Collapsing cars, automation and public transport

What is the future of the private car? This is a non-linear question because it requires a different type of conversation. Engineers, planners and urbanists believe in how the car will fade, and public transportation could be a key alternative. Automated vehicles seem to be an attractive conversation with massive traffic and mobility implications. Car ownership is expected to be substituted by car sharing in order to leverage on the idea that the car is a wasteful object to own.

How does a car go to waste? Well, it spends most of its time parked; it takes up parking space which could be used for other things; and it contributes to slowing down traffic until it is congested. The conversation about emissions is an axiom: whether electric or petrol the lifecycle emissions of a car are high. From extracting metals, manufacturing and distribution there is no way to avoid the carbon footprint for now.

International car manufacturers are leaning more and more toward the idea of shared ownership. KPMG reported that this might change the manner in which insurance companies design their business models as much as it will change household spending. McKinsey argues that it’s not the automation of private cars that should concern strategists right now, but the underlying reforms and technologies which propel an automated reality. What is clear however is that the existing models are learning quickly but they are far from intuitive for on street car use. However, when it comes to guided transport like trams, trains and the like, automation is already a norm in a sense that some routes are driverless around the world. Why the hype? Partly because one day some countries will allow cars to move around with some autonomy– many already do to some degree. What manufacturers are doing is account for some of these factors in addition to the nature of consumer behavior who are either captive to the car or need it for specific types of trips.

“We’re moving from a phase of car ownership to car rental and leasing. What will remain then are dream cars, one-offs, and limited editions. This is all we design for, cars you’ll use on the weekend.”– Zagato speaking to the Robb Report.

Globally the assumption is that all commutes are tarred, connected and potentially electrified. However, there are some stark realities worth confronting. First, not all countries will leapfrog into the digitization of mobility particularly because the fundamentals of access will propel policy decisions. Secondly, regions and towns are unique and so are driving rhythms– this implies a massive opportunity for local researchers to build new or augmented models. Thirdly, inequalities could be addressed through employing more public transport drivers; meanwhile efficient public transportation operations might need less human support in future. Lastly, shared mobility solutions may offer certain household segments like youth, elderly, and emergency services a unique sphere of operations.

In all honesty, building these technologies can unleash new teaching techniques, develop Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Management (STEAM) career fields. Meanwhile, creating completely new types of work, ideas, cultures, incomes and competencies. Maybe this rural road could be rebuilt by new revenues generated by the local municipality in Lebowakgomo from industrial incentive schemes. The round would be built in order to enable households to commute to these new and old ways of work without relocating from traditional family land and homesteads. Will these families own cars to traverse these territories? Will the car be a necessity for them? Without good public transport, households will buy a car sooner and use it more. Depending on the lifestyle and trip complexity in households. Will a car be a waste if it is the only viable alternative to maximize one’s productivity, add value and maintain dislocated and dispersed family lives where video-calls don’t do the trick? Maybe we need faster trains, maybe we need well designed cars. Both is inevitably better, ownership is something else.

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