The Future of Road Transport – What We Will Drive, If We Still Drive at All

road transport
New report by the JRC looks into the future of road transport ©EU2019

The development of new technologies and new business models is transforming not only our vehicles, but everything about how we move, and how we live our lives.

Today, the JRC launches a new report, “The future of road transport – Implications of automated, connected, low-carbon and shared mobility”.

The report shows how massive changes on the horizon such as automation, connectivity, decarbonisation and sharing, represent an opportunity to move towards a transport system that is more efficient, safer, less polluting and more accessible than the current one centred on private car ownership.

According to Biagio Ciuffo, the lead author of the report, “New transport technologies on their own won’t spontaneously make our lives better. Improvements in governance and the development of innovative mobility solutions will be crucial to ensure that the future of transport is cleaner, safer and more equitable than its car-centred present”.

The authors assess current and future trends in the road transport sector and identify two key success factors:

  • Improved governance of the multimodal transport system where the role of all actors is defined and coordinated by accountable public authorities;
  • Establishment of a network of European ‘living labs’ where innovative mobility solutions are introduced and tested with the direct involvement of citizens.

Road transport is here to stay in the EU

Between 1995 and 2015, the total number of passenger kilometres (pkm) in the EU-28 increased by 23.8 % to 6 602 billion. The vast majority of that was covered by passenger cars (around 4 700 billion pkm). It is expected that EU transport activity will continue to grow in the coming decades, with road transport maintaining its dominant role.

The growth in road passenger transport is estimated at 16% during 2010-2030 and at 30% for 2010-2050. Road freight transport is projected to increase by 33% by 2030 and 55% by 2050.

Challenges facing road transport – urbanisation and demography

By 2050, experts project that 84% people in Europe will live in urban areas. People above 60 will make up one third of the population. This will require mobility systems that are inclusive and accessible to everyone.

Challenges we face due to road transport – safety, congestion, health and environment

The century-old car-centred view of personal transport takes a heavy toll on the economy, society and environment. For instance, in 2015, over 1 million road accidents causing personal injuries and 26 000 deaths occurred in the EU.

In some urban areas, such as London, commuters lose up to 100 hours per year in congestion. Productivity losses from road congestion account for 1 % of the EU’s gross domestic product.

Road transport is also a significant and growing contributor to air pollution and climate change, responsible for up to 30 % of small particulate matter emissions in European cities, as well as for over 70% of CO2 emissions in the EU from all modes of transport. Overall, more than half a million premature deaths are estimated yearly in the EU.

Transport technologies alone will not solve those problems

Transport systems are extremely complex and their elements influence each other often in unexpected ways: connected and automated driving is a good example. New technologies on their own may make traffic worse by decreasing costs and increasing demand, while also increasing overall energy use.

Rapid changes in the transport system can have negative effects far beyond transport itself. For example, they influence the demand and supply of workers and skills, the demand for critical raw materials, how our data is treated or who has access to what kind of transport modes. Left unmanaged, such changes may widen the gaps in our societies.

Lack of a predictable long term framework by policy makers may lead to investment decisions based on the fear of missing out on the next innovative idea or the whims of the market, creating a glut of options in one place and a lack of them in others.

Governance systems need to change too

Policymakers, therefore, must improve governance systems and involve citizens in the rollout of innovative mobility solutions. They should establish efficient and equitable governance for complex, multimodal transport systems.

The authors also propose to establish a network of ‘European living labs’ where innovative mobility solutions are tested and rolled out with the direct involvement of citizens.

Biagio Ciuffo explains: “Living labs will allow the potential users test the novelties in real life situations. Their feedback will feed into the final version of mobility solutions that will genuinely serve people’s needs and be aligned with the values and expectations of society. Ideally a network of such labs across Europe would allow exchange of results, for optimising utility and costs of new technologies”.

Commission is already working to address some challenges

The Commission’s objective is to make sure that all citizens can make the most of the benefits of these technologies, for instance in terms of safety and ease of travel. It is equally important to ensure that these technologies can be a driver of growth and job creation for the European economy.

In a series of recent initiatives, announced in the EU strategy for the mobility of the future, the Commission aims to shape the road and mobility systems of the future, boost its competitiveness, strengthen its social fairness and put it firmly in on the path towards zero emissions.