Susan Claris takes a ride in a GM EN-V electric vehicle.

+ Ideas about future transport have been broadly similar for many years - what will trigger the next big leap forward?

A colleague of mine favours the expression that “the future is over-sold and under-imagined” and I think that this is particularly true of transport.

I recently had the opportunity to see and experience GM’s EN-V. Short for electric networked vehicle, it is GM’s vision of the future of urban personal mobility. The EN-V is a two-seat electric vehicle that was designed to alleviate concerns surrounding traffic congestion, parking availability, air quality and affordability. It has a 25 mile range and a top speed of 25 miles per hour and its sensing technology can detect obstacles in its path automatically bringing the vehicle to a stop. Scheduled for production in 2030, it is still 19 years before we'll see these vehicles on city streets, but it is a thought-provoking glimpse at the future of city transport.

However it also shows that ideas about future transport have been broadly similar for many years. The images of future transport from Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic film “Metropolis” are little different from the views presented in more recent years such as Blade Runner in the 1980s or I Robot from 2004.

Of the more 'futuristic' images of the 1950s and 1960s – jet packs, railroads in the sky, flying saucer buses, hover cars – very few have actually happened. One exception is the concept of self-routing taxis running on a monorail which is similar to the personal rapid transit system recently introduced at Heathrow airport.

Some visions of future accessibility have focused on working and shopping from home removing the need to travel. But a clear picture of how developments in ICT are influencing travel habits has yet to materialise.

So will the future for urban mobility be something like the EN-V vehicle? What will trigger the next big leap in future transport? Will it be the pull of technological advances in transport or will it be the push of external factors such as peak oil that cause us to change the way we travel?

I tend to think it will be the latter, triggering a surge in low-tech solutions such as walking and cycling in our towns and cities.