Parking space shortages and traffic jams take up time, cost money, and damage the environment. More than half the world’s population now lives in cities and an additional 25 percent commute to work from suburbs. In other words, modern life is highly dependent on transportation infrastructures. According to the most recent mobility study by McKinsey, a total of €6.4 trillion – or nearly €1,000 per person on Earth – was spent on transporting people and goods in 2010. The Frost & Sullivan consulting firm estimates that the economic cost of traffic jams annual in Germany alone totaled €17 billion. So, are we headed for global gridlock? We might be if current trends continue, as the Earth’s population is expected to increase to roughly 9.5 billion by 2050, and more than 6.5 billion of these people will be living in urban areas, as opposed to 3.5 billion today.
Facts and Forecasts: Where Mobility is Going
The Earth’s population is expected to increase to roughly 9.5 billion by 2050. To accommodate so many people, transport infrastructures will have to be steadily improved.
Explosive Growth in Transport Volume
Not only are more and more people living in cities; they’re also becoming more mobile. They travel on business, commute to work, and go on vacation. Europeans clocked up about 5.6 trillion kilometers in cars, buses, trains, airplanes, and ships in 2010. Private transport volume in the EU has increased by one third since 1990, and the European Commission predicts it will rise by another 29 percent between now and 2030. Americans are the most mobile people; they travel 25,000 kilometers a year on average.
Increasing mobility is also impacting the flow of goods – clothing from Asia, cars from Germany, and fruits from South America travel the world. There are virtually no limits to global trade today. According to the Swiss consulting company Progtrans, freight transport volume in Germany alone will rise by 116 percent by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels. This will lead to an increase in annual CO2 emissions from road freight transport from about 40 million tons in 2013 to 100 million tons in 2050 unless major technological changes are implemented.
Switching from Cars to Public Transit
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), global freight transport will expand at an annual rate of 2.5 percent between now and 2030, while private transport will increase by 1.6 percent each year. All of this will occur despite the growing share of older people in society because more of them will remain in the workforce for a longer period of time. Retired seniors today are also more mobile and active than their counterparts were just a few years ago, according to the Institute for Mobility Research in Berlin (IFMO).
The average German spends 95 minutes a day to get from point A to point B; 50 minutes of which is spent in cars. The IFMO also concludes that cars will remain the dominant mode of transport in 2030, and that China will make a great effort to catch up in this area. Three years ago there were 47 cars for every 1,000 Chinese citizens; in 20 years there will be 270. In the meantime, the automotive industry is now on the verge of the biggest transformation in its history, as rising oil prices, stringent CO2 emission standards, environmental zones, emission-related bans on driving, urban congestion tolls, and carsharing are changing traditional attitudes toward automobiles. IFMO also reports that automobiles are losing their appeal for young people aged 18 to 30 especially.
Many people in this group (and others) are switching to public transport. The International Association of Public Transport predicts that the share of personal mobility accounted for by public transport worldwide will double by 2025 as compared to 2009.
The Oliver Wyman consulting firm conducted a survey in which it asked 3,000 people in Germany, France, the UK, Shanghai, and Singapore how their mobility patterns might change under certain conditions. When presented with a scenario of a gasoline price of €2.50 per liter and improved public transport networks, 40 percent said they would switch to the latter. That number rose to 77 percent for a scenario of €4 per liter and the introduction of highway tolls and city congestion charges. Students were the group most willing to switch from cars to public transit (86 percent).
Rather Rent than Buy
Smartphones are more important to young people than having their own cars. They enable short-term car rentals (mobility on demand) and the flexible use of public transport, which correspond more closely to the younger generation’s needs. Carsharing systems now operate in 1,100 cities in 26 countries on five continents. As Frost & Sullivan reports, there were around three million carsharing users and 70,000 vehicles in 2013; these numbers will increase to up to 26.2 million users in 2020. Today, over 2.5 percent of urban residents in Germany use a carsharing service; according to the McKinsey study, that number could increase to one third in nine years. BMW and Mercedes report a steady increase in users of their “drive now” and “car2go” carsharing fleets.
The integration of electric vehicles could make carsharing one of the most important sustainable mobility solutions in the future. Streetcars, subways, and commuter and long-distance rail systems are also being expanded. For example, China plans to expand its rail network from the current 86,000 km to 120,000 km by 2020. The fastest-growing markets for freight and urban rail transport are the Middle East, Latin America, Russia, and the other CIS republics. Rapid growth in emerging markets in Asia and South America will also lead to expansion of maritime trade, and this will have a big effect on pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Green Shipping study conducted by HypoVereinsbank, commercial maritime shipping already accounts for four to five percent of global CO2 emissions.
Four Billion People Flying by 2020
Ship transport volume will increase by 60 percent by 2020 and CO2 emissions will rise by as much as 72 percent, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Similar developments can be expected in the air, as a plane lands once every second somewhere in the world. Airbus predicts that the number of aircraft worldwide could double again in the next 19 years. The German aviation industry estimates that airplanes will transport four billion people in 2020. Just a single long-distance flight can produce the same CO2 emissions as one year of driving, so planes, their propulsion systems, and airline and air traffic operations will have to be improved.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) plans to enable CO2-neutral growth in air traffic beginning in 2020 and to cut emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2050. Transport already accounts for 22 percent of global CO2 emissions; that makes it the second-biggest source. Cars, trucks, ships, and planes spew eight metric gigatons of CO2 into the air every year, whereby the U.S. is the biggest polluter (two metric gigatons). Nearly 75 percent of these emissions are produced by road traffic; the other 25 percent come from trains, planes, and ships. Road traffic generates around 20 percent of total CO2 emissions in the European Union – and these emissions increased by nearly 23 percent between 1990 and 2010. Moreover, the number of vehicle owners worldwide could triple by 2050, the volume of truck transports could double, and air traffic volume could quadruple. Given these scenarios, the International Energy Agency believes that CO2 emissions might increase by nearly 50 percent to 14.9 metric gigatons by 2050. The development of low-emission engines and highly efficient and networked transport solutions is therefore critical for ensuring a sustainable future.