SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social SciencesReference:
Is the era of public urban transport over?
Abstract.The article tackles new technologies impact on urban transportation and gives some projections on how the future of urban passenger transit and urban goods transportation would look like. The research is centered mainly on the impact of those technologies on modal choice and explains how the impact of new theologies will contribute to the obsolescence of the public urban transport. Several factors are taken into account to support this idea. Projections on decrease in urban transport are based on major challenges of labor market (automation and teleworking), as well as ecommerce development, which will cut the demand for public transport ridership by half. Those trends will also substantially reduce the car ownership, and thus contribute to traffic decongestion. At the same time, shared-ridership platforms (Uber, etc.) have significantly decreased the cost of transit by private means of transport, equal to some fares of public transport, whereas driverless and electric cars will further decrease the cost of transit by private means of transport up to making public transport unnecessary.
Keywords: cargo transportation, modal choice, new technologies, car, public transport, urban transit, urban transport, urban traffic, individual vehicle, communication technologies
Article was received:24-07-2018
For decades personal means of travel (cars) have gradually became the main means of transportation, attaining the amount of passenger-kilometers by private car per capita of 90% (from 4,620 to 8,710 km) in Western Europe between 1970 and 1990 (OECD, 1996). As the car ownership became widespread in the second half of XX century, several problems related to their use (traffic congestion, pollution, limited space for parking) came up and made it necessary for the authorities to limit car use (toll, payable parking lots, CO2 emissions regulations), thus making public transport more attractive through massive investment into infrastructure. This led to the reverse trend, which was especially emphasized during recent economic downturn and oil prices hike – the car use slightly decreased, whereas public transport use within the city increased (UK Department for Transport, 2017).
Thus, at the first glance, recent trends in urban transportation make us think that private means of transport are far from taking over public urban transportation. Moreover, the car is still viewed negatively by many Western city dwellers, which prefer alternative modes of transportation. Nonetheless, new communication technologies, changes in labor market, as well as changes in the car industry will sensibly affect the whole economy of the urban transport and current negative perception of the car, shifting modal choice and habits of the customers to the private means of transport yet again, making public transport existence superfluous.
As advanced here, we consider different changes in the car industry (driverless car, electric car, and development of new transport modes (drones)); the impact of new communication technologies (ride-sharing, car sharing, ecommerce) on intercity transportation of goods and passengers; as well as some changes in labor market (automation, teleworking) and their impact on urban transit decrease. Economic data and social statistics analysis will be taken as a starting point for projections, which allow demonstrating the situation of the overall urban passenger transit decrease in the future; whereas discounting personal means of transport (cars) will become more accessible and more attractive for the customer up to becoming competitive in regards to public transport fares, thus replacing the latter altogether. In other words, we will advance here the idea of the end of public transport in urban areas based on the projections of recent trends in car industry, new technologies and labor market changes.
We part here form the idea that in modal choice people will always prefer car over public transport means, because personal means of transport are simply more attractive (Anable, 2005), more flexible, comfortable, mobile, as well as form the idea, that other private means of transport – such as bicycle for example, which is, by excessively enthusiastic views spurred by environmentalism, is promoted to one of the major future intercity transport means (Riggs, 2016) – could not replace the car for a range of reasons: accessibility; comfort; range of travelled distance; capacity of transport of goods and passengers, etc.
There are many reasons (except restricting regulations) why such universal, flexible, mobile means of transport such as car had not yet taken over other – especially public – means of transport: high operating cost; environmental concerns (pollution), some inconveniences related to the mass use of private means of transport (such as traffic jams or shortage of parking space for example), etc. As a consequence, in order to make the car more attractive in modal choice of the consumers, and thus leads to uselessness of public transport, we will consider here how those negative factors will subside as new technologies development and implementation in different socioeconomic areas (communication, retail, car industry, labor) progresses, and how such changes will affect urban transit, or precisely how they contribute to car taking over public transport.
Although these ideas are shared in today’s general conversation as well as in sciences, many suggest that such trends as the movement of people from rural areas to the cities are incompatible with the end of public transport (Walker 2012) because the use of private means of transport will further aggravate the city problems (traffic clogging, pollution e.g.). As a consequence, much research (Dienel 2017) continues to focus on public transport evolution in today’s world, thus rejecting the idea of the end of the public urban transport. In other words, the idea of the end of the public transport based exclusively on such new phenomena as driverless or/and electric car, as well as the development of other new technologies, seems unconvincing and other arguments should also be made in order for the idea of the end of the public transport to became more convincing.
1. The impact of driverless and electric car on modal choice: the shift in favor of private means of transport
As we mentioned, there are many reasons for attractiveness of the urban public transport as compared to the private cars. Here we will explore how future driverless and electric cars will diminish many of those reasons, making private means of transport more attractive and thus changing the modal choice in favor of the latter.
1.1. Driverless car
1.1.1. There are many attractive points with regards to driverless cars. First, driverless car is less expensive for the consumer, thus more attractive in modal choice for transport.
