Nothing will reshape cities more than transport. The sector is buzzing with trends that will reshape urban design, lifestyles and sustainability. Here are some to watch out for.
1. Driverless cars
SA governor Hieu Van Le said the move could revolutionise transport in the state.
“Our Motor Vehicles Act was written when the FB model Holden was being released to the market in 1959 and our Road Traffic Act [was written] two years later,” Mr Van Le said to the SA parliament recently.
“[The] Government will reform both pieces of legislation and also legislate for driverless vehicles, which will revolutionise transportation in South Australia.”
Similarly, Germany has drawn up legal guidelines for the use of driverless cars on autobahns, and the UK government has brought in new regulations. They are expected to be on UK roads within a year. And in the US, California has brought in laws allowing the first autonomous vehicles to roam freely on its roads.
This is big news for creating more sustainable cities.
As Wired says, driverless cars are likely to reduce car ownership. After all, if a car can drive itself back home and pick up another person elsewhere, then why should any household have more than one driverless car? Or, as the magazine points out, it’s more likely to see driverless cars becoming shared vehicles. And that means less traffic, more available parking spaces, a cleaner environment and fewer fatal car accidents.
2. Fewer drivers
This is a trend spreading across the western world. While people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are buying cars more than ever before, it’s a different story in the developed world.
The Economist says a growing body of academics cite the possibility that both car ownership and vehicle-kilometres driven may be reaching saturation in developed countries – or even be on the wane, a notion known as “peak car”. It cites a 2012 study from Australia showing that 20 countries in the rich world show a “saturating trend” to vehicle-kilometres travelled.
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It revealed that growth per person has slowed distinctly, and in many cases stopped altogether. In Britain, it says, total traffic hasn’t increased for a decade. And that’s despite a growing population. For the past 15 years Britons have been making fewer journeys. Indeed, they now go out in cars only slightly more often than in the 1970s. Pre-recession declines in per-person travel were also recorded in France, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Belgium.
As the Eco-Driving Index in the US shows, US drivers are now producing fewer emissions because today’s Americans own fewer light-duty vehicles per household, drive them less and consume less fuel than they have in the past. And American households without a vehicle have increased nearly every year since 2007.
3. Increased walking biking and public transport
Accompanying this decrease in the amount of driving is the growing number of young people who are either taking to public transport, or going by foot or bike. According to one study, 45 per cent of young people (18-34 years old) say they have consciously made an effort to replace driving with transportation alternatives like walking, biking and public transport. This is compared with approximately 32 per cent of all older populations. Young people have also chosen to live in areas where active transport is easier, such as population centres close to the inner city.
Some young people are purposely reducing their driving in an effort to curb their environmental impact. But what makes it all easier these days is technology that makes transport alternatives more convenient. Websites and smart phone apps that provide real-time transit data make public transport easier to use, particularly for infrequent users. Meanwhile, technology has opened the door for new transport alternatives, such as the car-sharing and bike-sharing services.
4. Lightweight vehicles
Automakers like Toyota and BMW have embraced vehicle lightweighting as the way of the future. According to Autonews, Toyota has discovered that building lighter bodies through high-strength steel has resulted in production lines that are less expensive. It’s also found that using carbon fibre parts allows it to mix materials on the same welding lines, instead of operating separate welding line. BMW has found that it’s easier to repair cars built from carbon fibre. As a result, the auto industry is becoming more efficient and, as Greenbiz points out, efficiency works as a source of fuel while conserving physical supplies.
“Efficiency is unparalleled by any other fuels in its ability to avoid negative social and environmental impacts,” it notes.
5. Smart parking systems
Technology is transforming the parking industry. According to the International Parking Institute, the big trends to watch out for include apps for mobile devices that enable you to find, reserve and pay for parking – in secure facilities or perhaps in someone’s unused driveway. Team this with wireless sensing devices that indicate space availability, and even parking access control through license plate recognition. Navigant Research predicts there will be about one million smart car parking spaces worldwide by 2020.
Also, many car parks today are built with energy-efficient fluorescent lighting that remains brighter longer and provides enhanced security, not to mention recycling systems, such as rainwater recycling. Many more are built from local and recycled materials, and come with renewable energy technology such as photovoltaic, wind power, bio-fuels and hydrogen fuel cells.
6. Big data, smarter transport
Big data is the mega trend that will reshape transport. Big data firm Datafloq says routing different trucks, airplanes or ships can be optimised using public data such as road conditions, traffic jams, weather conditions, delivery addresses and location of petrol stations.
“Whenever a change in address comes in from head office, it can be pushed to the driver or captain in real-time. The system automatically calculates and optimises the ideal and cheapest new routing to the new destination. Sensors in trucks, ships or airplanes can also give real-time information about how the truck, ship or airplane is performing,” Datafloq says.
Union Pacific, the biggest railway network in the US, is using big data to reduce derailments and drive its trains more profitably. In Melbourne, Yarra Trams has partnered with IBM to access real-time information about service disruptions, tram performance and tram locations through sensors and new data collection tools. This data is used to better maintain equipment and ensure tram service is available when and where it is most needed. The data is stored in one centralised system that is accessible to all Yarra Trams employees and interfaces with other business processes including procurement, customer service and human resources. And there’s a lot of it. After all, Melbourne’s tram system is the world’s largest with over 250 kilometres of double track. Every year, nearly 185 million trips are taken on the network, which takes more than 91,000 pieces of equipment to operate. As IBM says, keeping the system running smoothly and on time requires a unique combination of rapid response to service disruption, preventative and predictive maintenance of assets and frequent communication with passengers.
7. Car and bike sharing
Car-sharing schemes now operate in some 1100 cities in 26 countries. In Sydney, experts predict that one in ten households will be a member of a car-sharing organisation by 2016. It’s a growing trend with outfits like GoGet in Sydney and Flexicar in Melbourne allowing people to book online or with their smart phone.
Bike sharing, as Google Maps shows us, is found worldwide. Treehugger introduces us to Mo, a system used in Munich that combines both car and bike sharing. It uses a smartphone app that tracks each member’s use of public transport and of rentals or “shares” – of a bicycle or cargo bikes, e-bikes and cars. Using the system, people can accumulate miles to get car sharing, or to charge an e-bike. Accruing larger Mo mile balances reduce a user’s membership and usage costs.