How the travel industry could deliver greener transport

It’s European Mobility Week, an annual initiative that shines the spotlight on sustainable transport throughout Europe and beyond. And this year, there's a lot to discuss.

The transport sector is responsible for the highest proportion of CO2 emissions worldwide, at 24%. Given the urgency of the IPCC’s latest report on climate change, this is clearly an unsustainable figure, and one that governments around the world are taking action on in a bid to meet increasingly rigorous climate targets.

But there’s a new narrative this year: the impact of COVID-19. While lockdowns and restrictions certainly hampered innovation in the transport sector, as we gradually come out of the other side of the pandemic it’s clear that the pandemic has actually helped to accelerate a shift towards a new kind of mobility.

Cities have redefined car lanes to create more space for bikes and scooters as people began to avoid public transport, for example, while consumers are increasingly turning to digital channels—from convenient food deliveries to streaming services—and they now expect mobility companies to expand their online offerings, too.

The way we get from A to B is changing, and with convenience, cleanliness and efficiency at the top of the agenda for consumers and authorities alike, mobility is largely expected to look drastically different within the next decade. Here’s what we can expect.

  1. Cars will be different in the future

Despite private cars being one of the biggest environmental offenders in terms of transport, we can expect to see them on our roads for some time yet. In its latest ‘Mobility Futures’ report, insights company Kantar says that 51% of mobility in large cities worldwide is currently done by car, and this is likely to drop to just 46% by 2030.

However, instead of the petrol and diesel cars we rely on today, the cars on tomorrow’s roads will be largely electric, autonomous and shared.

Thanks to forthcoming bans on combustion-engine vehicles, all-electric vehicles (EVs) will become the norm, especially as charging infrastructure improves and prices continue to go down. According to McKinsey, EVs will likely account for 75% of the automotive market share by 2030.

The cars of the future will also be hugely reliant on data and vehicle telematics. Like computers on wheels, they’ll be permanently connected to their surroundings with huge amounts of information constantly travelling between drivers, vehicles, manufacturers and local infrastructure.

Self-driving (or ‘autonomous’) cars, meanwhile, probably won’t be a very common sight on roads by 2030, but by then the path towards the mainstream adoption of driverless vehicles will be much clearer, with much of the technology in place and meaningful progress made with infrastructure and legislation. Think cruise control but better.

  1. Shared transport will become more popular

Did you know that the average car is parked for 23 hours a day? So the fact that private vehicles are only being used 4% of the time could soon render expensive car ownership a thing of the past, and ‘shared mobility’ will step up to take its place.

Shared mobility is something of a catch-all term, but it’s used to describe things like car sharing schemes and shared parking initiatives (read our guide to car sharing clubs here). Global consultancy firm Roland Berger predicts shared parking initiatives are likely to see huge popularity in the coming years, as a whopping 30% of inner-city traffic (and its associated pollution) is currently down to motorists trying to find somewhere to park.

Meanwhile, ride-sharing platforms will see an increased uptick. The number of ‘e-hailing’ trips has almost tripled over the last four years according to McKinsey, with more than 40 million trips now booked on the two biggest platforms (Uber and Lyft) every single day.

  1. Micromobility will become common

‘Micromobility’ is the term given to transportation over short distances provided by lightweight, single-person vehicles such as bikes and scooters, and this will be a major feature of future travel. Kantar predicts that bicycle traffic in major cities worldwide will increase by 18% by 2030.

Personal ownership of these types of vehicles is likely to rise as car ownership becomes less popular, but short-term hire and rental schemes will be a big driver. Just over three years ago escooters were first offered as rental vehicles in Santa Monica, California. Come March 2020 there were more than 150,000 rental escooters available across the US and Europe, alongside more than 20 million bikes. This is constantly rising to meet growing consumer demand, with McKinsey predicting the micromobility industry will be worth up to $500 billion by 2030.

It’s worth noting, of course, that some countries – such as the UK – still have no formal provision for escooters, which remain illegal on public roads. However, the opportunity they represent in tackling transport emissions, coupled with the fact that they are already a familiar sight on the street despite the law, means that it likely won’t be long until they become an established part of the UK’s transport mix. Read our guide on how you can hire an escooter and the current law on escooters in the UK here.

  1. Sky taxis will arrive by 2050

Jet fuel-heavy air travel is rightly condemned for its massive contribution to global emissions, but getting from A to B by air is likely to continue playing a big role in the future of transport. However, instead of bulky fuel-guzzling passenger jets, we can expect to see lightweight, compact electric passenger drones buzzing across our skies (such as Uber's concept, pictured above).

It’s certainly a sci-fi sounding proposition but it’s a future reality that’s already taking shape. In 2019, regulators began granting approval for drone delivery trials, with passenger drones next on the agenda. More than 110 cities around the world are already working on these kinds of solutions, which include city taxis and airport shuttles designed for short range flights of less than 50km.

According to Roland Berger, there will be an estimated 160,000 commercial air taxis in the skies by 2050 thanks to immense funding activity. Investment in this technology has skyrocketed by 83% over the past five years, attracting more than $4.6 billion of funding in the first five months of 2021 alone.

  1. The way we pay for transport will change

Finally, the way we pay to get around is likely to change, too. Instead of paying separately for fuel, charging, tickets and travel cards, some futurists believe we’ll be using ‘integrated mobility contracts’ instead. Much like telecommunications companies have expanded to offer customers an all-in-one take on TV, broadband, mobile and streaming services, we could see transport providers, manufacturers and other brands branching out to offer ‘pay as you travel’ packages that span car sharing, micromobility and vehicle hire. As getting from A to B in the future will likely involve a mix of transport options, this could prove particularly convenient.

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