Automatically driven cars are less expensive, because they would be certainly less likely to be involved in an accident, since the human factor is excluded from the driving process. Indeed, automation provides predictable, consistent performance in driving process. On the contrary, humans are unpredictable, unreliable, and inconsistent, subject to emotions, fatigue and alternative motivations, and thus prone to make errors. Various sources still report today that between 50% and 90% of industrial, military, airline, agricultural and mining accidents (and this assumption applies for the transport) are caused by human error (Haight J.M., 2005). Now just consider that there is no more human drivers, that there is no human error in driving processes at all; thus fewer accidents. This will at least lead to the decrease in prices of the car insurance.
Recent tests have already demonstrated that Tesla Autopilot is reported to have decreased accident rates by 40% (NHTSA, 2017. Automatic Vehicle Control Systems. Technical Report), which will undoubtedly influence the insurance prices for automatically driven vehicles. Some reports also show that the same trend – but of course for different reasons – is observable in the case of electric cars, the insurance premiums for which are 35% less than for its gasoline counterparts (Bosch, P.M. 2017).
One of the direct consequences of the safety of driverless car is the insurance prices decrease for automatically driven cars as compared to the insurance for a human driven car. In other words, one of the operating costs of a driverless car would decrease as compared to the current cars. This is obvious, since we know that the cost of car insurance varies significantly because insurance companies look at a number of factors, one of which is very important – vehicle safety rating, which includes among others a list of the liability rating indexes and collision damage indexes. In other words, the insurance cost depends on how many accidents has a particular make and model of a car been involved in, as well as driver skills, conduct and age.
Driverless cars will not only lead to the car insurance costs decrease, making operating costs of the automatically driven cars cheaper to the customer as compared to today’s cars operating costs and thus making them more attractive to the consumer. The safety itself of such cars will make them attractive regardless of the operating costs decrease. Indeed, we know that one of the reasons for not driving the car is fear of driving (Sivak, Schoettle 2013), which is eliminated in case of self-driving vehicles, since the vehicle is not driven by the car user and is generally safer than the human driven car. In other words, driverless car will be more attractive in the eyes of the consumer not only because it is cheaper than the classic, human driven car, but also for safety reasons.
Driverless taxi fare will be sensibly cheaper than the fare of current taxis driven by the taxi driver, thus making the customers modal choice of transport turn in favor of this mode of transport. We do know that net earnings of taxi drivers – after accounting for leases, fuel, credit card fees, and other costs of operation – varies between 40-70% of the total revenue depending on work category of the driver (City of Chicago, 2014), which means that driverless cab fare would cost 40-70% less than the fares of the current taxis. In other words, it does not matter if you own a driverless car or hire it as a taxi; it would be much cheaper to use in both cases than the current person driven private vehicle, which will make them more accessible to different strata of population, and in turn increase the demand for private vehicle transportation instead of public transport.
Driverless cars, which not only self-drive but also self-park, can also contribute to decrease in operating expenses of a car by cutting cost of parking. Indeed, If we consider that the car will be capable of not only parking itself, but with help of new communication technologies also search for parking spaces, than we can argue that the car can eventually leave the costly parking area of a passenger destination and park itself in less costly area while waiting for the passenger.
1.1.2. Along with reduced operating costs, induced by the automation of the driving process, another peculiarity of a driverless car lies in accessibility of its use to any person. Contrary to classic cars, automatically driven cars can be used by any person (adolescent, disabled or intoxicated person) and therefore they are more accessible than today’s cars and even more accessible than public transportation means, which in some cases are not accessible to some categories of persons (some categories of disabilities for example).
Indeed, the necessity to have a driving license considerably limits the use of a car: only a person having driving license, or a person having enough money to hire a driver (taxi) can use the car, which significantly limits its use. For example, an adolescent – who cannot have a driving license because of legal age requirement – cannot use the car without help of a person who has such license (driver). This also concerns disabled persons, or a person in state incompatible with driving process (intoxicated person). Automatically driven cars solve this problem allowing more people use personal (private) means of transportation without any help. In other words, where for some fringes of population (adolescent, intoxicated) the mass public transport was the only solution because private means of transportation with human driver (taxis) is too expensive and thus, inaccessible to the majority of population, automatically driven cars use is accessible to all fringes of the population without any assistance of the others (driver) and at significantly cheaper price then the human driven taxis. We can even add that they are more accessible than some of the public transport means, because some of the latter are not accessible in some cases of disability. In other words, driverless car is able to not only replace the public transport, but do even more then the mass public transport, because it is even more accessible than any other means of transport.
Automation in driving process will bring the end of the driver era and allow all strata of population to be transported privately, without the necessity to get a driver or to become one, and at a lower cost. The automatically driven cars will indeed bring down the limitations to economically reasonable use of cars, making them more competitive compared to public transport and other private means of transportation, which do not require a driver license (bicycle). This can lead – as some authors suggest – to “increase the demand for private road transportation by up to 11%» (Sivak, Schoettle, 2015) and, logically, contribute to traffic congestion, making public transport again more attractive. We are skeptical about this projection because, as we will see below (2 and 3), the overall demand for urban transit will significantly decrease in future under the pressure of different factors. What is important to state here is that driverless car – contrary to a classic one – can perfectly replace public transport, and do even more than that. Indeed, many social studies centered on the problem of modal choice of the consumers between private and public means of transport have revealed many disadvantages of a car as compared to the public transport, but many of them will be wiped out by the massive advent of driverless car, making the possibility of public transport being replaced by cars possible. Some of drawbacks of today’s cars such as higher cost than public transport; difficulty finding parking; cost of parking; stress of driving; accidents … (Beirao, Sarsfield Cabral, 2007) will indeed disappear, or at least significantly decrease in the driverless world, thus changing modal choice in favor of cars. Other drawbacks will also be wiped out, but by other factors, one of which is electric car.
