The Guardian reports the latest version of Google’s driverless car, a two-seater city car without a steering wheel. Taxi drivers are concerned that they might be displaced. That is possible since a driverless car is essentially a taxi with a robot driver. We would make more use of taxis if they were cheaper. But road transport would be be little changed, I suspect, with traffic congestion the main problem.
The Financial Times reports growing sales of electric bikes in Europe, 850,000 sales in 2012, and 400,000 last year in Germany. Manufacturers include Bosch, Daimler and BMW. In China, 30m are sold annually.
The electric motor kicks in when you start to pedal and then only with a force commensurate with your own efforts. Electric bikes overcome two disadvantages of ordinary bikes: hills and getting damp from sweat.I look forward to trying one.
The Independent Transport Commission has published a useful report on automated cars, authored by Scott Le Vine and John Polak of Imperial College London. The tone is generally agnostic: ‘The impacts will be mixed, some good and some bad, and there will no doubt be surprises and unintended consequences along the way.’
I am skeptical about the impact of driverless cars on the transport system. They would be essentially taxis with robot drivers. Taxis are useful, and we would make more use of them if vehicle automation brought down the costs, but the impact on road speeds and congestion does not seen likely to be large.
The Financial Times reports that central Manchester is Britain’s most vibrant urban area, the result of a flow of young professionals and students into this former industrial city. This reflects a nation-wide revival of city living.
One consequence is the declining interest in cars amongst the urban young, for whom this is not a central part of their way of life.
When asked which technology would have most impact on the daily routine if lost, 18-34 years olds in the US attach more importance to their computers and mobile phones than to their cars. For older age groups, the car remains the more important, according to a Zipcar survey. Use of transportation apps reduces driving frequency by 25% for this younger age group.
These findings add weight to the idea that there is a significant change in car use by younger people, driven in part by uptake of digital technologies.
Street demonstration in Brazil have been in the news, one cause being an increase in public transport fares. An illuminating report in the Financial Times suggests that Brazilians’ love of the car has led to the cities becoming chocked with cars, while public transport remains poor. Car numbers have more than doubled since 2002 and Brazil is the world’s fourth largest car market. The government has boosted the car industry to stimulate the economy. But road capacity has not increased and investment in public transport has been slow. Sao Paulo has only 74km of metro track compared with Mexico City’s 227km.
There are plans to extend the Sao Paulo metro to 200km. The state secretary of planning is quoted: ‘The only way forward for public transport is rail …. Sao Paulo will not survive if we don’t do it’. That is the correct conclusion. Growing cities with increasing population density need to rely less on road and more on rail, particularly for work trips. Car’s share of journeys in Sao Paulo may well have passed its peak.
A new report from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and the Frontier Group argues that the driving boom is over. Total vehicle-miles travelled has plateaued while vehicle-miles per capita is declining. An important contributing factor is that the ‘Millennial generation” – born between 1983 and 2000 – are driving less than previous generations of young Americans.
These are not entirely new findings, but they do confirm an emerging trend that is gaining recognition in most developed economies.
Crossrail is the new east-west rail route currently being tunneled under central London. Transport for London, the executive body responsible to the Mayor, has initiated a consultation on what is now known as Crossrail 2, a route from the southwest to the northeast suburbs. The Transport Committee of the London Assembly held a meeting today to discuss this proposal at which I was an invited expert. There was general agreement that this new route should go ahead, given the projections for the growth of London’s population – from 8.2m in 2011 to 10m in the late 2030s.
Car use in London has held steady at about 10m trips a day, constrained by road capacity which has not been enlarged. Because the population has been growing, this volume of car journeys represents a declining share of total trips, down to 38% at present from a peak of 50% in 1990. On current population projections, this share will fall to about 30% before 2040 – a huge mode shift away from the car.
A successful city has two characteristics: its population is growing and it moves people increasingly by rail for work journeys. People will get out of their cars onto rail which is speedy and reliable; they are much more reluctant to prefer slower, less reliable buses.
This website was established in January 2013. It is intended to support a new book, currently in preparation, provisional title Beyond Peak Car: why car use is declining. This is a follow-up to my 2008 book, The Limits to Travel, the website for which is limitstotravel.org.uk. Other material of interest may be included.