Urban mobility at a tipping point

Cities move. People hurry from corner to corner; cars and trucks roll along the roads, while bicycles and scooters jostle for space.

But sometimes that movement falters, and with it the dynamism that is the hallmark of great cities. Unhealthy smog levels and traffic jams, with their chorus of horns and shouts, are routine irritations of urban lives, and things could get much worse. The world’s cities are facing an urgent set of challenges when it comes to ensuring that fundamental rite of urban living: getting around.

By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 50 percent today.1Over the same period, more than two billion people are likely to enter the middle class, with the majority of them living in cities in emerging markets, particularly China. The number of megacities with more than ten million people will continue to grow.

Many people entering the global middle class will want to buy cars: automobile sales are expected to increase from about 70 million a year in 2010 to 125 million by 2025, with more than half forecasted to be bought in cities. Some automotive analysts have gone as far as predicting that on the existing trajectory, today’s 1.2 billion strong global car fleet could double by 2030.2

The existing urban infrastructure cannot support such an increase in vehicles on the road. Congestion is already close to unbearable in many cities and can cost as much as 2 to 4 percent of national GDP, by measures such as lost time, wasted fuel, and increased cost of doing business. Transport creates emissions of greenhouse gases; smog presents serious public-health concerns. The World Health Organization estimated in 2014 that seven million premature deaths are attributable to air pollution, and a significant share is the result of urban transit.3

However, the future does not have to be this way.

Solving the mobility challenge will require bold, coordinated actions from the private and public sectors. Technological advances and commercialization, funding, intelligent policies, and business-model innovation will be needed to realize productivity improvements while creating more sustainable environments in our cities. We are optimistic that this will help the world avoid a future of global gridlock. Already, there is discernible movement toward new “multimodal” services—those that facilitate journeys combining walking, cars, buses, bikes, and trains—as well as shared transportation services.

While many of the technologies and business models we highlight are being introduced in more affluent countries, these trends are also relevant for emerging economies. Cities such as Beijing, Jakarta, and Moscow are already suffering from overwhelming congestion; they could leapfrog the transit paradigms established in the 19th and 20th centuries by adopting new technology, urban planning, and business models.

The speed and extent of the mobility transformation will differ. In this report, we lay out a framework that describes the evolution of urban mobility. We also highlight a set of urban archetypes, defined by population density and the maturity of public transit; each archetype can be expected to take a different path to mobility. Our analysis suggests that a mobility revolution is on the way for much of the world. As a result, we anticipate big improvements in the quality of life for city residents.

Welcome to the urban-mobility revolution.

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