1.2. Electric car
The disadvantages of a classic car, making its use inaccessible to all strata of the population for various reasons (economical (too expensive), physical (disability, age)) will not be reduced only by the automation of a driving process, but also by electric cars. Disadvantages of the latter, the main of which is the low autonomy and long battery charging process, will be overcome with the progress of the battery technologies; as a consequence we consider that such disadvantages are only temporary and that the advent of a mass use of electric cars is inevitable for at least two main reasons. First, operating costs of the electric car are more attractive than that of a fossil fuel car. Second, electric cars are ecofriendly, which makes such private means of transport more attractive in the eyes of the eco sensible individuals who prefer public transport over the car (Fajarindra Belgiawan, Schmöcker, Abou-Zeid, Walker, Lee, Ettema, Fujii, 2014). Consequently, green cars will curve the modal choice in favor of personal means of transportation.
1.2.1. It is difficult to project how operating costs of an electric car will be cheaper than operating costs of a gasoline driven car because in an all-electric world the demand for electricity could be so high that operating costs of electric car could be even higher that of the today’s internal combustion vehicles (ICV). At the same time “the energy needs for electric vehicles, with these prospects, can be covered by the existing electricity generation system for a long time of market build-up. No new generating capacity is therefore required for the electric vehicle fleet expected on the road for the next 15-20 years” (European commission. Expert Group on Future Transport Fuels. 2011).
It seems that in a long run the electric cars’ operating costs – at least in what concerns the cost of energy used to move the car down the road – will be cheaper than that of a classic gasoline cars. In the first place, we have to admit that the current main fuel type used by transport means (gasoline) is a nonrenewable source, the supply of which is in constant decrease due to its finite nature. Indeed, diminishing supply is a natural consequence of rarefication of any nonrenewable energy source (fossils), which will in the end be exhausted anyway, and well before this moment, their price will sensibly rise. Although supply and demand law is not so simple to apply, especially in the energy sector, it seems obvious that the supply of nonrenewable fuel is on a constant decrease due to the natural causes (not without fluctuations of course, such as, for example, the new extraction technologies temporarily increasing the supply), whereas the energy demand fluctuations, if not unidirectional, are more likely to increase. At the same time, in what concerns fossils, the easily extractable sources were already found and extracted; what is left is more difficult and more costly to extract, which will lead to the constant rise of the prime cost of fossils, which will only temporarily be affected by demand and supply fluctuations. In other words, the price of nonrenewable sources of energy, used by the majority of today’s cars, in a long run is likely to increase well before being completely excluded as a source of energy.
As a consequence, operating costs of the classic gasoline cars would be unattractive as compared to the operating costs of electric cars – at least as what concerns the production of their power/driving force – because fossils price is likely to increase in the long run. In other words, it will be more and more expensive to drive a classic ICV than to drive an electric one, thus making such private means of transportation as a electric car more and more attractive.
In an all-electric world, the competition between cars and public transportation, at least as far as the cost of energy used to move the mean of transport down the road (rail) is concerned, will be wiped out or at least will be more advantageous for the car. The modern cars are fuel driven, and therefore, more expensive than electric vehicles, the operating costs of which are comparably low as far as energy costs go (Laizāns, Graurs, Rubenis, Utehin, 2016), as well as the maintenance costs (electric vehicle does not has the complexities of the ICV and does not require changing oil, replacing filters etc.) (Aber, 2016). In the future, these costs will be reduced in case of the electric cars, whereas they will be unchanged for already electrically driven public transport (tramways). This idea was clearly stated by P.M. Bosch, F. Becker, H. Becker, and K.W. Axhausen (2017), who have mentioned that “Automation technology and electric propulsion are not expected to have substantial impacts on the fixed and variable cost of public bus and train services because automation technology is already pre-installed (in trains) or would not represent a substantial increase in the purchase price of a vehicle (for buses), whereas the impact of such technologies on private means of transport cost decreases is, as we have mentioned, undeniable”. In other words, if we compare the operating costs of cars and public transport, future electric cars will be more competitive than the current ICV in comparison to the public transport.
Many researches, such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance, predict that non only the operating costs but also the total cost of ownership – combining purchase price and running costs – of battery-only cars will dip below those with internal combustion engines in 2022, even if the conventional cars improve their fuel efficiency by 3.5% a year. Moreover, the main idea of such researches lies not even in the fact that petroleum prices in a long term will undergo the pressure of a decreasing supply and the constant extraction costs increase, making classic cars less competitive in comparison to their electric counterparts, but in the fact that the progress of new technologies will always contribute to decrease in the purchase price as well as operating costs of electric cars, making them more and more attractive not only compared to a classic car, but also compared to public transport. Some research suggests for example that the battery costs – the main component of the electric car – will decrease the operating costs of the electric cars as the new technologies progresses, making them competitive even without tax incentives (Van Vliet, Sjoerd Brouwer, Kuramochi, Van Den Broeck, Faaij, 2011). Moreover, we can see that the car ownership is likely to substantially decrease in the future, since the intercity transit will become occasional and irregular (see below 3), people would prefer to hire a car instead of buying it, which in turn will make electric car even more attractive, since we know that operating costs of electric cars are sensibly lower than of current ICV, whereas the only major drawback of electric cars – its cost of ownership, would not be taken into account, because people would not have to buy it.
