This September, 50 London streets go car free — but only for a day. Does the city have a future in which there are no cars at all? Johan Herrlin, CEO at transit data experts ITO World, shares his thoughts.
Is a 'car-free' day a token gesture, or an important step?
I believe that the biggest benefit of a car-free day is education. It highlights the need to take action and push for a future where cities allocate less space to single-occupancy privately owned vehicles and allocate more space to shared transportation services. It’s important that the public engages in the discussion to build support and allow for many voices to be heard. It's rare to find people who disagree with the statement that we should reduce pollution and congestion in London, but there's not a consensus on how to achieve those goals.
Can London go car-free?
This is akin to asking if the world will ever run out of oil. There will come a time when privately owned combustion engine cars will no longer make economic sense, at which point they will become a rarity. This movement towards connected, shared, autonomous, and electric vehicles will ultimately lead to these changes. In the meantime, anything that can help discourage the use of single-occupancy vehicles and encourage shared transportation services (public transit, bike share, scooter share, demand-responsive transit, ride hailing) will help reduce both congestion and pollution.
How do we make Londoners less dependent on cars?
Compared to many cities around the world, London has good public transport options but, at the same time, it still suffers from some of the worst congestion in the world. We are at the beginning of a revolution in transportation, driven by data and technology. The past decade has seen the building blocks for this, such as the popularity of bike/scooter sharing, ride hailing, availability of data powered public transit journey planning apps, such as Google Maps.
The first time I moved to London was in 1980. I did not dare to use bus system at that time because it was too intimidating to figure out. Instead, my default option was to use the tube — where I only had one map to learn how to read. When I moved back to London in 2016, much had changed. I could now use data powered apps, such as Google Maps and Apple Maps that would guide me through the use of various options, including buses. This made it much easier for me to use the service with the confidence that I would get to my destination without having to know much about the bus system.
The first time I moved to London was in 1980. I did not dare to use bus system at that time because it was too intimidating to figure out. When I moved back in 2016, much had changed.
It’s well to remember, however, that today there are many more options at my disposal and the market has become very fragmented. In order to discover all the available services, I currently need many apps. There are multiple bike sharing schemes, multiple demand-responsive van options (Ford Chariot, ViaVan, Smartbus, etc) on top of the ride-hailing and public transit options.
The availability of multiple options has given rise to the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). MaaS describes the concept of moving away from privately owned vehicles to consuming transportation as a service, facilitated by an app experience that allows for the discovery, planning, booking, and payment for all available transport options. In order for these multi-modal journeys to work, however, there must be high-quality, consistent data about each of these transport options.
It's unlikely that London will be completely car-free, but we can foresee a future where privately owned, single-person occupied vehicles will become a rare occurrence. This change will be driven by shared, multi-modal, and autonomous vehicles that will reduce the need for privately owned cars, car parking, etc.