The big shift in transportation technology


The big shift in transportation technology

Think about the tech tools you use daily today, and what they were just 10 years ago. Within the past decade, wireless, GPS, LTE networks and APIs have radically transformed how we communicate, how we work and, most importantly, the way we move around cities.

But according to the strategic advisor and founder of City Innovate, Timothy Papandreou, the magnitude of this shift could pale in comparison to the sea of change the next 10 years will bring to modes of transportation. “We’re going to see a transition to sharing, electrification and automation,” Timothy predicted on the Movin’On Summit 2018 stage.

As long as the mobility solutions this revolution spawns remain cheap, quick and easy, there’s a strong case for such a shift:

  • Personal cars remain unused for 95% of their lifetime and, in many cases, remain 80% empty. “There’s been a lot of manufactured consent for us to think it’s an ideal solution,” explained Timothy.
  • 2 million deaths per year — that’s 2 per minute! — are caused by our transportation system. “Were this [to happen] in aviation, it would mean a jumbo jet falling from the sky a couple of times a day. We would shut the whole system down.”
  • Drivers spend the equivalent of 10 days a year in traffic. “That’s the yearly vacation time millions of workers get.”
  • 15% of the population struggles to get access to transportation, which in turn affects employment and productivity, among many other metrics.


“We are emerging as a city planet. More than half the world’s population now lives in cities; in less than 25 years it will be three quarters.” — Timothy Papandreou, City Innovate


More available land for cities

Obvious benefits — traffic reduction, fewer car owners, less pollution or noise — aside, Timothy says the most fundamental impact for cities will be a “dramatic reduction in parking needs.” For some urban areas, this could mean a 50% increase in available land without even expanding their territory.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for land development and value capture,” he says. And that’s without mentioning that most cities around the world are in the throes of a housing affordability crisis.


Reaching 50-50

When he was serving as San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer for Transport in 2010, Timothy and his team sought to decrease the use of private modes of transportation from 67% to 50% of trips, and increase usage of sustainable transit from 32% to 50% by 2018. Focusing on walking, cycling and parking management, they instead reached that goal in 2015. From this point onward, according to Timothy, “the ideal scenario is one where half of all trips are active — walking, biking — and the other half [are] shared, electric and automated.”

A question lingers: How much effort should cities put into retrofitting themselves for a shared, electric and automated system?

“They shouldn’t have to do anything,” Timothy states, adding that if new technology needs cities to adapt to it, it’s not ready for cities to use.

Although this is good news for urban administrations and tax conscious citizens everywhere, it puts a lot of pressure on the innovators and developers of transportation technology. It will be interesting to see which players — small and big — take advantage of this big shift.


The Movin’On Minutes: Insights, learnings and highlights from the world summit on sustainable mobility

This article is excerpted from The Movin’On Summit Minutes 2018, a roadmap for mobility leaders and experts, and those wishing to do their part for sustainable mobility. You can read it in its entirety here.