1.2.2. Use of electric cars will certainly become more attractive not only because their operating costs are cheaper as compared to the current ICV and could even be comparable to public transport in the economic sense, but also for ethical, moral reasons, at least in ecologically sensitive strata of the population. Certainly, what concerns modal choice of transport, such private means of transport as classic ICV are often not chosen by the eco sensitive (mostly younger consumers) not because of economic reasons, but because they are not clean enough as compared to public transport. As a consequence, public transport as well as other clean private transport means are chosen instead (e.g. bicycles). Moreover, this choice is often made without regard for the cost of transport, but strictly with regard to eco cleanness of transport means.
Thus, the foreseeable transition of car industry from dirty gasoline engines to electric ones means that the customer will not be affected in their choice of means of transport by cleanness/dirtiness factor and will not be held back from the choice of a car as the means of transport. Indeed, if we acknowledge that in the end all cars, as well as other means of transport (private and public) will be driven by electric energy, eco sensible consumer will not be affected by cleanness/dirtiness of the means of transport and prefer the private means of transport over the public one simply because they are more flexible, comfortable, mobile, cheap et cetera.
The cheapness and eco friendliness of driverless and electric cars would certainly increase the use of private vehicles (as owned or as hired as a taxi), and thus have further negative impact on the city street traffic making public transport more attractive again, especially when we know that at this moment mass public transport is still cheaper than the car. Indeed, this evolution seems to be logical since we know that the main reason for not having a car (or using it as a taxi) is the cost (Currie, Delbosc, 2011). Cheapening car operating costs is a positive factor for car sales growth and for the use of private means of transport generally, but could in the end negatively affect the attractiveness of the car because of growing traffic congestions. Nonetheless, this seemingly obvious conclusion is untenable in regard to other urban transport trends brought by the new technologies and which – as we will demonstrate below (2 and 3) – will have a reverse trend on city traffic. What was important to demonstrate here is that the future driverless and electric cars will become in the eyes of the public more and more attractive (primarily for the economic reasons), and even become more competitive, or as proposed by some authors, at the very least exert fierce competition against conventional forms of public transportation (Meyer et al. 2017), thus be able to replace the latter.
2. Impact of new technologies upon urban transport and their role in replacement of the mass transportation
New technologies – especially new communication technologies, as well as the advent of the mobile devices – have changed our urban transit mode choice and contributed to unclogging the urban traffic, thus making the individual transport mode more attractive. Moreover, those technologies made the individual transport mode significantly cheaper for the consumer, making individual means of transport more competitive compared to public transport, thus shifting the modal choice more in favor of individual transport.
2.1. Impact of new communication technologies upon the passenger modal choice
Among other factors, traffic congestion is one of the main reasons why the car has not yet taken over the classic public transport means (metro, busses, and tramways). Therefore, any factor contributing to traffic decongestion could be considered as the motivator for passenger choice of means of transport, making them prefer the private means of transport instead of public one if the roads are decongested, as well as reduce the necessity to uphold the municipal and federal regulations centered on reducing the number of cars in the city, thus making the individual transport means further more attractive in the eyes of the commuter.
The idea that new technologies – especially mobile devices and Internet – contribute strongly to city road decongestion have been advanced by many authors (Mitchell, Borroni-Bird, Burns. 2010). This idea can be found in the example of navigation systems that integrate real time traffic information. Such information dissuades people from taking a route; makes them choose an alternative means of transport or an alternative road when already on road, and thus contributes to decongestion of the traffic.
Several studies have also pointed out that new technologies have affected the transport economy by making the transit cheaper. This is especially the case of the sharing economy platforms used for transport purposes; more precisely of a ride sharing services (e.g. Uber), which have not only affected the urban traffic congestion, but also the commuter choice of transport mode. The conclusions of such studies are contradictory.
On the first glance, they have not decreased the traffic, but on the contrary, contributed to increase the number of cars on the streets because this cheap – compared to the passenger owned car or taxi – mean of transport have attracted the consumers who prefer those services to the classic public transport means. A 2015 study from New York Times estimated that Uber vehicles contribute to about 10 percent of traffic in Manhattan during evening rush hours. This is logical because this way of car use is cheaper and public transport seems, as a consequence, less attractive to the consumers, which in the end – other reasons, especially inconveniences related to the traffic congestion, not considered – means that they would prefer it over metro, busses and tramways.
