lenght by 180%, due to increased empty riding cars. (Schaller Consulting 2018).
The investments in floating bike systems have in many cases led to over-establishment. In Stockholm, Chinese Obike invested 360 Million SEK in a system that was closed down after 2 months, and they left the bikes adrift. If you google “shared bike graveyard” you will find thousands of photos with millions of abandoned bikes in China.
The new floating electric scooter systems has been along for some years, and have now reached Sweden. The Swedish system VOI, quickly attracted a few hundred million SEK in venture capital. A few months after came Lime, one of the largest international players in electric scooters, with systems in 70 countries. The discussion about this type of floating system is often about how to handle the vehicles being parked all over. Are hindering the visually impaired? And above all, are they contributing to a more sustainable transport system? Do they replace any car journeys, or are the walking and cycling trips becoming scooter journeys? We do not yet know.
Also within car sharing it happens a lot. In Stockholm last autumn the new company Aimo, with Japanese investors, started a semi-liquid car sharing with 300 electric cars. This happens when both Car to Go (owned by Mercedes) and Drive Now (owned by BMW) has closed down their systems in Stockholm. The cars in the Aimo system are parked on special parking spaces, hotspots, which is run together with parking company Easy Park.
During 2019, Volvo will launch its new company M. A development of their car sharing company Sunfleet, with the motto “We help people move freely, meaningfully and sustainably”.
Transport as a service is also a hot area. In many parts of the world we are trying to find a business model that works. In Sweden, the system Ubigo is tested, and even Trivectors system EC2B, (Easy to B, or Easy to be) which is now being tested in Gothenburg.
And then we have the discussion about the self-driving cars. Will they revolutionize the way we travel? Will the need for public transport disappear? Expectations have been played down somewhat and seem to have landed at a more reasonable level, following a number of fatal accidents. One was the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona, with a Uber-Volvo with a safety driver who was streaming video instead of watching on road.
But when will we see the vehicles at level five, completely without a driver, where everyone is a passenger? Will it be next year or never? It was very interesting that Waymos CEO John Krafcik at a conference in November 2018 said that ‘autonomous cars won ´t ever be able drive in all conditions’ and further ‘it will be decades before self-driving sars are all over the roads ‘. Waymo, owned by Google’s mother company Alphapet, are usually seemed as in the front self-driving technology.
And what happens in public transport? If we are to solve the future of transport in a sustainable way, public transport must be an essential part. Believing that self-driving cars will make public transport unnecessary is of course nonsense. But public transport must understand, and take advantage of the new the opportunities are very important. Already now we can see small self-driving buses serving as feeders to trains. And a high-speed train is smart — Elon Musks tunnel digging focus, in Hyperloop, we don’t have time to wait for — if it ever happens. Not to mention his strange ideas with the Boring Company — to dig tunnels beneath the city and hoist down the cars and let them ride on small sleds. Tesla is fantastic though — and has given the electric cars an important boost.
All the tech companies now entering our common physical spaces, with good intentions, do not always see the wholeness of the cities. For all these systems, society must wake up and take their responsibilities so that the systems become sustainable in all dimensions. This will require a rapid development of new policies to govern in the right direction. Several American cities have come a bit along the way, but we will need policies in Sweden as well.
In addition to purely environmental sustainability, another very important aspect is the democracy aspect. Are the new systems available to all groups? The new “creative destruction” that the systems generate must be controlled so that the benefits reach all residents and groups. And that we are governing towards an environmentally sustainable transport system.
Florida, R, 2018, The Rise of urban Tech, Citylab 10 July 2018
Schaller Consulting, 2018, The New automobileity: Lift, Uber and The Future of American Cities, July 2018.