Car Future Part V – Share the road, share the load

Thanks for reading Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series exploring the future of personal transport. This is the concluding part.

I love a logical argument, and I have a feeling this series is leading us towards a big conclusion: The future, it’s already here.

Car Sharing
Public Transport

The recipe for the future will have the same ingredients, but the ratios will be changed.

We’re best off sharing the travel/transit load between the modes. Each of these systems has diminishing marginal returns at some point. We just need to recognise that we’re not at the point of diminishing returns from PT, car-sharing or cycling, but we’re well beyond that for road.

So how do we change the mode load? What are the tweaks that will change people’s choices?

For Bikes

Priority 1. These raincoats: people loathe getting wet.

These are hugely popular in China. To make them popular in the West we probably need to charge two hundred times as much, make them out of Goretex blended with the DNA of Eddie Merckx, and have them branded by Rapha.

Priority 2. Quivers: people will own a couple of bikes. People want a fast bike. But, we’re going to see more fat tyres and more carrying capacity on the way to the shops.

Here’s another analogy: We’ve seen that if we put a bit extra computing power into the phone, it will become an adequate substitute for a lot of computing tasks, even though it’s ‘inferior’ at them. Bikes are like phones. If we put a bit extra safety, comfort and carrying capacity on the bike, the cheapness and portability will win out and it will be an adequate substitute for a car.

car future?
This bike may not be considered dorky in the future.

Bikes on a train
Priority 3. Bikes on buses. Goddam, I love a bit of modal integration! Cars on trains, boats on planes, hot air balloons on trams. I want to see it all.

Priority 4. Electric bikes, because the effective range of bikes is for most people much lower than cyclists would have you believe. A runner can ‘easily’ run 12km, that doesn’t make 12km a good stop spacing for your metro. If a cyclist can ‘easily’ ride 30km, that doesn’t make 30km bike commutes plausible. I reckon most people run out of puff at about 6km. Maybe less if hilly.

Priority 5. Mainstreaming:

The roughie: New bike laws that set clear rights and responsibilties for bikes, and will end the accelerator vs pedal wars. Bikes are not as big, dangerous, visible or fast as cars. The law may be blind, but when she puts an SUV on one side of the scale and a road bike on the other, she’ll appreciate there are differences. We can continue to carp at cyclists for breaking laws designed for cars, or we can choose to change the law.

For PT

Priority 1. Improved frequency.

It solves time tabling concerns, obviates the need for real time information and makes iPhone apps redundant if the longest you’ll ever have to wait is 5 min.

It means the PT-ignorant can ride with the same enjoyment as those who ride the same train every day. It covers for cancelled trains. It means you can build a grid of transit lines and get people to transfer, and they won’t mind.

I can’t emphasise frequency enough.

Priority 2. Driverless trains.  Not only will it will solve the major OHS issue of drivers seeing so many suicides. It also breaks the nexus between cost and frequency (human resources are the biggest cost for a PT agency, and the major reason fewer trains run at off-peak times).

The roughie: A year of free PT. It could buy the Government time to get Myki up and running. I think it’s a great plan. Makes it clear that we’re encouraging PT. If it happened at the same time as service improvements, it might make people feel real pride that their PT system is better than the rest of the world’s.

For Cars

Priority 1. Congestion charging. Using traffic delays to ration demand for roads is retarded. It’s like pricing Rolling Stones tickets at $10 and saying that the people who are willing to queue the most should get them. It’s a negative-sum situation because the provider doesn’t reap the benefit of the cost to the purchaser.
Just like the heart surgeon who can’t queue to get a ticket to see Mick and Keith, congestion means people who value their time can’t compete for road space with those who don’t. (Might this explain the cost of inner-city living?) And to make the analogy even more distressing, there’s no scalping for roads.

Priority 2. Car-sharing to diminish the total cost of car travel.

For me, much of the cost of car culture is in ownership rather than use of cars. Not only does the car soak up a lot of people’s incomes, but the environmental cost of all that aluminium, plastic and steel is probably awfully high.

Car-sharing is a new approach that may work where the appropriate scale can be found. A new car-sharing company has just started expanding into Melbourne. I hope the competition boosts the market segment rather than simply inhibiting Flexicar’s attempts to achieve scale.