At the same time, most of the studies support the idea that ridesharing services not only became cheaper than the classic use of cars (personal driving or taxi), but they also counter another factor that is hampering the replacement of the public transport by individual transport modes – traffic congestion. A 2016 research of Z. Li, Y. Hong, Z. Zhang showed that Uber has decreased the traffic congestion for several reasons. First, Uber increases vehicle occupancy, thereby decreasing traffic congestion. This is especially true for such service as UberPOOL, which allows riders to share their ride, matching them with other riders going the same direction, which cuts the demand not only for public transport means, but also for the individual means of transport, since one car is shared by two riders, which in turn reduces the number of cars on city roads. Second, the low-cost travel mode of ridesharing reduces consumer incentives to purchase an automobile, i.e. contribute to reduce car ownership and their number (Rogers, 2017) and therefore, reduce the traffic congestion. Again, this is especially true for the UberPOOL service, because this service is extremely attractive for the customers due to the very low prices comparable in some cases to the mass transit fares. Indeed, minimum charge of UberPOOL or UberBlack services, in Paris for example, is of 6 euros, which allows traveling a distance of 2-3 km for 2 (UberPOOL) or 4 (UberBlack) persons, dividing the price of fare in latter case (UberBlack) per person up to 1,5 - 2 euros, whereas the T+ Parisian public transport fare starting price is at 1.90 euros. This means that this service helps not only unclog the city traffic and resolve the main problem of the car intercity use – traffic jams, but also constitutes a direct concurrent of the cheap public transport means.
A 2016 report by American Public Transportation Association shows that share modes (car sharing, ridesharing) “complement public transit, decrease car ownership and enhance urban mobility”. Indeed, those share modes (car sharing, ridesharing) are also cost attractive as compared to the car ownership, and consequently seem to contribute to reduction of car ownership, which in turn alleviate traffic congestion and parking shortage.
Those assumptions can reasonably make think that if car sharing and ridesharing services are so attractive as compared to the public transport for many reasons in fine they will stimulate the use of such services and thus increase the use of a car as well as further contribute the traffic clogging making again the customers to prefer the public transport. With no regard to already mentioned increase of vehicle occupation thank to such services and decrease in car ownership as well as the decrease of the number of cars necessary to transport even bigger number of the passengers, we will further advance the idea of the overall decrease of the urban transit within the cities due to various reasons (see below 2.1. and 3) will sensibly contribute to unclog the city roads even the pressure of attractiveness of the future cars taken into consideration.
Our point here was to show that the cost attractiveness of the new individual transit services could supplant the classic public transport with non-impact on mobility even of the low-income households. The fact that they also contribute – even though only slightly – to reduce the number of cars on the roads, thus also making car riding more attractive as compared to the public transport, is at least a perk of such services. The most important thing to show here was the low cost of those services, which can make the individual transport modes a competitive alternative to the public transport and supplant it. In other words, the advent of those services allows us to assume that a city without public transport is possible due to the fact that even less well-off people – who usually don’t have a personal means of transportation – could still travel in the city affordably with the help of such individual transport services, i.e. do not need cheap public transport, since more attractive and just as cheap individual means of transport exist. This assumption is especially true if we take into account the advent of the driverless car, which will further decrease the fare of those individual transport services because of the absence of expenditures related to the driver. This assumption seems to be very convincing if taken into account that driver’s salary (after commission, all expenditures and operating costs including taxes are deduced) takes an important part in the fare paid by the passenger (City of Chicago, 2014).
2.2. New technologies and urban goods transportation: ecommerce and automation of delivery process as factors of city traffic decrease
2.2.1. Ecommerce development has direct influence on transportation of goods. As brick and mortar stores became less competitive in an online commerce world, slowly but steadily the transportation of goods is shifting from B2B to B2C sector, as well as the HGV transportation in bulk – at least in the cities – becomes obsolete. Indeed, whereas B2B concerns mainly the transport in bulk, the B2C delivery is specialized on a lesser number of goods transported per trip; different vehicles are involved (HGV in case of B2B, LGV in case of the B2C); affects different areas (mainly suburbs, industrial zones in case of B2B; essentially urban areas in case of the B2C).
At the first sight, the shift from B2B shipments to B2C shipments due to the expanding ecommerce (Global B2C E-commerce Report 2016) will contribute to increase the number of shipments considerably, especially in urban areas, where the most end customers are, and therefore contribute to the traffic congestion in the cities, supporting the need for the public transportation. This common sense argumentation supports the idea that the bulk shipment using one vehicle to deliver many goods to one or several commercial customers congest the traffic less than many vans making many trips form one end customer to another delivering only few items.
This argumentation should be rejected for several reasons. First of all, B2C delivery changes the consumer habits up to removing the need for the customer to shop in classic terms, i.e. to travel to the store physically. In other words, by delivering the products to the customer’s home we reduce the necessity of the customer to travel to the brick and mortar stores, thus reducing necessity to use any transport means unclogging the roads. This assumption have to be taken especially seriously into account when we know that in some countries traveling for shopping purposes constitutes almost a half of all transits in the city. Knowing that according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (US Department of Transportation) “A large portion of trips were taken for family and personal reasons such as shopping and running errands (45%)” (Highlights of the 2001 National Household Travel Survey) we can assume that even slightest decrease in transit for shopping reasons could have a positive impact on urban traffic.
