The Future of Personal Transport

Personal mobility and freedom is the ultimate for most people and I've been thinking recently about how people will get around our towns and cities of the future... and it's pretty exciting. Firstly let's throw away things like flying cars and personal jet packs - I'm fairly confident that we'll be keeping our feet firmly on the ground (other than the usual intercity, and maybe intracity, flights of course).

Looking at the current state of personal transport is probably a good thing to do first. The majority of people get around in a car, in fact in the UK there are 35 million registered cars on the road [1] and over 38 million people have a driving licence [2] which represents around 60% of the population. Even those that don't drive I'd say generally get around via friends and family and taxis.

Cars represent something that's quite intangible, they represent freedom and mobility on demand, for many they represent themselves, their wealth, personality, culture and so on. I can't see this feeling diminishing in the future. Due to this I do think that cars represent the future of personal transport.

However, we all know that cars are terrible economic decisions. The average car sits idle for about 95% of the time [3]. Think about it, you drive to work in the morning and back home in the evening - lets say each way is 30 minutes, then you drive to the shop in the evening, another 30 minutes both ways. That's 1.5 hours of use in a 24 hour period - little over 6%. The rest of the time this piece of metal and electronics (that you love) is sitting completely unused, yet you're still paying for it. Add to this that cars are dangerous and inefficient and you have to wonder why we use and love them so much (hint: look at the previous paragraph).

These are some big problems that the Millennial generation have realised. The number of young people getting driving licenses has fallen [4] [5] and people are driving fewer miles - 14% less in 2013 than 2002 [6]. In cities people are shunning the car altogether [7], helped along by the rise of technology giving us on demand mobility services like Uber, Lyft, and City Car Club where a selection of over 800 vehicles can be hired on demand from your smartphone on your door step (#nonspon). This gives us a glimpse in to the future of personal transport - on demand and non-ownership.

Within the next 10 years we're likely to start seeing autonomous cars on our roads, although a 'driver' will most definitely still be needed and in the next 20 years we could see fully autonomous, get in, press a button, fall asleep type cars available [8]. We already have cars such as the Tesla Model S that can drive autonomously on motorways (highways for the Americans) and we'll see this kind of technology trickle down in to the lower end of the market fairly soon as more driver assist technology is developed for the high end market. The trend for more and more autonomy can only continue.

So the combination of on-demand, non-ownership and autonomy gives a pretty exciting vision for the future of personal transport I think.

We may see the business models of car manufacturers change dramatically in the future - think something like mobile phone networks where you pay for a certain amount of data each month. I think we could be paying for a certain amount of miles each month in the future. The vision I see is cities of fully autonomous (electric) vehicles which can be hired on demand from your smartphone (or wrist, or whatever interface we have by then) just like you do now with Uber. You may have use of certain type of vehicle so you'll always get a BMW 1 Series or an Audi A4 or whatever it is you pay for - remember that for many cars represent themselves, but you won't actually own the car you'll just pay £x per month for y number of miles and when you're not using it someone else will be meaning utilisation will drastically increase.

Now that's a bit of a personal vision but given current trends I don't think it's too far off the mark, however, don't be expecting this too quickly given that truly autonomous cars won't be around for at least another 20 years or so.