Catapult self-driving car in Britain
Will Future Public Transport Save the Environment?
By David Moss
The answer to the question on sustainable public transport lies in innovative technologies that are currently disrupting the auto industry - autonomous, on-demand, electric and connected vehicles.
The world is progressing at a rate never before seen in history. We're discovering new things with each day that passes, and this has improved the quality of life for millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, at times, these inventions come at the expense of the environment.
As revolutionary as public transportation has proven to be in the modern age, it also has inflicted long-lasting and even irreversible damages to the environment. Environmental experts and automotive industry insiders predict that public transport, if left in its current state, will continue to negatively impact the environment and drain the Earth's natural resources. World transport energy use has doubled over the past 30 years, and if nothing is done we are likely to see vehicle use double again by 2050, with most growth coming from passenger light-duty vehicles in developing countries. UN studies also warn that things will only get worse as more people around the world relocate from rural to urban and developed areas.
Given these statistics, it is obvious we cannot continue to sustain public transport in its current state and that we must make significant changes to the manner in which we travel. The answer to the question on sustainable public transport lies in innovative technologies that will not only make our commute easier, but also reduce the negative environmental impact of transport.
Disruptive Trends that are Transforming the Auto Industry
While the way that we have been using transportation over the last 100 years and the resources that it requires is concerning, there is hope in the shift we are seeing today. Both car manufacturing companies, such as Ford and GM, and tech giants, such as Google and Chinese Baidu, are starting to blur the lines between manufacturing and technology. Erica Klampfl, Ford's Global Future Mobility Manager, stated "we (Ford) recognize that the automotive industry is changing. Our car is a part of the Internet of things. It’s filled with technology. We are a tech company."
Car companies are now on the cutting edge of technology development, and this has led to a lot of innovation. The future of public transport is already happening today as we witness cars being made that feature some of the most astounding technology to hit the market. These inventions range from cars that feature wireless connectivity to electric vehicles and autos that are capable of downloading and utilizing mobile applications for safe handling, better driving, and even entertainment purposes. Basic components like seat belts to advanced car safety technologies continue to be improved for our safety and convenience, and although there is still a lot of work to be done as far as vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communication goes, experts believe that autonomous cars are going to be operating on the road in the next ten years.
We are also already witnessing some automotive autonomy and reduced environmental impacts with car sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and others that allow customers to share rides and save both money and the environment while using public transport. We are seeing a shift in the way people think about transportation.
The Future of Public Transportation
A recent study carried out by Navigant Research shows us what the future of the automobile industry and transportation is going to look like. This analyst firm spoke on the phone and in person with industry executives, engineers, and marketing professionals. They concluded that the future of the car industry is autonomous, and users will be able to call for these driverless cars at the touch of a button on an app (on-demand). This comes as no surprise in a world that is increasingly convenience driven. Likewise, we will continue to see more electric and wireless capable (connected) cars on the roadways.
The study also notes that these trends will lead to a gradual reduction in the number of cars on the road beginning in the 2030s. Car manufacturers are already adjusting toward this trend, and they are being forced to rethink their business model to lean more towards what the people are demanding.
Environmental Benefits of Driverless, Electric, On-Demand, and Connected Transit Vehicles
So what does Navigant Research's study and the predictions of industry insiders mean for the environment?
First, it means that we can expect fewer cars on the roads as ride-sharing and car-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, and others become more commonplace throughout the world.
Second, all of this is coming together in towns and cities as the governments are pushing to create laws that mandate more clean and convenient electric cars as a solution to pollution. There is a strong trend towards electrification of public vehicles. Buses, trains, and other services that are being tested out all over the world are moving toward electric based energy. The ride sharing and ride hailing companies, which are becoming increasingly popular, are also starting to use more electric options.
Third, apart from the conventional buses and taxis that are switching to electric drive, the majority of driverless buses/shuttles/pods/taxis which are currently being tested or have been trialed recently, are electric - those in Milton Keynes, Greece (Trikala), London (Heathrow), Switzerland (Lausanne), the Netherlands, Coventry, Sweden, Italy, Beverly Hills, and Bishop Ranch. Driverless vehicles have extensive volume of sensors and processors that are required for their proper function. These devices require extensive use of electrical power that can only be provided by EVs.
Furthermore, although some maintain that autonomous vehicles will lead to more congestion, others believe they can actually become the ideal solution for reducing traffic congestion because they can travel closer to other vehicles due to their sensor technology, thus improving traffic flow.
Fourth, some experts believe that connected vehicles will also have a beneficial impact on the environment because some of this technology is aimed at helping car owners decrease fuel consumption and avoid traffic congestion.
The technology being worked on and perfected today can genuinely solve some of the world's worst environmental issues.
Could the solution to present day traffic congestion and environmental pollution lie with innovative and new car technology that embodies autonomy, electric vehicle capabilities, and other revolutionary designs already in the works? With more people than ever using public transport and the environment suffering because of depleted resources and high greenhouse emissions, automotive insiders and environmental experts both continue to hope that the answer is a resounding yes.
All indications point that the ideal solution for today's transportation problems and tomorrow's increased public transport demands centers on driverless, on-demand, and connected electric vehicles. These automobiles have been found to reduce congestion and inflict little to no negative impact on the environment.
There is no doubt that today is an exciting time to be alive. Technology is improving at a rate never seen before, and that has led to a lot of great inventions in the automotive industry. The future of transportation is changing right in front of our eyes. It may not be a strange site twenty years from now to see all kinds of cars on the road driving themselves with people getting their work done in the passenger seat. As we move closer and closer to a world that can no longer rely on fossil fuel, more and more cities are going to be looking to invest in cleaner energy and a more efficient use of vehicles. The future of public transport could be much brighter than its present.
Originally published: 10 Nov 2016
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