Every day around the world billions of journeys are made, from the child making their way to their first day of school, through to the CEO of a multi-national company being chauffeur driven to their building. Travelling and transportation is something that has always been a central part of the lives of everybody on the planet, it doesn’t matter if that’s in rural India or urban San Francisco, without it our world would not be where it is today.
People salivate over forms of transport as a symbol of wealth and success, for instance, if you own a private jet you know that you’re a successful person and so does everybody else around you. However, the reality of current transport options is that they are dirty, impractical, dangerous, expensive, and inflexible, regardless of how good they look. There are several companies looking at changing all of this though, some of whom are on the cusp of changing the world forever.
So we take a look at the key elements that have caused innovation to be so hot in transport right now.
Regardless of what some fringe elements preach, global warming is happening and humans are having an effect on it. Transport has a massive impact on this, with the huge rise of air travel especially having a negative impact compared to other forms of transport over the same distance. For instance, according to Earth Talk, a plane flying between San Francisco and Boston creates 1,300kg of greenhouse gases per person, compared to 930kg per vehicle for an average car doing the same journey. With 87,000 internal flights in the US every day, only the most stubborn would argue that this is a sustainable way to transport people around the country.
This creates a problem, as a more connected world needs more human contact over further distances, which necessitates long distance, high speed, mass transit, something that can currently only be achieved through air travel.
This is what has sparked forms of mass transit that have little environmental impact, such as Elon Musk’s much touted ‘Hyperloop’ project, which will use vacuumed pipes and magnets to allow pods to travel at speeds of up to 700mph, making the trip between New York and Washington in only 30 minutes, compared to 4 hours by car or 1 hour by air. At present this is a hypothetical, but with Musk’s Boring Company and Hyperloop projects gaining steam, it is looking like a moonshot that may work out.
Every single year 1.3 million people die on the roads, which averages 3,287 deaths per day. That is more than the number of people who die due to drug use and strokes combined, which is a terrifying prospect. Despite all of the safety equipment and laws currently in place, car crashes are the fourth most common cause of death for Americans today, with 90% of these crashes being caused by some kind of human error.
In 2017 where we have little boxes in our pocket that contain every piece of information in the world and the ability to order almost any product and have it arrive within 24 hours, it is insanity that this many people are dying on our roads every year.
This is one of the reasons why technologies such as self driving vehicles or connected cars are becoming more and more sought after. Through either completely removing the human element or minimizing the chances of the worst occurring due to it, new technology can save millions of lives in the future in a similar way to how the introduction of the three point seatbelt has saved millions of lives since its introduction in the 1970s.
Current transport is practical only at certain times and is more often than not considerably less practical than it should be. Think about the commute that most of us make every day. If we drive to work we spend the time driving from our home to place of work, then spend time finding a place to leave our car, then leave it there doing nothing but taking up space for 8 hours, then drive it back where it takes up space for another 12 hours. If we then want to go out and
We then need to consider the basic ownership of vehicles, which in itself is profoundly impractical. Even if somebody drove a huge amount and spend 50% of their conscious time driving, they would still have a largely redundant vehicle that they’re spending paying to stand idle for over 14 hours per day. It is a profoundly impractical model that the majority see as practical because they know no better.
Some of us get public transport, like trains or buses, which requires us to travel to a station or stop, then travel from the end point to the office, they are often late, only run at certain times, and given the numbers of people on them during peak times, frequently unpleasant.
Self-driving cars, ride sharing, or car sharing apps have become so popular precisely because of these issues. A self-driving car doesn’t need to be parked next to the office, it can even be used by multiple people throughout the day in a variety of locations. Suddenly a family that needed 3 cars could easily get away with one, drop somebody at the office, drive itself back, drive the kids to school, drive somebody to go shopping, then drive itself to pick up the person at the office. Ride sharing apps like Uber mean that you can get directly from one place to another through simply using your phone, rather than needing to walk around for hours looking for a taxi regardless of where you are. Car sharing services like Zipcar mean that anybody who needs occasional use of a vehicle can use them for short journeys whenever they need to.
Current travel options are expensive in the majority of countries, which is perhaps the biggest catalyst for innovation within the sector. One of the biggest challenges is that the price of petroleum has increased over the past decade in most countries due to increased complexity in extraction and refining, plus carbon taxes have increased to deal with global warming. At the same time the use of electric cars has also begun to take off, but the issue is currently that electric cars currently cost more, which also means that insurance costs are higher as a result.
It is predicted that by 2020 the average price of an electric car will be less than a conventional car, but this requires a huge amount of expansion to allow for economies of scale to really take hold and drive prices down. Tesla are attempting to create this economy of scale with their Model 3, aimed at the mass market rather than their previous options which were relatively limited in affordability and availability.
At the same time government decisions have also seen transport costs for medium distance public transport increase dramatically over the past decade, especially in countries like the UK where privatization has created monopolies on trains. On many of the most important lines running into major cities commuters are forced to pay 10% of their salary to get to work and companies have been critized for consistent price increases whilst the quality of service has declined and wage growth has stagnated. For instance train companies servicing London have increased their prices by 27% since 2010, yet the average weekly wage in the city has decreased in real terms from £700 to £632 in that time.
This monopolization, combined with poor services (Southern, one of the main train companies running into London cancelled nearly 60,000 trains in 2016, for instance), leaves the industry wide open for disruption from an innovative idea. This is something that projects like Hyperloop hope to achieve, but with this primarily being US focussed, it leaves the door open for international disruption too.