Five minutes in the city of the future

If we subscribe to the adage that time is money, five minutes might not seem like much. But for time-strapped city dwellers, saving five minutes a day looking for parking using a smart parking app can add up quickly. Cities are now home to more than half the world’s population—and that proportion is still rising. But heavy traffic and congestion has contributed to air quality falling below safe health guidelines in many of the world’s largest cities. To balance clean air, easy mobility, and rapid population growth, city officials are bracing for a Herculean task.

But the world of mobility is already shifting. Driverless vehicles that connect with one another may graduate from concept to reality in the not-too-distant future. Based on some of our recent research, we think that by 2030, citizens of dense cities like New York, Paris, and Tokyo could spend up to 40 percent of their transport budgets on modes that are practically not even existent yet. In a city like London, that adds up to more than $10 billion each year. There are a range of tools for the public and private sector to make future commutes quicker, more convenient, more affordable, and a whole lot greener. Below is a glimpse into future mobility, based on our recent report “The road to seamless urban mobility.”

Maximizing movement

  • Cities of the future can rely on stop lights that sense traffic and communicate with each other to minimize wait times. These ‘intelligent traffic systems’ have already reduced commuting times in Buenos Aires by up to 20 percent and in San Jose and Houston by 15 percent.
  • As e-commerce grows and because urban residents account for almost all (91 percent) of global consumption growth, congestion from stop-and-go deliveries will increase. By shifting drop-offs to off-peak hours, cities can take vehicles off the streets during the day. The concept of night deliveries has already been piloted in Barcelona and New York City.
  • ‘Congestion pricing’ is another way to shift traffic. By charging drivers to enter busy urban areas at certain peak times, London has reduced vehicle volume by 22 percent in the last decade.
  • Commuters travelling by metro or train are often impeded by the ‘last mile’ barrier – or the final leg of their commute that’s unsupported by public transport. To this end, the use of e-scooters and bicycles in strategic spots would help ensure that rail remains the backbone of the urban transit system. Bike-sharing programs have already been correlated with increased public-transit use in Beijing, Melbourne, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
  • The introduction of additional modes that help with last-mile solutions can also increase equitability and access for underserved areas. Many dense urban cities are plagued by ‘transportation deserts’ – areas of the city underserved by poorly served by existing public transport and often disproportionally affect poor and low-income neighborhoods. Last mile solutions can extend current networks to better serve all city neighborhoods.
  • Creating low- or zero-emissions zones can improve sustainability and encourage electric vehicle use. And governments can jump start the trend with incentives such as special parking permits for electric car-sharing fleets, a program that has seen success in cities such as Amsterdam.
  • While trains that run themselves are already quite widespread, driverless vehicles—from robo-taxis, to autonomous shuttles and buses—may become a significant part of future mobility. In communicating with each other, these autonomous vehicles (AVs) will drive closer together and in turn safely increase road capacity. Studies have estimated that such vehicle-to-vehicle communication could increase the effective capacity of roads by 5 to 10 percent. Berlin, Detroit, and Guangzhou are already experimenting with driverless shuttles on select routes.

Urban mobility is complex and public and private sector leaders would do well to consider their city’s specific mobility goals and how the tools to meet them can be used in concert. Most of all, it’s important to consider the impossible as possible. For example, when the world’s first subway system opened in January 1863, it was hailed as a breakthrough not just for busy Londoners, but for all of civilization. Will the next breakthrough come from your city?

Read our full report: “The road to seamless urban mobility.”

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