By 2050, two-thirds of the world will live in cities. This global urban takeover is something that will be reflected in many aspects of life, but perhaps most prominently, in transportation
More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. According to the UN, by 2050, that percentage will increase to two-thirds. This global urban takeover is something that will be reflected in many aspects of life, but perhaps most prominently, in transportation. The car is becoming increasingly less relevant for city life.
Don’t get me wrong, cars are great. They’re spacious, air-conditioned, and are able to travel long distances without stopping. However, movement within the city is very different: You travel shorter distances, there’s more indoor-movement, and you often end up staying in the same spot for hours. When you apply the latter to personal-car use, you start to understand why traffic feels so dense and crowded in the 21st century.
More often than not, a normal person’s daily car use looks like this: A long commute to work from a suburb to a major city, in a vehicle that takes up a lot of space that remains stationary (parked) for the entire day. You don’t need to do be a scientist to understand that cars are the number one reason for congestion, both in cities and on the roads leading to them.
Today, no less than 15 major European cities have limited, or completely banned, the movement of cars. This means that not only are cars the wrong choice for travelling within the city, soon enough, there simply won’t be a choice. That’s why the light electric vehicle (or LEV) is the fastest-growing segment of the automotive industry and, within a few years, is predicted to become the largest segment.
The vehicle of change
Light electric vehicles are commonly defined as “battery, fuel cell, or hybrid-powered 2-or-3-wheel vehicles generally weighing less than 200 pounds.” The most common LEV is an electric bicycle, though there are other kinds, such as scooters, pedicabs, and e-trikes.
However, having green technology is not enough if it’s not used on a wide scale. Therefore, the only natural way for this to occur is if a green vehicle answers the needs of a large group of people. LEV might serve as the literal ‘vehicle’ of green change in urban living.
What’s standing in the way?
Right now, a major issue is price point. A good personal vehicle costs less than a car, but is still more expensive than a bike or scooter. Since the LEV is often a second or third vehicle owned, users are willing to invest less in it. However, as the market begins to realize that LEVs will be a primary means of transport, they just might change their priorities.
As these types of vehicles catch on and increase in numbers, and car numbers decrease, we’ll begin to see and feel real green change. It is possible that the right combination of public transportation and LEVs could render cars in the city totally obsolete.
Unlike electric cars, such as Tesla (which are quite high-end and definitely not affordable to everyone) and Better Place (which failed catastrophically), LEVs present a different use case. They don’t need designated paths or charging stations.
The roads to the future exist now
It’s not just the vehicles that will change; it’s also the city around them. I’m not saying that new roads will be paved for the new type of vehicle (even though there are several cities that have actually done that), but existing roads, and mostly municipal regulation, will change the way people move.
Just like other advances in transportation, the new vehicles will use existing or modified infrastructure, rather than require brand new ones. A great example of this is the fact that when telegraph lines were first introduced, they were positioned alongside railways to allow easy access for maintenance. An advantage these vehicles have is that they can be ridden on the sidewalk, on the road and on bike paths. The urban landscape will stay the same, but new and better paths will form organically.
Take Barcelona for example. Most of the underground stations in the city can be accessed using an elevator. While originally intended for making stations accessible to the disabled population, it is also proving to make it one of the best cities to get around in using a personal vehicle. Ride your vehicle for a short trip, and take it on the train with you for longer ones.
This vehicular revolution will go hand in hand with the smart city and connected car trends. Just like Wi-Fi and Cloud technology made the Internet a constant part of our lives, the Internet of Things will make jumping from one form of transportation to the other seamless.
Since a personal vehicle goes everywhere with you, it becomes a new type of platform. It will be connected to relevant applications and services, but since it is also at your side when it’s not being used, it creates a continuous experience and becomes a new object of desire for urban users.
When will green become mainstream?
The key to ushering in this change is user experience. Right now, ‘going green’ is perceived by some as a burden. We need to make it fun and cool. This can only be achieved by passing the threshold of usability. In many places the infrastructure is there, and all we need is to offer an alternative.
In other markets, it might take longer for people to give up their cars, but this can be addressed at the legislative level. If city hall starts to embrace smart and green city concepts, using LEVs to get around will become a natural thing, which will benefit all city residents in the long run.
The views expressed are of the author.
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