The Future of Mobility in Urban Areas
Co-authored by: Georgi Atanassov and Simon Clark
It is becoming more and more common that when the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the automotive and ground based transportation industry is raised, key topic of conversation is how its implementation would influence the industry. A couple of decades ago, the idea of having a computer drive a vehicle for you would only be seen in sci-fi movies. Well, those movies are turning into a reality.
In this article we:
1. Explore motivations for ground based transportation
2. Explore three different mobility models
3. Identify barriers to adoption of autonomous mobility
1. Motivations for People’s Transport Decisions
There is no doubt that almost everyone in urban areas uses a form of mobility, for a purpose. Some purposes can be socially driven or related to a persons profession. In this blog we will use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to assist in highlighting different mobility occasions.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food, water, clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem (prestige and feeling of accomplishment), and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential).
Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.
For many people mobility could fit within basic needs e.g. job security of a delivery driver or taxi driver. As many people experienced in the recent Covid-19 lockdowns not being able to travel to see friends and loved ones had an impact on psychological needs of belongingness.
Looking at mobility through the prism of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps to identify different mobility classifications as described below.
Mobility as a Challenge
Pregnant women, the elderly, wheelchair users, deaf or blind people in cities will have come into contact with mobility challenges of some type. Each user type has a different set of requirements. For this group often a journey from point A to point B often needs to be thoroughly planned before undertaking it. Even different transport modes can cause issues. For instance, step-free access at an underground station in London might not be available, making people in a wheel chair have to travel further and longer forcing them to switch to a more expensive mode of mobility to reach their final destination on time. Even switching from the underground to a taxi brings a challenge as the taxi would need to be wheel chair friendly.
For some groups of people, finding suitable mobility to fulfil their Basic Maslow and Psychological needs can be a challenge.
Mobility as a Dead Time
For some people travelling is a burden especially if the journey is a repetitive one e.g. daily commute to work. This group are typically users of public transport and often find ways to entertain themselves.
They pass the time carrying out activities such as playing a game on their smartphones, reading, listening to music or having a chat with their friends.
The various activities that people engage in makes the “lost” travel time as enjoyable as possible.
Mobility for this group fulfils Basic Maslow needs
Mobility as a Spontaneous Source of Freedom
In pre-Covid times on-the-spot decisions to travel were not uncommon. Whether going to see a friend, a loved one in another town or escaping the city to go the countryside for the day.
Most of the people who enjoy such an impulsive lifestyle either own a car or if they live in large cities are customers of on-demand mobility providers e.g. Zipcar in the UK.
Flexibility and convenience are key when people want to leave the hustle and bustle of the city without having the restrictions of bus and or train timetables to abide by.
Mobility for this group of people fulfils Psychological and Self-fulfilment Maslow needs.
Mobility as a ‘Me Time’
Some people enjoy the activity of driving and use the time behind the wheel as time for reflection, planning, listening to their own thoughts. Mobility for this group of people fulfils Psychological and Self-fulfilment Maslow needs.
Once vehicles such as cars become fully autonomous, a large part of those who saw mobility as time for themselves will be forced to look for alternatives as the driving experience will be replaced by a riding experience.
This could lead to a mixture of both manual and autonomous methods of transportation in urban environments adding complexities to both technology and infrastructure of cities.
2. Different Mobility Models
Given the different types of transport users, the economic development in a given city/country will likely have a significant impact on the adoption of autonomous land-based mobility. For example, Amsterdam and Singapore are praised to have efficient transport, in terms of being sustainability aware. Both cities encourage green mobility practices such as cycling and walking and their efforts to reduce the carbon emissions are paying off.
However, the adoption of a new generation of autonomous vehicles would require a lot more than policy making. Factors such as the density of the population within a city, the road infrastructure as well as policy making would highly impact the transition to autonomous mobility.
Below we share three possible future mobility models:
1. Green and Shared
Two extremely densely populated cities in the world are Mexico City and Mumbai. Both cities suffer from poor air quality and high congestion levels. The urbanization process taking place in those cities is much more rapid than the development of infrastructure to support them. This makes the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles a very challenging task. Highly densely populated cities like these might be better off by shifting towards the use of shared electric vehicles (EVs) e.g. electric busses, significantly reducing air pollution and contribute to shifting towards greener mobility.
