Smart cities: bringing cars to an end?

The expert : Gabriel Plassat, an engineer working on Energies and Outlooks, Transport and Mobility at Ademe (the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management). He also blogs on Les Transports du Futur (Transport in the Future) and is behind the Fabrique des Mobilités (Making Mobilities) project.

In today’s world, not having a car is viewed as a difficult problem to overcome. Having your own car is at the heart of the socio-economic and cultural definition of mobility. Perhaps in the not too distant future owning a car will not be a blessing but may even be a disadvantage, at least in some big cities. This scenario is quietly coming together through a number of changes that, at the moment, are sparse and isolated, but that will eventually combine to turn the notion of mobility on its head. That’s how Gabriel Plassat sees it. Here are the five trends he thinks will make profound changes to our approach to mobility.
1 – An end to car possession
Gabriel Plassat. In tomorrow’s world, owning a car will be an obstacle to mobility. A mobile person will have a range of transport solutions at their disposal, which they will combine based on the distance to cover: public transport, car-pooling, car-sharing, bike-sharing, walking, etc.
Tomorrow’s services will rely on vehicles that are more efficient, lighter, and adapted to their function. They will not subscribe to the aesthetic values of today’s cars but they will be adapted to their use. An end to car possession will be at the heart of the radical changes to transport.
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2 – The personal mobility assistant
The ignition key will be replaced by a personal mobility assistant. Users will be able to access real-time information from their smartphones that combines timetables for the nearest public transport, parking places, road traffic, etc. This concept already exists. For example, I’m thinking of the Optimod’Lyon trial that is aiming to centralise this kind of data and make it accessible via a free mobile app.
Like with phone or pay TV packages, mobility service packages will be offered as contracts. They will combine access to a range of transport methods (car-pooling, car-sharing, trains, buses, bikes, trams, driverless shuttles, the metro, etc.), where efficiency and comfort correspond to the package chosen. There could be a very affordable basic package that would guarantee a method of travel but not necessarily an arrival time.
At the opposite end, the ‘premium’ package would guarantee minimum wait times and priority access to the fastest or most comfortable transport methods. This type of service already exists in Finland, with a monthly package that gives citizens access to all methods of transport. In an approach such as this, care would obviously need to be taken of the most vulnerable in society so that poorer people are not penalised.

The Optimod’Lyon project aims to improve mobility for people and freight in an urban environment by developing extremely high-level traffic information and regulation services using information and communication technologies. © Optimod’Lyon
3 – Hitch-hiking of the future, or mobility as a service
One of the keys to revolutionising people’s behaviour in terms of mobility will be to offer services that can quickly reach a huge number of people to change their mindsets. Changes in behaviour towards transport need to be industrialised. BlaBlaCar is an iconic example of this. This young French company has now developed on a world-wide scale by offering a car-sharing service, earning the trust of users with a simple alternative model that answers their budget, time and environmental concerns.
4 – Self-driving cars
Continuing in this vein of an end to car ownership, the self-driving car will play a significant role in the emergence of this service-focused mobility. For example, I’m thinking of self-driving intra-urban shuttles (such as the CityMobil2 European project), taxis, or shared cars. This might seem a long way off, but things can go much faster than you might expect. For example, all it needs is for a major city to decide to ban car traffic in the city centre to give a decisive boost to self-driving cars.
The fact that high-tech giants such as Google and Apple are also taking an extreme amount of interest in the topic is a good sign that increasingly powerful players have a vested interest in the end of cars. Selling mobility services while collecting data about journeys could be much more lucrative than selling a car in the long term.

The CityMobil2 project is a pilot project testing automatic driverless transport, co-funded by the European Union. It began in 2012 for a 4-year period. Five European cities are testing the approach for six months each. In France, the experiment is taking place in La Rochelle. © Frédéric Le Lan, La Rochelle urban community
5 – Changing behaviour
Changing people’s transport behaviour is something that is very difficult because it’s something they hold close to their heart—it’s part of their self-image. The change will have to be built, not imposed. It will need economic rationality and guaranteed safety. To change people’s mindsets, you need to show them the limits of the current system and allow them to easily try out an alternative whilst limiting the risks. At Ademe, we carried out an outlook study for 2030-2050 that focuses on service-based mobility becoming more and more powerful. In cities, it should account for around 25% of the market share. The further away from cities you get, the more the role of the individual car will remain essential. These changes go hand in hand with changes to work itself. If we work differently, we will get around differently.
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