Even if the total replacement of classic retail by ecommerce is doubtful – at least today – it will surely dominate the future of retail sales and consequently have a significant impact on goods transport. The staggering growth of ecommerce (20% per year), which even by pessimistic projections will lead to as much as 30 % of total retail sales share in some countries within next 2 years (Emarketer, Worldwide Retail Ecommerce Sales Emarketer’s Updated Estimates and Forecast Trough 2019 (2016)), will dominate the future of retail as improvements are made to ecommerce shipping and payment systems, along with expanding digital audiences and inclusion of new products (for example groceries) into ecommerce market. Consequently, the use of transport (private and public together) for shopping purposes, which in some countries takes such an importance in overall city transit demand, will decrease significantly even if classic retail will not be entirely wiped out.
Even if we take into account an increase in traffic of delivery services, the overall decrease of consumer transit for shopping purposes can be responsible for decrease in city transit by any means of transport (private and public) up to roughly 20%. Since the car is still the main means of transport for shopping purposes (64% of shopping trips are made by car), we could expect significant drop in car traffic in the first place, whereas public transport ridership will be reduced moderately, since only 20% of the public transport passengers are transiting for shopping reasons (American Public Transportation Association, 2017).
The most recent statistical data seems to confirm this assumption. Indeed, on the one hand, 2016 Road Use Statistics for Great Britain (UK Department for Transport) shows a staggering increase of 38% of van traffic, mostly for B2C delivery, which is explained among other factors by “the increase in internet shopping and home deliveries”. On the other hand, this report also shows that for the last 14 years travel for shopping purposes – especially by using private mean of transport (car) – has decreased more than for other car use purposes. “In terms of distance travelled by car (as a driver or passenger), the purposes for which car use declined most between 2002 and 2014 in terms of average mileage per person were non-food shopping (down 24%)”.
This seems to confirm the idea that ecommerce development and switch from to B2B to B2C economy will affect the traffic situation in the city in a rather positive way; reducing the number of cars usually used by the customers for shopping purposes; replacing them with currier cars/vans. Moreover, this replacement does not happen on a 1:1 formula. The same delivery van delivers to several customers by driving from one of them to another, thus reducing the number of to and back trips of the customers to the classic brick and mortar stores and reducing the traffic (by half) by making only one trip. Moreover, knowing that the most common way to make deliveries is still delivery to home/work (Barclay’s report, 2014), i.e. when the customer is at home/work waiting expecting the delivery; i.e. not travelling and not contributing to the city traffic, leaving the space for delivery service vans, also supports the idea of decrease in overall city transit. The same is true for the click and collect delivery, which in majority of cases is at a walking distance from the customer (Morganti, Seidl, Blanquard, Dablanc, Lenz, 2014), which means that the customer does not have to travel in order to get the parcel-to-be-delivered and usually walks to the collecting points, i.e. don’t use any means of transportation; not contributing to the urban traffic.
Last but not least. Even if part from the idea that in the future retail will become almost completely online-home-delivered, the impact on city traffic related to such goods transportation will be eased by the fact that some products do not have to be delivered anymore. Indeed, digitalized goods are delivered via a new “transport” mode – Internet, which automatically excludes the necessity to ship/deliver them in classical terms, thus contributing to easing the growth of the number of classic/physical deliveries. Knowing that music and films, as one of the most common digitized goods, are on second place – just after apparel – in number of online ordered products (Barclay’s report, 2014), the impact of product digitalization on the online bought product deliveries growth, and thus on city traffic, is rather positive. And finally, we have to add that not only online sold digitalized products contribute to reducing the number of deliveries, but also some digitalized services, which have previously required the customer to travel in order to get them (cinema/train tickets for example), have reduced the necessity of the customer to travel, because they are delivered via the internet.
2.2.2. Part of urban traffic will become air traffic, which will contribute to decongestion of the city roads and make private means of transport more attractive. It is almost uncontested today that delivery in the future – at least as far as goods transportation is concerned (delivery services) – will be made via airways, thus contributing to road traffic decongestion. Some companies already test these means of goods transportation (Amazon), which makes us think that this process will indeed take place one day. It is certainly true that once the regulations will allow this way of goods transportation, at least of some of the lightweight products, they would be delivered with the help of miniature unmanned air vehicles, thus reducing urban road congestion. Moreover, but less plausible at this moment – the transportation of passengers could follow the lead and also contribute to resorb one of the main reasons why private means of transport have not yet taken over public means of urban transport – traffic congestion.
Today the ecommercialization of economy and thus of the further unclogging of the roads of our cities is hampered by two main factors. The ecommerce development main problems in regards to the classic brick and mortar stores purchases are: price (it is indeed cheaper for the customer to get by foot or any transport mean to the classic nearby store than to order the delivery of the product online) and time (unfortunately, today delivery of online-bought products, except for some digitalized products, takes more time than the trip to the to the local store by foot, car, bus). Automated air drone delivery will not only resolve those problems, making ecommerce with regards to the traditional physical store purchase and even replace the latter almost completely, but also strongly contribute to the decongestion of urban street traffic, making further private means of transport usage more attractive and public transport superfluous, especially if we take into consideration that they are becoming as cheap as public transport fares (see above 1; 2.1).
