What will public and passenger transport vehicles look like in 2045, and how might they be configured? (3/11)

3. What will public and passenger transport vehicles look like in 2045, and how might they be configured?

  • What size will the vehicles be? Will they be designed to carry large volumes of passengers, or for small groups/individuals?
  • How will they be powered
  • Will the vehicles be automated, and if so, to what extent?

In The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport we talk about  an explosion of new vehicle types. This is a really important, and has been largely unrecognised. Everybody assumes that vehicles will look basically the same as today, and will just be automated and electric powered. They may look like Teslas instead of Chevrolets, but to a Martian, they all look the same, that’s a distinction without a difference. We have the opportunity for vehicles to suit the new technologies, but we’re not really understanding how this is going to work. There are concept cars out there, but no one is taking them seriously.

On the one hand if I want to get from point A to point B and it’s just me, I don’t need to carry around extra chairs, so I can get into a much smaller car. And that of course affects road capacity, that means that where previously a lane had to be 12ft/2.6 meters wide, it only has to be 1.3 meters wide, which will double capacity. Of course if they are automated, they can follow more closely together as well, and the lanes can probably be narrowed up again, because they are automated. So that gets more capacity out of that smaller vehicle, more energy efficiency out of a smaller vehicle, greater range for the battery and so on.

People who own these single passenger vehicles might have one for every member of the family, and just platoon for multi-person trips. There’s no reason that everyone has to be in the same car, or facing forward – that’s the traditional car.

On the other hand, if someone wants to have a meeting while in motion for whatever reason, one could think of conference cars, where it’s a larger vehicle, with 4-8 people arranged in a circle, and they are meeting while in motion. Now I’m not sure why people would need to meet while in motion, that part escapes me, I think it will be unusual, but I already said, if there is a use case for it,  we could imagine it happening. We could imagine the family wants to go on a trip and they want to be in the same vehicle, so they would use a minivan type vehicle, but the chairs can face in any direction.

If the car is doing the driving, the driver doesn’t need to have the steering wheel, or pay attention to any of that, and everybody is a passenger. So at the top end of the market there are these ‘executive jet’ types of cars, where people do whatever they are doing, they have an office type set up in their car, they have a conference type of set up inside of their car. And given that anyone can order cars on demand, specialised kinds of cars may still need a bit of scheduling, but with the ability to basically order cars on demand, no one will  need to own specialized cars, and they can just get one when needed.

This also means that people who buy an extreme car for the type of activity they engage in once a year or once a month, like a truck for the suburbanite, won’t need to own the truck because they will be able to rent that conveniently when they need it. They will have concluded that it will be cheaper to own the small vehicle, and then rent the larger vehicle.  I think that will be the most common arrangement.

Now in urban areas, I think the market will shift much more towards rental, because people aren’t going to want to pay for parking, but in suburban areas, low density areas, the ownership model will still stick, because parking is essentially free, and it will be cheap enough to own, people don’t want to pay for rent, they don’t want to wait for the car to come to them. In low density areas it will take longer for the car to get to them. I think those will be important considerations.