Less (cars) is more: how to go from new to sustainable mobility

Thomas Earl — September 24, 2019

This paper shows through research and transport modelling the possible outcomes of the autonomous (and connected), electric, shared (new mobility), and urban planning revolutions. Based on the scenarios modelled, it issues recommendations to policy makers on steering these revolutions toward public-policy goals of reducing emissions and congestion.

Autonomous, electric, shared. According to some, these three technological revolutions are the epitome of the transformative wave impacting not only our mobility, but all of society. Recent developments, from carmakers’ massive investments in electric vehicles to the advances of artificial intelligence and automation confirm our mobility paradigm is at a crossroads. Add to that app-based services and disruptive business models offering a whole new range of flexible (micro)mobility options based on shared and on-demand access, and you get a mix that could revolutionise mobility, in particular urban mobility.

But technology alone won’t make our mobility system more sustainable; and policy choices will be crucial in shaping future mobility revolutions. In particular, the European Union and the member states should lever these new developments to reach our climate objective of keeping emissions within well below the 2°C envelope and to make liveable cities. Risks are already visible today, as app-based ride sharing platforms such as Uber encourage new trips and lead to more kilometres driven, increasing emissions, and worsening congestion. In a scenario where such vehicles are automated, the cost of these services is expected to drop sharply (perhaps by more than 50%) and as a consequence, demand to sharply increase.

Thanks to assumptions based on recent developments and announcements, this report explores a range of possible futures: will automated vehicles be so cheap that they encourage people, or even vehicles without people in them, to travel more and for longer, causing more congestion and more car dominated cities, exacerbating the current mobility system’s failings? Or will they be electric, shared and integrated holistically with other mobility options such as public transport and new (micro)mobility? We show with four scenarios the possible outcomes of these revolutions.

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