Indeed, when todays B2C delivery is only reasonable for some products of certain price range, because the last-mile delivery cost is reasonable to pay only when the product to be delivered is of certain cost. The home delivery with help of an automated air drone is quicker and cheaper for several reasons – quicker because the delivery is individualized and made by air, whereas cheaper because no human (at least partly) is involved in the process. As the consequence of the enormous advantages (price and time) of the automated air drone delivery, this way of product transportation will dominate in future at least for some of the services and products. Some predict that “Autonomous vehicles, including drones, will deliver close to 100% of X2C and 80% of all items. Only ~ 2% will be delivered by bike couriers in the relatively small instant delivery segment” (McKinsey and pany, 2016). As the result of the decrease in urban road traffic, decongested urban roads will again be seen as more attractive for individual means of transport.
The automation of the delivery process (not only by air drones, but by other automated vehicles) will keep the shipment costs down – free shipment will be offered more often or for even small amount purchases, and as a consequence, light weight packages are more likely to be delivered by drones, changing the consumer habits by choosing more and more ecommerce solutions instead of classic retail. This will significantly decrease the city road traffic for two reasons: consumers will not use cars for shopping purposes; delivery will take alternative forms as the drones industry develops (air and land engines), removing delivery vans from city streets.
3. Impact of the new technologies upon the labor market and urban transit decrease
Besides urban transit decrease for shopping purposes, the major reason for future urban transit decrease would be technological unemployment and teleworking. Both would contribute to the decrease in necessity for passengers to travel for all types (private and public) of transport use. Indeed, technological unemployment and telework both reduce the necessity to commute. First, because unemployment means no need to commute to and from work. Second, because by doing the job online, employee does not need to commute to the office.
It is almost axiomatic in today’s economics that technological unemployment – predicted by many influential economists (Keynes, 1930; Leontief, 1952) many years ago – is already taking place today. Modern economic research predicts that over the next two decades, 47% of US workers are at risk of losing jobs to automation (Frey and Osborne, 2013). If we take this number and translate it into work/home commute numbers, we can reasonably conclude that such trips within the city will drop accordingly by almost half. This means that automation alone would be responsible for a quarter in public transportation passenger ridership decrease, since we know that in some countries half of all public transport passengers are commuters, transiting to and from work (American Public Transportation Association, 2017).
The most staggering impact of automation upon city transit will be seen in regards to private means of transport. Indeed, if we stick to the idea that automation will reduce the number of jobs by almost half (47%) and keep in mind that the car is the main mode for commuting (69%) (Carse, Goodman, Mackett, Panter, Ogilvie, 2013), we can argue that the car use will drop very significantly. However, the impact of automation in labor on car traffic will be moderate, since we know that commuting as purpose of intercity transit accounts for only 15% of all trips (Transport for NSW, 2014). Nonetheless, since the main means of transport for commuting purposes is still the personal vehicle, the absence of the need to commute will sensibly reduce incentives to buy an automobile, which can reasonably result in fewer cars on the city roads, thus further reducing the traffic and necessity for parking lots.
The mere idea of teleworking supposes a telecommuting or a work arrangement in which employees do not commute to the office, warehouse, or a factory. Today, the number of telecommuting or telework is growing and different projections predict that that more than 40% of workers could telework in the future (Scott, Williams, 2012). Moreover, Regus Global Economic Indicator showed that some of occupational activities are already being done remotely: 48% of business management worldwide works remotely. Consequently, we can expect that along with automation, teleworking can further reduce the necessity to commute for the remaining workforce by at least 40%.
Along with the job losses due to automation and progress of teleworking, commuting could drop by roughly 70%. Knowing that half of all passengers in public transportation use it for commuting purposes (American Public Transportation Association, 2017), we could expect an overall ridership decrease in public transport during workdays by roughly 35%. The impact of those labor patterns on car traffic would be rather moderate, since we know that commuting by car accounts for only 15% of all car trips, and in the end could be responsible only for at least 10% decrease of the overall intercity car traffic.
Automation and teleworking complete each other in the process of diminishing the necessity to commute, making the impact on city transport more noticeable. Indeed, whereas automation primarily concerns the blue-collar workers (cashiers are replaced by automated checkout systems, etc.), who usually use public means of transport because they are cheaper, at least at this moment, teleworking is mainly the labor mode of more well-off population, who usually use more expensive private means of transportation. This means that the necessity to commute to and from work will diminish in all strata of the city dwellers and will certainly concern all types of transport (private/public). Although it is difficult to measure exactly which of the new labor market changes (automation or teleworking) will have greater impact on which transport mode use (public or private), it is likely that teleworking will primarily impact the use of private transportation, whereas automation will have greater impact on ridership decrease in public transport.
To the category of teleworkers (or homeworkers), the number of which will increase as much statistical data suggests (UK’ Department for Transport, 2014), we can add a certain number of e-learners. The younger generation is eager to use new technologies, and quickly adapts to this kind of learning; we can expect that the fast growing e-learning can have an impact on intercity passenger transit. There is no reliable statistics and forecasts concerning the share of e-learning vs. classic classroom learning and we cannot exactly predict how the abandonment of classic classroom will affect the necessity to transit to the university or school and thus affect the city transportation. Moreover, some forms of learning requiring direct social interaction (kindergarten, grade school), are less likely to be completely replaced by e-learning, whereas others could be (learning management system and – at least partly – university studies). Consequently, if the impact of the telestudying on intercity transit is to be expected, this impact is not the same for different forms of education and is very difficult to ascertain at this moment.
