Sci-fi style transportation is coming to a city near you | Metro

I was interviewed by Daniel Casillas of Metro newspaper for an article “Sci-fi style transportation is coming to a city near you“. Article selection below:


“The major new technology change is the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs), first on high-end cars, and then through all new vehicles, before eventually replacing all cars. This will greatly increase safety, and as deployment becomes widespread, road capacity will be increased,” explained David Levinson, author of the book “The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport.”

But how can we get faster and more efficient transport systems? According to the experts, we need a combination of broad computer control and a move from fossil fuels to electricity. These advancements would largely accomplish both goals, particularly if the remaining oil and coal-fired generating plants were replaced by cleaner and cheaper alternatives. This combination would make personal transportation faster, greener and cheaper.


Metro sat down with David Levinson, author of the book “The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport,” to discuss his views on the new age of transportation.

Do you see flying cars as a real option of transportation in the near future?

No, not in the near future; I think we are decades away from widespread use. While in some ways flying cars are simpler (there is more space up there than down here, so there’s a reduced likelihood of crashing), in other ways, they are more complex, and ensuring safety and stability will require a lot of proof. The energy requirements are probably also greater, as takeoff is energy intensive.

What are the main challenges for the new ways of transportation?

Getting the technology right is the main challenge. While already automated vehicles (AVs) are safer than human drivers, there is still uncertainty. Ensuring that sensors are reliable enough and the algorithms are good enough that humans don’t need to pay attention at all is the critical turning point. The costs will come down with mass production of the sensors, and if we can remove the steering wheel and brakes from human control, we can make the car both less expensive and safer. But deployment is a gradual process. It won’t happen all at once.

How can we get faster and more efficient transport systems?

Most cities in the world do not price their roads, they are allocated as first-come, first-served. Thus we get congestion when we underprice roads. For most other goods, we charge more in peak times (think about airlines, hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and even public transport). A few cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore are experimenting with road pricing, and this is an important solution to the congestion problem to better balance loads across the network.

Do you see the popularization of cleaner fuels among new transport? 

I expect electric vehicles to become more common over the coming decades. We are already seeing some European countries implementing a phase out of the internal combustion engine and gasoline for environmental reasons, but we also need to keep in mind that electric vehicles are simpler and less expensive than traditional gasoline-powered cars. The main drawback has been the large battery requirements in terms of space and the cost of batteries, but energy efficiency from batteries has steadily been getting better and charging stations are more widespread. The popularity of the new Tesla, with hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for a vehicle more than a year away, indicates the popularity of such cars once they become affordable

—Daniel Casillas