Transport trends that will change the future (and some that won’t)

Back in 1989, Back to the Future 2 predicted we’d be zipping around on hoverboards and whizzing through the air on flying cars by now. But as fly as Marty’s retro-futuristic threads were, everything the film predicted about the future of transport was wrong.

But do we know now what will make the biggest impact on the future of transport, and what won’t? Hoverboards or Hyperloop? Flying cars or self-driving cars? Will cars even matter in the future?

We’ve got some answers below. Now we’re not fortune tellers, and we know better than to make bets about the distant future. Instead, we’ve picked a few current trends that we think will make a big impact on future transport – and a few trends that almost certainly will not!

Transport trends that will change the future

Here are a few of technologies and trends, new and old, that will massively shape the way we get around beyond tomorrow.

1. Shared transport

One of the big transport technologies for tomorrow isn’t really a technology – but it’s empowered by tech. Shared transport covers everything from car share, public transport, taxis, ride share, bike share, and car pooling.

Why shared transit will shape the future:

Share transport helps lower our dependence on private cars, and lower our consumption as a society. The more people sharing their modes of transport, the less vehicles we’ll need in the first place.

Sharing transport also helps changes our perception of transport overall. People who share cars, for instance, are more multi-modal in their transport, increasing their use of public and active transport, while decreasing their car usage. This model shift is a big focus of modern city planners.

That will help reduce traffic and the need for car-only street space. That means more space for people, more livable cities, and big reductions in carbon emissions.

2. Self-driving cars

Self-driving cars (or Autonomous Vehicles – AV’s for short) are already one of the big buzz-phrases of the 21st century. But Av’s impact on the future could be amazing or a complete disaster!

Why Autonomous Vehicles will change the future:

First, the self-driving dystopia: If everyone replaces their private cars with a self-driving cars, we’ll have the same number of cars. That will actually increase traffic, with people commuting to work then sending their car home, doubling the number of trips!

On the other hand, AV’s make it very easy to share cars. With a self-driving car you’ll make a one-way trip, then the car will pick up another passenger to go somewhere else automatically. An AV will find the best route and pick up extra passengers on the way, making your trip cheaper.

In short, self-driving cars can move the current shared-transport trend into overdrive, and help change our cities for the better. Because they can avoid pedestrians and cyclists by themselves, they may even help us rethink how we design our streets.

Or, they could bring on Carmageddon!

3. E-scooter & e-bike share

Bike share had a tough start when it launched in Australia, and shared e-scooters in the US have been contentious too. But we reckon shared bikes still have a part to play – and e-scooters will really change the game when they come down under.

Why it will change the future:

Trains, buses, and trams are awesome, and great ways to move lots of people around. But they can’t always get us exactly where we need to go – there are lots of areas public transport doesn’t go to.

Last Mile transport helps get you to those areas. Putting share cars, e-scooters, and e-bikes at transit hubs means people can travel that last mile without having to drive the whole way.

For transport in our cities to become as efficient and sustainable as possible, the Last Mile challenge has to be solved. Scooter, bike, and car sharing are all great ways to solve it. Of course, adding an electric motor makes scooters and bikes even more convenient, and people will use it as a result.

4. Active transport

Bikes, scooters, and walking may not be new ideas, but they’re already playing a huge role in transport today, and they’re set to play a role going forward.

Why active transport will stay active:

We all engage in some form of Active Transport. It refers to everything from walking and running, to bike riding and roller skating.

As we share transport and shift transport modes away from cars into trains, trams, and on-demand shuttles, there’ll be more road space available. Cities are already being rebuilt to be more people friendly, and this will make it even easier.

By designing streets for people and active transport users first, we’ll have more flexible streets with the space to do more interesting things. The outcome will be more vibrant and livable town centres and CBDs, as well as making it much easier to get around via active transport.

Of course, active transport also makes us healthier and happier. So the easier it is to get around on a bike, or on your two feet, the healthier and happier our cities will be!

