7 Standout Trends in Future Urban Mobility

By Steve Raney

Steve Raney heads Palo Alto-based Cities21, a smart mobility consultancy. Steve’s project history includes: Google self-driving cars, Ultra personal rapid transit (self-driving electric vehicles), smartphone instant ridesharing, smart parking, the US EPA’s "Transforming Office Parks into Transit Villages" study, BART’s Group Rapid Transit Study, and conceiving Bay Area MTC’s $33M Climate Innovations Grant Program. He is the author of 18 transportation papers. Steve holds three masters: business, software, and transportation from Columbia, RPI, and Berkeley.

I really enjoy Meeting of the Minds’ unique combination of technology and regional planning. Two of the mobility conference sessions covered the “Urban Mobility Revolution” and carsharing (ZipCar, City CarShare, and peer-to-peer Buzzcar).

While the future is anyone’s guess, below are seven standout future mobility items, with a bias towards self-driving and youtubility.

1. GM’s EN-V: small self-driving, self-parking future car

The video (above) features high-speed autonomous crossings through congested, stoplight-free intersections. Automated parking fits more vehicles into less space (see video above).

At a 2012 Commonwealth Club talk, GM’s CEO Dan Akerson expressed some sympathy for raising the gas tax. A substantial tax increase, though unlikely, will increase demand for mobility services.

2. Toyota’s 2050 vision

Toyota’s futures video envisions a car-restricted, pedestrian-centered city with a hierarchy of green vehicle types.

3. Avego smartphone instant ridesharing

Avego is rolling out 2012 pilots in Santa Barbara and the north part of the Bay Area. Their introductory video shows the driver/rider matchmaking process, pickup logistics, and cloud payment.

4. Urban mobility new ventures and venture capital investments

Bill Ford Junior’s venture firm, Fontinalis, has bet on four different smart parking startups (ParkMe, Parkmobile, QuickPay, and Streetline), as well as Wheelz peer-to-peer carsharing. Mercedes Benz created their own Car2Go carshare system. Google Ventures and GM Ventures invested in Relay Rides peer-to-peer carsharing that now features OnStar integration. Honda is now supplying EVs to the Zipcar fleet.

5. Personal/Group Rapid Transit (GRT)

PRT: elevated, electric, self-driving “last mile” circulator transit with many four-person vehicles for airports, office parks, and universities. GRT deploys larger vehicles.

Ultra’s London Heathrow Airport system operates at ~99.7% reliability. Overview video:

Vectus has the strongest parent company (Posco) and their Suncheon system is under construction:

First-to-market 2getthere’s Masdar system also operates at ~99.7% reliability. 2getthere also has a GRT system in operation at Rivium GRT. This next video provides the yet-to-be-fully-realized Masdar ecocity. This video shows renderings of Ultra vehicles, rather than the installed 2getthere design:

6. Comprehensive new mobility

UM SMART’s Susan Zielinski’s favorite comprehensive mobility video is available at trasndev.com. It depicts a seamless mobility service where many tools are packaged together: carsharing, car rental, bike sharing, smartphone transit route planning, real-time location tracking, smart parking, guaranteed ride home, transit fare payment, context-aware web content, etc.

7. Google self-driving cars

In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill SB1298 at Google Headquarters. The bill “creates a legal framework and operational safety standards for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.” Signing video:

Google cofounder Sergey Brin, “What I see in this project is the promise to transform our urban and suburban centers, and to not need that much parking.” Brin goes on to describe an automated shared car system with empty vehicle movements as well as a self-park feature.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

6 Comments

  1. Dave Hahn

    Hi Steve – what a great post. Lots of unique insight here, a positive outlook for the future, and very cool videos. It reminds me of a talk Bill Reinert led at Meeting of the Minds 2011 in Boulder: Changing Cities – Changing Cars.

    Also – I couldn’t help myself…I had to look up Google Glasses.

    Reply
    • John Lehnert

      Steve, the scope of these efforts prompts a couple of observations:
      First, we are finally embracing the paradigm articulated at one MOTM session I attended, whereby we need to fit transit to the user, not fit users to the transit. Offering a variety of options in any given situation helps remove the obstacles to wider use of transit other than private vehicles.
      Second, the examples you cite reflect a set of values needed by a strong transit solution set: immediacy, reliability, safety, affordability, speed…and fun!

      Reply
  2. Laura Erickson

    Hi Steve, thanks for the summary. I was at the meeting but couldn’t attend all the sessions so this overview is great. I really wonder about getting from where we’re at, point A, to where these videos are, point B. The infrastructure investments that are necessary seem kind of overwhelming, especially given the political zeitgeist in this country and other parts of the world too. It makes me wonder what the relationship is between this brave new world we glimpsed and the fact that in San Francisco, for example, the first real road improvements I’ve seen in my 16 years here came only via the stimulus. Beyond that I also think about the security of the system and potential for hacking etc. Here are a few further thoughts on “personal mobility” from me: http://nextrends.swissnexsanfrancisco.org/disruptive-mobility/

    Thanks again for your coverage, lots to learn about!

    Reply
  3. Rebecca Williams

    Hi Steve,

    Great post! It is nice to see the breadth of all the different ways transit is changing in one post: from transit’s tangible new technologies to our newly developed social and shareable relationship with transit (and many facets of society) that has been cultivated and facilitated by new technologies. I, like Laura, have practical, political and fiscal concerns in how some of these bigger infrastructure projects would get executed, but I couldn’t be more excited about the shared comprehensive transit sets like example 6; if we are using many different modes of transportation with an emphasis on sharing, this seems to provide the benefits of sustainability (9-13 cars taken off the road for every shared car sounds good to me) with the invaluable ease of scalability (these projects don’t require millons of dollars to start) and would benefit users and the Earth immediately, flexibly, and only more so as they grew.

    Reply
  4. Jenny Fogarty

    Thank you for this great overview of ways that innovative technology intersects with individual mobility and the urban landscape. I am particularly interested in the packaging of tools together to create a comprehensive system of individual mobility. As someone who has lived car-free in large urban centers for my entire life, I appreciate this package; each component plays an equally important role in ensuring safe, equitable, affordable, comprehensive urban mobility.

    Reply
  5. Timothy Papandreou

    I really enjoyed connecting with the different people around the world come to San Francisco who are thinking along the same lines of how we can better improve urban mobility in cities. It was great to see some cool ideas and some new approaches to connecting people and communities in cool new ways. I look forward to continued efforts to bring people together to solve these urban issue s as they are the same all over the world just different scales.

    Reply

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