2. Privately owned
The sprawl of the city plays a major role in the decision of one to own a car. The long distances between home and work and the recent Covid-19 pandemic makes it reasonable for people to want to commute by car rather than using public transport. However, such collective thinking creates a huge number of additional cars on the road for single occupancy journeys at certain times of the day. Congestion and air pollution are the major negative outcomes from it. Potential solutions include development of lanes for electric autonomous vehicles only, encouraging people to car share and purchase electric vehicles through incentives.
3. Fully Autonomous Mobility
This is probably the model which we are the furthest from. It is highly likely to emerge in cities with higher than the average income for its citizens. London, Chicago and Hong Kong are examples of such cities. Transport in such areas is a major part of people’s lives, regardless of whether it is public or private.
In this model people would use their smart phones to summon a vehicle of their choosing depending on occasion or mood (single occupancy or shared, Luxury or mainstream). That vehicle would autonomously come to that persons location, pick them up and drive them to the requested destination before heading off to pick up the next occupant or going for maintenance. Secure payment would be made utilizing a robust IOT and blockchain infrastructure.
3. Barriers to adoption of autonomous mobility
So why don’t we already have fully autonomous vehicles on our roads? This next section highlights areas to be addressed before full autonomy becomes reality.
In future cities where there is a mixed model of fully autonomous and manually operated vehicles how will the insurance companies allocate responsibility? The autonomous vehicle or the manually operated vehicle? In an autonomous vehicle the occupants are all passengers so not “technically” driving. Would the vehicle manufacturer be responsible?
The last few years has seen a significant focus on the technology of autonomous connected vehicles from car and bus visions systems for these vehicles to navigate the world around them. It’s not just the vehicles which needs to be taken into consideration.
Different brands of vehicles will likely need to be able to communicate whether its to let vehicles around them know where they are, any issues up ahead and what their intended direction of travel is to minimize collisions.
Various vehicle manufacturers e.g. Tesla are carrying out over the air software updates to their vehicles. With ever increasing reliance on software and less on driver inputs, security of connected autonomous vehicles is vital. Having a vehicle hijacked and driven in a way to cause harm with occupants inside is unacceptable.
If a vehicle of the future is used for a crime how would local police enforcement be able to find the criminals?
The infrastructure of cities as a whole will need to be thought through. For example, in cities where there is a mix of manually driven and autonomous vehicles at a set of traffic lights, will autonomous vehicles use a vision system to see when to go or will the traffic lights send a signal to the vehicle when it is safe to go? What happens on a foggy day as vision systems typically struggle with foggy conditions?
Some people will still want to own a vehicle whilst in other scenarios the vehicle that you hired to take you to a location might be different to the one that takes you home. Business models are already starting to shift with the likes of Zip car where all aspects of operating the vehicle is bundled into the overall price e.g. maintenance and insurance.
In the future maintenance of autonomous vehicles will still need to be carried out for the safety and security of the people that use them. Who is responsible and where would this work be carried out?
Mobility of the future in urban environments has significant complexity and facets to bring together. Whether it is people commuting to work or wanting to escape urban environments to visit the countryside there are many factors to take into consideration. People will always have a need for transportation to fulfil their needs be it for work or pleasure.
It is our view that vehicle technology is at the most advanced stage so far. We are likely to start seeing a hybrid model of manually driven vehicles and autonomous vehicles used in pockets of big cities so that other aspects can catch up such as infrastructure and insurance.
In some cities around the world autonomous mobility in urban areas does already exist. An example is the docklands light railway in London. Introduced in 1987 it is an automated light metro system. It might be on a track but has no driver, so in some ways automated mobility has already begun.
With more and more players entering the mobility space such as the recent collaboration between Uber and Arrival for electric vehicles those who can convert a potential opportunity into reality in a better, faster and cheaper way than the competition will come out on top.
What is your opinion about the future of mobility in urban areas?
What impacts do you think the future of mobility will have on the sector you are working in?