Even if we do not take into account the impact of e-learning on the city transit, and consider only the impact of automation, teleworking and ecommerce, the expected decrease in city transit seems to be substantial. Public and private means of transportation will lose more than half of its riders, since commuting to work and shopping constitutes the main purposes of the intercity transit. Even if we take into consideration the growing number of city population, as well as the fact that people’s travelling habits will change (they would certainly travel more for personal leisure purposes if liberated from their jobs), the city transit decrease numbers for different factors seems to be so important, that such factors would only have moderate effect on the overall urban transit decrease.
If those assumptions would turn out to be true, the need for transit will not only substantially decrease for different reasons (automation, teleworking, e-learning), but the transport use within the city will become occasional and irregular. Public transport would be used less, the number of privately owned cars will likely to be sliced and traffic jams will become obsolete. Indeed, since we know that “trips for work and education are the main contributors to peek travel” (Transport for NSW, Bureau of Transport Statistics, 2014) and that automation and teleworking will contribute the most to cutting the transit and transit for education will also moderately decrease it, morning and afternoon traffic peaks during weekdays will be mitigated and the traffic pattern will look like weekend traffic pattern, more evenly spread throughout the day, without morning/evening peaks. The overall decrease in transit and traffic jam decrease, especially during morning and afternoon traffic peaks, will make municipal regulations limiting car intercity circulation obsolete and make this means of intercity transit more attractive again in the eyes of the city dweller. At the same time, it is doubtful that this attractiveness will lead to a substantial increase in car traffic for already mentioned reasons.
If this scenario turns out to be true, line-transit public transport will be affected the most, because trips for work and education are routine, every day trips, whereas trips for shopping reasons and leisure are occasional, not systematic. Indeed, even if we cannot completely exclude the necessity for mass transit (many people traveling simultaneously to or from stadiums, concert halls, etc.), which, unlike commute to work or education, are irregular, unsystematic, it is unreasonable to maintain line-transit public transportation only for such purposes. Given the fact that work or learning are the only purposes for regular, everyday transit and that they will substantially decrease for different (automation, teleworking, e-learning) reasons, only the irregular mass transit purposes will remain, thus undermining the necessity for public line-transport. It is not to exclude that the necessity of mass transit for irregular purposes could be eventually replaced by ridesharing services, especially if their fleet would be replenished by minibuses or minivans.
As we have mentioned, car ownership is likely to drop significantly since we know that the main reason of car ownership is commuting to and from work and shopping purposes. Assuming that and knowing that “people without cars travel less overall…”, we can advance the idea that not only the car traffic will be sensibly reduced and irregular, but also public transport will be used less, since we know that “…half of all journeys for those living in households without a car are on foot, while 22% were by bus and 12% as a passenger in a car” (Scottish government, 1999). The cheapening car sharing and ridesharing services would certainly attract the new car non-owners as a cheap alternative to the privately owned car and public transport, especially if we assume that cost of those services will continue to drop, as driverless and electric cars will take over the market. This trend will make public transport obsolete as non-competitive, less flexible, less comfortable, less reliable… than the cheap private means of transportation, provided by the new sharing economy services.
The car is considered today as an enemy of the city dwellers. Dirty, noisy, too expensive, too many… But we are on the verge of an era where such views are about to change. Green, cheap, reduced in number and used only occasionally, the car would become an attractive means of transport for city dweller, which would put an end to the public transport.
Expensive operating costs of the private vehicle, parking space, regulations on CO2 emissions, traffic congestion and other factors prolonged the end of public transport, which is still considered as a cheap, clean and quiet convenient means of transport compared to the car. But with the development of new technologies those drawbacks of the car – and as a consequence, federal and municipal regulations limiting car use in the city – will fall apart.
The intercity transit will see a considerable decrease. It is hard to argue that even the increase of urban population will affect this trend. Indeed, automation and teleworking alone (and e-learning), as well as ecommerce advancements, will cut the intercity transit demand by half. Moreover, this will also restructure the traffic and reduce the number of morning/evening traffic jams. This will in fine substantially reduce the car ownership, thus further reducing the number of cars on the streets and therefore sensibly contribute to the decrease in traffic.
Moreover, interconnectivity will further reduce the need to own a personal vehicle, as new opportunities make it possible to get private means of transport “on demand”, thus reducing the total number of vehicles and contributing to decongestion of the roads and make such means of transport more attractive again. Ridesharing services (e.g. Uber), which are already comparable to some public transport fees, will cost-effectively replace personally owned cars. Such services will further drop in price, as self-driving and electric cars will take the roads and bring serious competition to the public transport even for long intercity journeys.
In other words, green, cost-effective and as cheap as public transport, the car will put an end to the public transport by curving the modal choice of city riders. This is especially true when we know that private means of transportation will always prevail in customers’ modal choice simply because of their flexibility, mobility and polyvalence as compared to the public means of transportation.
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