November 18


The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport – Book Review

By Mike Spack

November 18, 2015

book, book review, david Levinson, future of transportation, kevin krizek, transportation

The Future of TransportI recently read The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport by Professors David Levinson and Kevin Krizek.  I’ve known David Levinson (The Transportationist) for about 15 years now – we grabbed lunch within a few months of him starting at the University of Minnesota.

Honestly, the book sat in my kindle for about a month.  I wasn’t excited to read an “academic” book about transportation.  My concern was completely unfounded. It’s very well written in plain English. I read the whole book in less than five hours.  I was able to skim through the historical opening sections because they were review for me, but they provide a great synopsis for the transportation novice.

The later sections of the book were thought provoking for me.  Three sets of data illustrated how our transportation world is significantly changing:

  1. Minutes per day spent shopping in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region (Figure 3.5 in the book) show at least a 25% decline in time spent shopping from 2001 to 2011.
  2. Figure 3.10 shows a peak of about 210 billion pieces of mail handled by the USPS in 2005 down to about 165 billion in 2010. The trendline actually looks similar to vehicle miles traveled in the United States.
  3. ShopperTrak data on November/December United States shows shopping trips going from 33 billion in 2010 down to 17.6 billion in 2013.

The conclusion from the above data is that the internet is significantly changing for retail related travel behavior.  (An aside – in addition to being big Amazon Prime users, my wife Jane has started using to get deliveries from Target, Costco and Whole Foods).

The one thought experiment in the book that has stayed with me is related to car sharing (Uber, Car2Go, HourCar, Zip Car, etc).  I’ve brought this up at least four times with colleagues in the last month:

  • We currently have about 250 million vehicles in the United States, used less than an hour per day each on average, and the average life of a vehicle is about 11 years before it goes to the scrap yard.
  • In a car sharing economy, it’s not a stretch to have a 125 million vehicles that are used two hours per day and are scrapped after 5.5 years.
  • Now what if that was cut in half again – 62.5 million vehicles used four hours per day that are scrapped after 2.75 years.

Consider the leap in cell phone/smart phone technology compared to the relatively slow evolution of vehicle technology.  Smart phones have changed radically over the last three years, let alone the last 11 years a typical car is on the road.

Technology changes are accelerating in new vehicles.  Features such as backup cameras/monitor were only in luxury vehicles four to five years ago and are now standard in almost all vehicles.  As Tesla/Google/Apple nudge the automobile industry it’s very reasonable to expect the rate of innovation is going to continue to accelerate.

That innovation in fuel efficiency, electric technology, autonomous driving and crazier changes (like no steering wheel and having swivel seats with tables) will come a lot faster if the car sharing technology takes off and we move down the above bullet point chain.  It would be great for innovation if we turned over the automobile fleet every 3-5 years.

The above snipits give you a sample of what’s in the book.  I wholeheartedly give The End of Traffic and the Future or Transport five stars and think it’s a steal at $4.99.  Please buy it and read it.  You can thank me later.

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Mike Spack

My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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