Inexorable shift away from car ownership to reshape cities

December 14, 2016

Using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft could cost the same as owning a car within the next two years, stimulating the shift away from car ownership. Levels of personal car ownership could peak in the US in 2020, and then begin a slow and inexorable decline from there. This will spark a radical transformation in cities, allowing them to be designed around people not cars. 

Figures produced by Rocky Mountain Institute suggest that the introduction of autonomous vehicles to the US ride-hailing sector would more than halve per-mile usage costs for ride-sharing services. This would bring them below $1 (€0.95) by 2018 and close to the $0.85 per mile for private cars. Once ride sharing and car ownership reach parity, consumers will begin to view mobility as they do other utilities like water and electricity and start to make the transition away from car ownership. 

While the figures relate to the US, the increasingly ubiquitous nature of Uber means that a similar shift in Europe cannot be far behind; having seen the cost-saving benefits of driverless cars in the US, Uber and its rivals would want to unlock similar gains in Europe. Once that happens, city planning officers will be free to begin reshaping cities, particularly to take parking places away. 

Daniel Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, told the UK’s Financial Times newspaper that cities could look radically different within the next 40 years. If people choose self-driving ride-hailing services over private cars, then they have no need to park their car when they reach their destination, or even at home. Construction companies are required to include parking spaces in all new residential developments, but they are increasingly designing these spaces to allow them to be converted to alternative uses when a private car is no longer needed. Before the advent of the car, streets often did not have pavements; Doctoroff envisages that with the elimination of on-street parking, pavements could also disappear again. 

Policy Network considers autonomous driving to be a social revolution that has the power to solve many ‘intractable problems’ of modern life. This could result in a 2-4% improvement in productivity in Europe by 2050, translating to economic benefits in the billions of euros. 

The elimination of parking spaces could free up as much as 10% of the space in Europe’s urban areas – space that could be used to create additional housing or create gardens. 

Used effectively in combination with existing public transport networks, autonomous cars could open up transportation to areas not served by existing bus and rail networks – giving employees much more choice over where they live and work. They could also improve mobility for the elderly and disabled who cannot use public transport by making door-to-door transport both cheaper and easier. 






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