I predict that within 20 years there will be no need to own a car if you live in an urban environment, and I believe this prediction will stand whether or not that city has a fully-fledged public transport system today.
The emergence of four important new concepts of transport in the 21st century city – Rapid Bus Transit systems, bicycle-sharing schemes, Zipcar and Uber – are helping to reshape how we view both public transport and car ownership, and are blurring the lines between how we get from place to place. Dedicated bus and cycle lanes are helping public transport to compete with the car for convenience, safety and efficiency of transport, while Zipcar, Uber (and other car-sharing services such as Lyft) are helping consumers to see that car ownership is not a complete necessity.
Imagine a New York where Zipcar and Citibike were integrated into the Metro Card system, and that switching modes of transport between subway, bus, bike and car was as easy as swiping your Metro Card?
This vision is even easier to imagine in London, where Oyster cards are already contact-less, automatically refill when empty, and track your identity. By making access to a car as convenient as owning one, the incentives for ownership are greatly diminished. Suddenly, you can have the same freedom of car ownership when you need it, but the affordability and efficiency of a public transport system on a day-to-day basis. You would also have the ability to choose exactly what type of vehicle you desire, based on your needs for that particular journey – you could utilize a van for moving furniture across town, or rent a sports coupe for that road trip to Florida.
The benefits of integrating cars into an existing public transport system seem so obvious that it makes me question why it is yet to happen. The devil, of course, is in the details of how the system would work, with foreseeable obstacles including user insurance and the logistics of managing hundreds or thousands of cars across a vast geographic area, but I don’t think idea is not inconceivable – the technology exists today for cyclists, and the progression to include cars just requires large amounts of financial resources and political will to make this happen. I believe the optimal way to make this happen is to form a public-private partnership between the Transport authority in the city in question, and a car-sharing service such as Uber or Zipcar.
What about cities where public transport is today virtually nonexistent? Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) schemes have been implemented across the world, from the Bronx to Bogotá, as a way to develop a public transport system with the convenience and regularity of a subway, for a fraction of the price. RBT schemes leverage bus lanes and ticket sales prior to boarding to ensure they can operate without the problems that plague regular bus services such as traffic and passengers taking forever to find the correct change to pay the ticket fare. You may argue that RBT systems could never work in car-centric cities such as Atlanta, but imagine how many automobile commuters would begin using RBT when they see buses fly past them in the bus lanes as they sit is hours upon hours of traffic.
The addition of attractions such as free WI-FI further enhance the value proposition for public transport, and I envision the public transport of the future offering additional services to customers that can help make the experience more appealing than sitting in a car, such as on-board vending machines or even shoe polishes.
Bicycle-sharing schemes in most major cities are still relatively young, and right now its demographic is restricted to those who aren’t afraid to share the road with angry bus drivers or gas tankers. In Scandinavian cities such as Copenhagen, people of all ages and from all walks of life cycle because the infrastructure in place for cyclists is far superior, with dedicated bike lanes as wide as a regular car lane. Additional investment in infrastructure for cyclists will allow many more urban dwellers to experience the joys of commuting by bike, and further integration with the existing public transport system will allow users to choose their preferred mode of transport on any given day.
With affordable and convenient access to cars, buses, subways, trains and bicycles in an integrated public transport system, why would anyone in a city ever have to own a car? Let’s build this integrated system and move to a more sustainable, economically viable and enjoyable system of transport.
Until next time!