An article at Bloomberg caught my eye. It was titled “This Is What Peak Car Looks Like“.
The automobile—once both a badge of success and the most convenient conveyance between points A and B—is falling out of favor in cities around the world as ride-hailing and other new transportation options proliferate and concerns over gridlock and pollution spark a reevaluation of privately owned wheels. Auto sales in the U.S., after four record or near-record years, are declining this year, and analysts say they may never again reach those heights. Worldwide, residents are migrating to megacities—expected to be home to two-thirds of the global population by midcentury—where an automobile can be an expensive inconvenience. Young people continue to turn away from cars, with only 26 percent of U.S. 16-year-olds earning a driver’s license in 2017, a rite of passage that almost half that cohort would have obtained just 36 years ago, according to Sivak Applied Research. Likewise, the annual number of 17-year-olds taking driving tests in the U.K. has fallen 28 percent in the past decade.
Meanwhile, mobility services are multiplying rapidly, with everything from electric scooters to robo-taxis trying to establish a foothold in the market. Increasingly, major urban centers such as London, Madrid, and Mexico City are restricting cars’ access. Such constraints, plus the expansion of the sharing economy and the advent of the autonomous age, have made automakers nervous. That’s also pushed global policymakers to consider the possibility that the world is approaching “peak car”—a tipping point when the killer transportation app of the 20th century finally begins a steady decline, transforming the way we move.
. . .
The tipping point worldwide will come at the end of the next decade, when self-driving cars start gaining traction, predicts Mark Wakefield, head of the automotive practice at consultant AlixPartners. Replacing a taxi driver with a robot cuts 60 percent from a ride’s cost, making travel in a driverless cab much cheaper than driving your own car. “The takeoff point is the robo-taxi,” Wakefield says. “By 2030 we have a pretty substantial amount of sales volume coming out [of vehicle sales] because of that.”
. . .
Electrified cars connected to the internet will enable cheap forms of mobility that will make owning an auto expensive and obsolete. “Before peak car, there’s going to be a peak in internal combustion engine vehicles,” says Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport analysis for BNEF. “That will have a big effect on automakers’ strategies, because investment has a habit of chasing growth.”
Ultimately, individual car ownership will give way to having a mobility app on your phone, where an automobile is but one mode available, says Kersten Heineke, a McKinsey transportation specialist.
There’s more at the link.
That’s all fine and dandy for those who are prepared to accept the greater level of “Big Brother” control, and the loss of personal responsibility and independence, that such trends will inevitably bring with them. To me, they’re deeply troubling, based on my own life experience. A few points (out of many more that could be made):
- What about avoiding or getting away from a disaster? If a major hurricane were to threaten your neighborhood, or flooding, or an earthquake or volcanic eruption or other natural disaster, how will you get away from the danger zone without transport under your control? What’s that? You’ll trust City Hall to take care of you? That’s a good one! Tell that to the New Orleans residents who waited to be evacuated before Hurricane Katrina . . . in vain. In a disaster, Big Brother will do what’s easiest for Big Brother – and that is to control your movements, and force you to stay where you are, or go to where he can control your movements and your destiny. Independence is the last thing on Big Brother’s mind. If he finds it more convenient to restrict or even eliminate voluntary travel at any time, he can and will do so – whether you like it or not. You’ll be treated as a subject, rather than a citizen.
- What about a medical emergency? It might not be something as time-critical as a heart attack or stroke, but if you need to get to a doctor or the emergency room, it might not be something that can wait for an ambulance to arrive (particularly given the time it takes for an ambulance to reach you, and then to reach a hospital). If it happens during peak commuter traffic, the online services that will arrange a car to come to you (Uber, Lyft, and their ilk) will be fully occupied serving those heading to or from work. They’re unlikely to have a car available for you in the short term. If you and/or your family don’t have your own transport available, that delay might kill you.
- What about shopping trips for large, bulky or unwieldy items? Just yesterday I went to a hardware store, where I had two 8’x4′ plywood sheets cut into 48″x18″ shelves, to replace the cheap, flimsy fiberboard provided with two shelving units I bought recently. I slid them into my SUV and brought them home with no trouble at all. Could they have fit into the average small-to-medium-size car or SUV offered by Uber or Lyft? I doubt it – and even if they could, would the driver have been willing to take them in his vehicle, causing delays to load and unload them, and leaving splinters, dirt and debris on his carpeted floor? I doubt it. Without your own transport to collect such items, you’ll end up paying a lot more for a commercial delivery service to do so.
- What about choice of transportation? At present, a parent can always take a child to school if they miss the school bus. What if they don’t have transport available to do so? Can they afford to hire a car to take their child to school? What about their child’s safety? Not all drivers of such vehicles are trustworthy, as news reports frequently bear out. What if the parent(s) have already hired such (a) vehicle(s) to get themselves to work, and now have to make arrangements from the back seat via cellphone, while their child stands out in wind and weather waiting for a solution to arrive?
For all these reasons and more, I regard the decline in personal vehicle ownership as potentially very negative indeed. Of course, those willing to surrender a measure of personal independence and rely on others for essential transportation will disagree: but I’m not them. As long as I can afford it, I’ll have some means of personal transportation available, under my own control rather than Big Brother’s. I’d feel naked without it.