8 Technological Changes that Will Revolutionize the Future of Transportation

Minnesota Department of Transportation hired David Levinson to prepare The Transportation Futures Project:  Planning for Technology Change, which was published in January 2016.  David is one of my favorite thought leaders on transportation issues and I highly recommend his book The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport in addition to this paper.

Here’s a quick description of the chapters in the paper, which I believe are the 8 Technological Changes that Will Revolutionize the Future of Transportation:

  1. Autonomous Vehicles. To start off, Levinson predicts fully autonomous vehicles will start being available by 2020, all new vehicles will be required to be autonomous in 2030 and non-autonomous vehicles will be prohibited from public roads most of the time in 2040. The ramifications of autonomous vehicles are enormous.  Costs will go down in many ways.  Safety will improve exponentially.  Mobility will be improved for everyone.  The ability to nap or be productive in the car instead of driving will likely result in longer trips as some folks choose to live further from the urban core.  The elimination of the driving mechanisms and the need for everyone to be looking forward will lead to much more variety in the size and shape of vehicles.
  1. Mobile Telecommunications and Activity In-Motion. Increased mobile telecommunications has significantly changed the walking landscape as many people listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. GPS and mapping on mobile devices has also significantly enhanced driving as well as transit.  Mobile communications facilitate many of the disruptions on this list and also make it likely that people are willing to endure longer trips if they are being entertained by their phones and tablets.
  1. Information and Communication Technologies. As work shifts more towards the information economy, people are not as tied to the office. Whether working from home or a coffee shop, a lot of knowledge workers don’t need to go to the office every day.  Nor do they need to be tied to an eight-hour shift that forces them to drive during the peak hours (we see this in our office with almost all staff either coming in after the morning peak or leaving before the afternoon peak).  These trends are reducing vehicle miles traveled, but are actually increasing the number of shorter trips close to home.  The other large trend related to information technology is online shopping.  It is still unclear whether e-shopping reduces physical shopping or is just in addition to physical shopping.  However, online shopping has increased delivery traffic and freight transportation.
  1. Mobility-as-a-Service. Car2Go, Uber, Zipcar, Hourcar, Lyft, etc. are reducing the need for individuals to own their own vehicle. The more vehicles are shared, the sooner they will be replaced because they will accumulate miles faster.  This will result in a faster adoption cycle of technology, similar to the turnover in the cell phone market.  Vehicles will likely become smaller to better fit the real number of passengers (not just the extreme case most people buy their vehicles for).  Streets will need to be redesigned for loading/unloading vs. parking.  The urban landscape will evolve significantly as we repurpose all of the on-street and off-street space dedicated to storing vehicles.  People who don’t own vehicles, but use a service will end up making less trips because they see the actual cost for each trip instead of having the sunk cost mentality of owning a vehicle (I have personally experienced this since selling my car and committing to using Uber).
  1. Quantified Self and Quantified Networks. New sensors on people, in vehicles, and imbedded in the transportation infrastructure are creating a vast amount of data related to mobility. How this data will be utilized to improve transportation is an open question.
  1. Electrification and Alternative Fuels. Levinson estimates 68% of the new cars sold in 2050 will be electric powered. However, this estimate is highly dependent on gasoline prices and government regulations.  Alternative fuels to gasoline or electricity are unlikely to power the majority of vehicles.  A huge, ongoing issue is our government’s dependence on a gasoline tax to fund the transportation infrastructure.   The vehicle fleet switching from gasoline to electricity will lead to a funding crisis if the tax/fee model that supports transportation infrastructure doesn’t evolve.
  1. Road Pricing. With the increase in electric vehicles, the government needs to move away from gasoline tax as the mechanism to pay for our transportation infrastructure. A much more rational system, according to economists, would be a per mile usage tax that would have variable rates to discourage peak hour travel.  The supply/demand of the transportation system could be better balanced through this type of system.  Uber has proven surge pricing is effective in balancing supply and demand.
  1. New Logistics. Autonomous delivery and freight vehicles will disrupt logistics in much the same way autonomous vehicles will disrupt passenger vehicles. As shopping shifts online, more aggregation may be seen in shipping and warehousing. Lastly, drone technology could displace many of the home deliveries currently being made.

What technology changes to you believe will change the future of transportation? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on “8 Technological Changes that Will Revolutionize the Future of Transportation

  1. Thanks for your eye on the future.

    It would be interesting to put together a picture of which types of cities/environments/streetscapes are most conducive to rapid changes, and which sets of urban or suburban or town characteristics will tend to retard them.

    I assume GPS way finding will increase, as this article about Los Angeles discusses.
    http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-california-commute-20150106-story.html
    An interesting question is whether autonomous vehicles will accelerate the infiltration of quiet residential areas with through traffic, or whether people will care less that they are sitting in traffic.

    The implications for towns and cities are that whereas, in the past “traffic calming” with speed humps or chicanes might have seemed sufficient to respond to cut through traffic, now it seems to me that more absolute measures may be needed to preserve neighborhoods’ quality of life and stem the flow of cars: If actual traffic prevention via one way streets, dead ends, and any other approach that would read on gps as “don’t go there”. Otherwise, here’s a less optimistic idea: it will be a slow march into degradation of residential life as highly touted automatically driven vehicles guided by GPS fail to regard “arteries” as arteries/regard them as principle routes, and merely seek the fastest way from A to B. Any reduction in parking due to car sharing? The flip side is that without planning to use it for something else, the street widens and allows the cars using the street to travel faster.