5. Remote work and tele-commuting

Sometimes the best solutions to transport problems have nothing to do with transport. Working from home isn’t a transport technology, but a way of avoiding transport altogether.

Why it will change the future:

Faster internet, conferencing apps like Skype and Zoom, and project management software like Monday and Slack mean working remotely has never been easier. From a transport perspective, if everyone worked from home just one day a week we’d see a 20% reduction in traffic right away.

Of course, not every job can be done remotely, and working face-to-face is sometimes needed. But thanks to technology, more jobs than ever can be done without leaving the house (or the pool, or the beach…).

Transport trends that won’t make much impact

As cool as some new tech is, not all of it will matter in 5 or 50 years time. While not all of these will go the way of the Penny Farthing, we don’t think any of them will have the kind of impact some people expect them to.

1. Private cars

Owning a car isn’t essential, though many people think it is. That will change in the future, thanks to the ease of moving away from driving, as well as the environmental impact of private car ownership.

Why the private car will be (mostly) unnecessary:

When you really boil it down, we don’t need cars – we need transport. The better we get at on-demand, door-to-door public and shared transport, the less we’ll need our cars. And thanks to car sharing networks like GoGet, you can still use a car when you need one.

Add to that the huge carbon footprint coming from private car ownership, and it’s not just more convenient to switch to shared transport – it’s essential! As self-driving cars become more common, shared transport will only get easier, cheaper, and more convenient. As such, owning a private car will become more of a financial burden, and actually become less convenient.

Photo credit: Steve Jurveston

3. Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a new kind of transit network, using semi-vacuumed tubes to reduce air resistance. It’s touted by some as a game-changing, fast transit solution for the future.

Why Hyperloop won’t be a game-changer:

Hyperloop is a cool technology, and it may help fast trains run faster. But it’s only an incremental improvement on the current technology of bullet trains across Asia and Europe. Basically, the Hyperloop is trying to fix a problem that’s already solved.

The other downside of the Hyperloop is how infrastructure heavy it is. Unlike trackless trams, self-driving shuttles, or even normal buses, the Hyperloop requires long, expensive tubes to be built, often underground, to very high engineering standards. That doesn’t offer any extra flexibility than a normal train, and certainly not the door-to-door potential of shared AV’s.

What we can learn from Hyperloop:

Despite all we’ve said, Hyperloop could still make trains go faster, which is very useful. While we don’t think it has the game-changing potential of other technologies, it might still play a role in the future of transport.

There’s one more potential bonus. A big supporter of Hyperloop is Elon Musk and The Boring Company. If The Boring Company can achieve it’s aim of super affordable tunneling technology, that could be a huge boon for future transit corridors.

4. Segways/Onewheels/Hoverboards

Whether it’s a segway, onewheel, hoverboard, or whatever comes next, these bizarre transport technologies won’t make much of an impact on the future. By hoverboard we mean the ones from Kmart, not Back to the Future. Although the argument probably applies to both.

Why we segued from the Segway:

Wheels are an awesome invention, and they either make things more fun or more useful. Sometimes both! But in the case of segways, onewheels, and hoverboards, the wheels are for toys, not transit. 

As far as wheel based active transport goes, bikes and scooters are the gold standard. You can go far enough, fast enough, that they offer a real benefit over walking, while being cheaper than driving. Despite the mid-2000’s hype, segways are too bulky to be convenient, and novelty products like hoverboards and onewheels just aren’t good enough to use for transport.

This toy-transport spectrum can be seen in past technologies too. There are bicycles that fall on either side, while skateboards fall somewhere in the middle. In-line roller skates can score transit points depending on how they’re used, while 2×2 roller skates (the roller-disco type) probably won’t get you far.

What will the future of transport really look like?

Honestly, we can’t tell. A hundred years ago horse and carts were still common. Even 30 years ago, predictions of the future were pretty far off the mark.

Just like today’s transport couldn’t have been predicted then, the trajectory of tomorrow’s transit technology could change overnight. But we can be pretty sure the transport forces changing our streets today are likely to be even more important tomorrow.

Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.


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