If not a personal car, then what? A look at the alternatives of the future

There are an estimated 1.44 billion vehicles in the world, which is an impressive number by itself. Some places take it further — San Marino has 1,263 cars per 1,000 people, and Andorra has 1,207. But some say the winds of change are already blowing on the automotive industry, and personal cars will no longer be an object of independence, status, and freedom.

This article will join the debate on the future of personal cars and provide theories about vehicles that might replace them.

Will owning a personal car be a necessity in the future?

The current car ownership situation describes an inefficient, wasteful use of resources — cars sit parked more than 95% of the time. Having noticed that data, some cities are already preparing for the future through different kinds of interventions. 

London introduces a congestion charge, Oslo — traffic & parking control, Munich — personalized travel planning programs, San Francisco — turning parking spaces into grassy public spaces. Examples go on.

Experts speculate that private car ownership will drop, although the exact percentages vary by country and city. It’s believed by some that the congestion, pollution, and the issues they bring to urban environments will push the automobile industry and governments to seek solutions beyond private cars. It may come to the point that car ownership moves from a need to a choice. 

Read on to find five alternatives to private cars that may act as a primary mode of transportation for people in the future.

1. Subscription-based ownership and car-sharing

Subscription-based car ownership or car-sharing are similar forms of short-time car rentals. They can be run by community organizations or for-profit companies, but the structure is usually the same: a person chooses a car from a pool of vehicles and pays per hour on top of their flat membership charge. 

Currently, car-sharing is significantly cheaper for those who don’t drive cars on a daily basis. But car-sharing membership platforms may be transformed to suit more people, particularly frequent drivers. Consumers can also expect car-sharing companies to introduce more electric vehicles going forward, which is already a growing trend among existing private car owners.

2. Carpooling and ride-hailing services

Carpooling, ride-hailing, and ride-sharing are parts of the sharing economy, and they all serve the ultimate goal of using resources efficiently and minimizing wastage. Uber and Lyft are the most popular examples of the current market landscape. But ride-sharing can take many different forms outside of these two companies. 

Companies that specialize in niche ride-sharing use cases may soon hit the market. For example, there are already a couple of startups specifically for parents. Services like Carpool Kids and Voom offer let parents connect and share rides, and Zum coordinates transport for children, coupled with babysitting child care services.

3. Electric biking

Traditionally, bikes were used for short-term commutes or just as a weekend hobby. This story changes dramatically as soon as battery power is attached to the bike. So, people will be more likely to use e-bikes to travel distances that they would not otherwise be covered with a non-powered bike — for example, commute and shopping trips.

The trend of e-biking is picking up globally, but it also highlights the deficiencies of existing roads, where some bicycle lanes are barely marked and have hardly any security for cyclists. 

4. Robo-taxis, shuttles, and other shared autonomous vehicles

Autonomous technologies are already widely adopted in the forms of self-parking, autonomous braking, and lane guidance. But fully autonomous driving can be seen as the end-game of e-hailing, with robo-taxis and shuttles being particularly useful for increasing total miles traveled. Some pilot trials are open to the public in certain cities around the world.

It’s worth noting that the use of alternative fuel vehicles is an emerging trend within the autonomous vehicle industry. So, as regulators crack down on emissions from petrol and diesel cars, AVs running on hybrid and electric technology will be more than a match for regular EVs. 

5. Mobility-as-a-service

Mobility-as-a-service (or transport-as-a-service, combined mobility services) describes a concept where individuals can choose from different mobility options depending on their needs and preferences. So, privately-owned mobility might be replaced by multi-mode mobility solutions. Those can take many forms, including e-hailing apps, door-to-door mobility integrators, on-demand or traditional buses, pay-as-you-go car renting, etc. 

By itself, MaaS doesn’t necessarily reduce the use of cars, much like car or ride-sharing. But in this case, cars will be used in conjunction with other modes of transport and will massively reduce the reliance on personal cars. It also opens up opportunities to seamlessly switch transports across a single route. There might be all-encompassing apps in which you’ll be able to book multiple means of transport — bicycles, buses, trains, trams, light rail, and cars. 

Conclusion

The growth of connected and autonomous vehicles can potentially move entire cities towards a new form of mobility and bring enormous benefits. The end of the personal car era is hypothesized to improve safety, interconnectivity, convenience, and mobility options.

But of course, it’s early to tell what alternatives will be at the forefront of this transition. It could be any of the options listed above, or a new concept may be just around the corner.

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