The roughie: Autonomous networks to diminish congestion. (Thanks to commenter Michael who shared a fail-blog worthy link that shows this may yet be some way off.)

Thanks for reading!  Although that’s the end of this series there’ll of course be plenty more posts in this vein in the future.  As always, we seek and value your opinions. Please share any comments below.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

5 thoughts on “Car Future Part V – Share the road, share the load”

  1. I have enjoyed the series. Transport in cities has been an obsession of mine for decades. I agree with a lot of your priorities, especially e-bikes. It’s taken me a while to come to this position but I reckon Vehicularists are in denial and rather than placing the bike on equal footing with cars they have been captured inside the paradigm of car centricity. It’s an untenable position when the roads and the rules serve cars. What is needed is a political wing of bicycle victoria to represent people who are serious and committed cycling commuters.
    I’m less hopeful on public transport after reading Alan Davies blog. Without massive changes public transport usage won’t increase as a percentage of journeys much because jobs are spread out over the metro area. Maybe peak oil would bring on those massive changes.
    The car coop is also an interesting idea that I hope will work but it suffers from availability problems and it’s hard to see it getting a foothold outside of the CBD and inner city. I live 8km from the city and would love to get rid of the car, but I can’t see a coop working without a big increase in density. Interestingly there is a lot of subdivisions going on with in-fill housing and multi-unit developments, but how this increase changes peoples behaviour is yet to be seen. I haven’t seen any reduction in car usage accompanying the increase in density. Fundamentally the city of Melbourne and it’s economy has largely been shaped by the car and reducing this dependance is going to be a long-drawn out transition if indeed it ever occurs.


  2. I’ve also extremely enjoyed your transport series.

    Food for thought: the future of transport is probably vertical once we run out of room in developed countries. Google “x seed 4000”. No, it’s not a porn-site. It’s a 4km high concept building design to house 500k to 1m people in a self-contained building with commercial, residential, industrial zones as well as parkland and recreational areas. There are smaller versions currently being built in Japan. Anyone remember Arcologies from Sim City 2000?


  3. Cheers for the feedback. I like to hear that vehicularists are in denial almost as much as I like to hear that you’ve enjoyed the blog! :)

    I’ve just realised I missed out bike sharing as a possible future technology. That’s because I am prejudiced against it and I think it’s dumb. Bikes are cheap to own and not all bikes fit all people. The shared bikes I’ve seen look heavy and have inefficient geometry.

    But, I must concede bike-sharing fits my criteria for a successful technology. It’s getting the go ahead in a lot of places. This means that if there is a successful model out there, there’s a good chance it’ll float to the top.


  4. Good series indeed.

    The change must certainly be on its way, with e-bike shops sprouting, with car-sharing services multiplying. If business opportunity is real and identified then we are ahead of just a good-willing utopia.

    Bike sharing as per the Paris (France) example works very well and becomes a strong part of the PT mix in dense urban area. A lot of stations well spread generate more users which create a self-sustain system with minimal need to re-adjust / re-allocate the stock of bikes between stations. That’s what missing in Melbourne, let’s have more stations and the use rate will grow exponentially. I will lose my commuter for a blue and sturdy shared bike. Paris has developed the same concept for electric city car. And it seems to be another successful initiative.

    The main obstacle to this day to car-sharing is somehow similar to bike. Having to bring the car back to where you picked it up is dumb and repellent even to the keenest. Having relied for 6-months on car-sharing namely Flexicar that’s the main con.

    Maybe worth including in your solution package is cable-car. It is compliant to high frequency mode, freeing valuable land space, moderate cost of infrastructure. South America is showing us the way in cities like Medellin (Columbia), Caracas (Venezuela) or Rio de Janeiro (World Cup do Brazil). Even New-York and Portland have this poetic way of traveling up and rolling.


    1. I completely agree that car sharing needs to abandon the requirement to rbing the car back. If I want to drive for 20 minutes to visit someone for 3 hours, I end up paying for 3 hours 40 of car hire. That’s never going to be able to compete with a taxi!
      At the moment I only see people using flexicar for jobs that require a lot of actual driving time, like going long distances, or picking someone up from the airport, or moving house. If you could drop your car off near your destination, it would be a lot more flexible…


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