Sunday, 18 May 2014

Signalling the end of the private car?


There's a bit of kerfuffle about the arrival of Uber in London and its disruption of the taxi business in the city - Londoners are being threatened with go-slows and blockades by black cab drivers. However in reading one person's experience on using Uber, I read his observation about the private car:

Once you start talking about systems like Uber and robot cars in the same sentences, is the longer term implication of things like Uber going to be: fewer privately owned cars? Will Uber 3.0 be the first robot car killer app?

After all the specific advantage that the private car offers over public transport is that it takes you from the place where you are now to the place you want to be. Buses, trains and trams, unless you are a trainspotter or tram fan, take you from one place you don't want to be to another place you don't want to be.

If a public system - it could be a Uber-type application, a robot car or even Milton Keyne's little pods - takes me directly to the place where I want to go then there is less need for me to spend many thousands on buying a rapidly depreciating hunk of metal with an engine. Especially in a large urban areas (and approaching three-quarters of us live in these urban areas) there are huge benefits - not just the money people save by not owning a car but the space saved by not needing to store the vehicle somewhere.

If we marry this with the reduced need for people to travel - think of how other innovations are removing the need to attend meetings and how the world of shopping is disrupted by home delivery or 'click-and-collect'. And this shift is being accompanied - especially in those big urban areas - by a shift to zero emission vehicles. A shift that is driven by wanting a healthier atmosphere rather than supposed threat of climate change. Indeed, as the evidence showing the negative health impact of poor air quality builds, we will see an accelerated shift to very low and zero-emission transport.

The private car won't disappear - people in rural areas will require a vehicle and some folk will remain in love with the idea of owning and driving a car - but we could see a future generation where not doing so is pretty much the norm. And not because of officious, interfering governments but because people decide they don't need the pain and expense of having a car.

Update: In a moment of serendipity, I found this little  snippet from Clemance Morlet on the Project for Public Spaces blog today:

In Paris, where I hail from, 60% of journeys are by foot - far beyond car trips (7%) – and 60% of Parisians do not own a car[1]. In the heart of New York City, 53%[2] of those who live and work in Manhattan never use a car, bus, subway or train in their everyday trips but instead walk, ride a bicycle or motorcycle, take a taxicab, or work at home. Not to mention the large and increasing number of tourists visiting the city (more than 50 million people yearly in 2011[3]), who widely enjoy Manhattan on foot.

1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

Even given the large fixed costs of car ownership, the breakeven distance vis-a-vis using taxis is still only around 1000 miles a year.

Plus there is a tremendous degree of personal expression in car ownership. How many people would prefer a cheap state-laundered uniform to their own clothes?