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Our future transport is not an extrapolation from today…

20 March 2012
Our future transport is not an extrapolation from today…

By Robin Haycock, Head of Transport, The Climate Group.

March 20, 2012.

I realize that we need to make predictions, and we have to make assumptions in order to move forward with our plans. For example, looking to 2050 has been a bit of an obsession for us over the last few years - but we can now draw conclusions and graphs that show us that we need to provide for 9 billion people, as this is the extrapolation from today. I am not debating whether this is right, but I have seen that in my world of transport we make assumptions which I question regularly about the future, such as:

  • Will we travel more than we do today – allegedly yes
  • Will we want to carry on buying – and crucially – owning more personal transport cars?
  • Will we continue to move to cities when we internet shop and have huge internet speed wherever we are?

All of the above questions and many more have the answer yes,  but they are extrapolations on today’s trends without considering some drivers already in society notably:

  • Accessibility provides us with employment, and mobility is only a part of this
  • Energy costs continue to increase (sorry but I am now using extrapolation for effect…)
  • Cities are becoming significantly congested and there is no place in high land value areas for parking cars 23 hours a day (on average we drive a car for one hour every day, which makes this depreciating asset one more poor decision in our dwindling finances)

I could go on but I guess you get my point - that life is evolving.

A look back at my current week proves this. I have just taken on a new role with Energy Saving Trust and reinforced a couple of my other jobs. But I am still sitting comfortably at home on the internet, largely Skype, talking to all the people I need to and doing all the work my contracts expect. Not traveling saves time, money and effort. Even my bicycles remain unloved in the garage. I will probably need to go for a quick spin on my bicycle to meet a friend for coffee later (Skype can only go so far), but this is my way of dealing with no fixed office space, and we may find that the existing coffee shop network morphs into work zones already being piloted by the Google’s of the world. Actually this may well be the reigniting of the towns when everyone buys stuff online and we solve the rise of white van deliveries…

So, it was with great amusement and pleasure that I read a Sunday Times article that featured BMW's new car hiring scheme, followed by negative comments from the RAC Foundation (a minor intervention from the esteemed Director Stephen Glaister). BMW have been on my list of OEMs to watch for a while, and I have no connection with them other than the fact that they're fascinating me in their progress from luxury OEM to mobility providers with a strong brand value.

RAC Foundation, on the other hand, I notice because when they comment negatively, it is almost certainly a significant benefit to human kind that has been put forward - but it threatens the status quo of personal vehicle ownership, which is essentially where their core values lie.

The article focuses on BMW's experimenting with the luxury end of car clubs – the ability in a city to hire a car easily for a short period of time. A car club and car ownership comparison on mileage against costs is offered in the article which proves that owning a car in a city is a costly drag. It goes on to illustrate how innovative technology (smart phones, ease of access, key-less technology, seamless billing which just appears on a statement like a mobile phone bill etc) coupled with a changing world, has made car hiring initiatives happen effectively and at the right quality-levels for the BMW brand. 

It’s all part of my argument that extrapolation from today is not necessarily the answer.

And so to RAC's appearance in the article, and Stephen Glaister's mention that ‘[car clubs] could make congestion worse’. But seeing as we will not need to own cars anymore and hence won't need to use up valuable space to park them in cities, car clubs shouldn't add to congestion. He continues, ‘it might be unfair to car owners if their parking spaces are being taken over by car clubs FOC’. But I'm not sure this is the case either. More likely, people will use rental EVs when their journeys are of a medium length, and take out a fancy high-end BMW for the weekend out of the city (although I would obviously recommend the train, then a bicycle the other end – sorry Mr. BMW) with no fairness issues left for them to question.

So, while we will always need to extrapolate, let's take a look at the drivers of change and the curve balls that might happen, before putting in costly solutions based on predictions of the future. I love this world - the complexity as we move to a sustainable and accessible future is so exciting, and offers many big business opportunities for the likes of BMW.

And so, to take my poor bicycle for a spin.

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