Christina Hughes writes:

Last week I went (by bus) to a live debate exploring the future of mobility, held by The Guardian and Ford, in London. The specific focus was”the future of sustainable transport: solving global gridlock” and four expert speakers from different backgrounds and countries shared their vision for the future of transport. The debate marked the launch a research report The Futures Company had written for Ford on “The Future of Sustainable Transport in Europe”.

Barb Samardzich, Vice President of Product Development at Ford Europe, set the scene: “there are 800m cars on the road now and this will rise to two billion by 2050”. Making cars more environmentally friendly will help (reducing CO2 emissions, improving fuel efficiency), this is not the answer. There will still be too many cars on the road. The answer needs new business models from OEMs – car sharing, the sponsoring of transport networks, collaborative initiatives across manufacturers and governments – which will reduce the sheer number of cars on the roads.

But as Susan Claris from Arup pointed out, we are not starting from scratch: in Europe we have a legacy of cities with outdated infrastructure struggling with the demands of people on the move. Urban planning has a central role to play; future urban development has to be flexible in a world where the “only thing that is certain is change”.

And it’s not just about vehicles; it is about people. Sylvain Haon from Polis Network observed that people travel because they feel they need to, and to reduce this, one has to change the mindset. “The technology of the future is already working, but we need the people to get it started”, claimed Fabio Orecchini, Professor of Energy Systems at the University of Rome. But how can this behaviour change be triggered?

Regulation can encourage consumers to try new travel methods, as seen in the surprising success of London’s congestion charge. But did regulation create the renaissance of the bike in London? Probably not: there has been little regulation in favour of cyclists. As a biased (and keen) cyclist, it seemed to be the activism of some well-organised pressure groups that made cycling less dangerous in London, and that a change of perspective by consumers – that cycling is faster, cheaper, healthier and increasingly socially acceptable – has increased cycling numbers in the city.

Other alternatives are also creating behavioural shift amongst consumers. In our research report for Ford, we discuss the trend of “disownership”, whereby access is becoming an acceptable substitute to ownership. Car sharing schemes are growing in popularity, and we see the same trend in music (Spotify), where consumers are paying for access rather than ownership. Cars once signified freedom and status, but their cultural relevance is dwindling for many Europeans, as technology becomes an increasing marker of status.

It’s a new world, in which car manufacturers will have to work together, not against each other, to create viable business models that meet changing attitudes and changing mobility needs in urban landscapes.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Andrew Curry. It is posted here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

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