Tram at Sheffield Station

+ Considering the mix of technologies that we’ll be using to get around by 2040 raises some important questions.

A bundle of physical, institutional, virtual and technological innovations are poised to transform transportation. Together they could re-shape personal habits, the city and the larger urban form. As built environment professionals, we need to understand the potential of these emerging mobility technologies, and prepare to shape their influence on our cities and towns.

The idea of an emerging mobility mix is critically important to planning for change because the impact of each new technology is linked to other developments. And the sum of the benefits from implementing everything in this mix is far greater than from any one item. For example, the driverless car is undoubtedly cool, but its widespread uptake will be dependent on the evolution of a supportive regulatory regime addressing liability and other rather basic components of the total system.

In light of the many ongoing debates about the changes that may be wrought by autonomy and other emerging technologies, a group of Arup designers have crafted a future mobility scenario as part of Delivering a Driverless World, an Arup research project that considers the implications of mobility innovations. We’ve realised that the scenario could serve other purposes, so we’re offering it here for your consideration.

Our 2040 mobility scenario for people and goods envisions a driverless world with a vehicle fleet that is fully autonomous, digitally connected, efficiently shared, clean and green. The most significant features are:

1.    A fully autonomous vehicle fleet that doesn’t require human drivers
2.    A digital environment with real-time information on people’s travel needs, routes and conditions
3.    Shared vehicles available for use on demand
4.    Smart vehicles that adjust their speed to safely mix with pedestrians, cyclists, etc.
5.    Clean and green vehicles with no emissions or noise
6.    ‘Go anywhere’ vehicles operating on any road surface, without any special guideway
7.    Mass transit that continues to offer capacity and travel-time benefits in dense cities
8.    Smaller, lighter vehicles made possible by greatly reduced crash risk.

This scenario is intended to inspire debate, discussion and analysis across disciplines and perspectives.

While benefits could be maximized with the realization of all eight components of the future mix, they are not all required in order to capture positive impacts. In fact, many benefits of sharing vehicles would still be realised if those vehicles were not autonomous. For example, having shared vehicles in the mix substantially magnifies the impact of fully autonomous vehicles. Sharing autonomous vehicles would reduce parking requirements and free-up land for cyclists, pedestrians, urban greening or new structures.

Considering the mix above also raises questions about whether the flourishing cultures of cycling, walking and gathering in the public realm will continue amidst ever-more seductive (to some of us) ways to be inactive. If you could go anywhere quickly and easily in a vehicle, would you still want to walk or cycle?

These are some of our early thoughts about risks and rewards that the new mobility mix might bring. What are yours?