How moving in cities has changed over the last decade

December 23, 2019

Bolt_decade in urban transportation

Can you imagine a world where, instead of your regular commute to work, you’d need to mount a horse and get going a few hours earlier to make it on time? 

Sure, the revolution of motorised vehicles started already in the 19th Century and we’re far from the Bonanza ages now, but the last decade has had some impact on the way we move around on a daily basis. Take ride-hailing, for example. When 20 years ago you stood on a street with your hand up to hail a ride, now it’s a question of tapping a button on your smartphone screen.

The ride-hailing revolution took place about ten years ago. Today, North America is the highest contributor to the global market of ride-hailing, followed by Asia-Pacific. In 2017, the global ride-hailing service market was valued at $36,450.0 million. It is projected to increase to $126,521.2 million by 2025, registering a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 16.5% from 2018 to 2025.

Ride-hailing aside, how has the way we move around changed over the last decade?

Do we buy more cars now than in 2009?

Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed a pretty steady increase in global car sales. However, this trend has shown signs of slowing and even reversing over the last couple of years, as shown in the chart below.

Bolt_number of cars sold

Number of cars sold worldwide from 1990 to 2019 (in million units)
Source: Statista

International car sales were previously projected to hit 80 million in 2019; however, due to the global economic slow-down, demand for new motor vehicles is shrinking. The increase in use of public transport, taxis and ride-hailing apps — whose user-base has grown exponentially in recent years.

Bolt_projected ride hailing users

Projected ride-hailing users 2017-2023 — (in million units)
Source: Statista

The number of ride-hailing users is expected to amount hit 1.5B by 2023.

Yet, there are clearly regional disparities that come with this data. On one hand, we have cities full of cars that spend most of their time staying put. On the other hand, there are many people who are still unable to reach jobs, education and healthcare services due to inadequate transportation infrastructure.

In Africa, an estimated 450 million people — that’s more than 70% of the region’s rural population — lack sufficient access to transport.

At the moment, cars spend around 95% of the time parked, and only 5% of the time in use. Take a guess at just how much space that takes up in Berlin, Moscow, Johannesburg or 20 other cities. You can find the answer from the What The Street!? project. Spoiler alert: it’s way too much.

So, how much time do we spend in traffic?

While millions of people don’t have access to basic transportation, global traffic congestion has increased in the last decade. According to the TomTom Traffic Index, the most congested cities are Mumbai in India, with 65% extra time spent in traffic by its drivers, closely followed by Bogota in Colombia (63%), Lima in Peru (58%), New Delhi in India (58%) and Moscow in Russia (56%). How much time do we spend sitting in traffic? In 2018, on average, you could have finished one audiobook each week, and you can blame it all on something called ‘induced demand’ – the theory that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion.

Bolt_congested cities

The most congested cities globally
Source: The TomTom Traffic Index

Do people commute more now than in 2009?

According to the UK’s National Travel Survey (NTS), we use the same means of transport as we did 10 years ago. So, has anything really changed?

Let’s take a look at some urban travel statistics from the UK in 2018:

  • On average, people made 986 trips, in total — or 19 trips per week.
  • People travelled an average of 6,530 miles (10,509 km).
  • On average, people spent over an hour a day travelling, including 36 minutes by car (as a driver or passenger), 12 minutes walking, 12 minutes on public transport and 2 minutes using other modes of private transport.

Source: National Travel Survey 

Comparing these numbers to those from 10 years ago, the number of journeys done and the time it took to make them is more or less on the same level, yet the distance travelled during these journeys has dropped.

One of the many reasons is the impact of new technologies influencing the demand for travel. For example, the increased usage of social networking and remote work, online shopping and app-based food delivery. Do you go to drive to the shops and cook dinner, or simply order in? There’s no doubt that an increase in the popularity of ride-hailing has also played a part by making urban transportation easily accessible and affordable.

Will we run out of fossil fuels soon?

Urban transportation is either directly or indirectly powered by fossil fuels a finite resource that’s already diminishing, resulting in increased costs.

Bolt_global fossil fuel consumption

Fuel consumption in the transportation sector
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

As you can see, the last decade hasn’t shown a slow-down in the use of fossil fuels. Our rate of fossil fuel consumption is ever-increasing at an incredible pace.

What about switching to renewables?

In his 2019 book, ‘Sustainable Design and Build’, Md. Faruque Hossain proposed a strategy for the transportation sector to replace oil and keep biomass consumption at a low level. His idea centred on the following:

  1. Focus on maximising the usage of electricity;
  2. Where liquid fuels are needed in some cars, vans, trucks, and aviation, priority should be given to DME/methanol.

But, is 100% renewable-energy fuelled transportation even achievable? According to the scientific work of Antonio García-Olivares, it’s feasible, but not necessarily compatible with the indefinite increase of resource consumption.

Sure, year by year, we move towards using greener vehicles and opt for more renewable sources of energy. But still, the transport sector continues to be dominated by oil.

In a scenario proposed by BP, the share of oil within transport will decline to around 85% by 2040, down from 94% currently. Natural gas, electricity and biofuels together account for more than half of the increase in energy used in transport, with each providing around 5% of transport demand by 2040.

How long will it be before we run out of fossil fuels?

Based on BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2016, we have about 115 years of coal production and roughly 50 years of both oil and natural gas remaining.

Whilst running out of reserves could become a pressing issue 50-100 years from now, there is another incredibly important reason to limit our fossil fuel production: climate change.

The global consumption of fossil energy has risen alongside the technological and economic development. In terms of our technological development, the rise in consumption of fossil fuels following the Industrial Revolution has given us a great deal to be thankful for, but as the last years have shown, it’s time to start thinking about the other side of the coin as well.

How much carbon dioxide emissions does the transportation sector create?

Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time, building up an atmospheric stock that leads to rising temperatures. Globally rising temperatures is a key symptom of an unhealthy planet, and one that is headed straight for a climate crisis.

Bolt_rising carbon dioxide levels

Rising CO2 levels, globally
Source: NASA

The transport sector contributes 23% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and 18% of all man-made emissions. Global transport emissions grew at an average annual rate of 1,6% in the last decade, and up to now remains among the fastest growing contributors to global CO2 emissions.

How can we change that?

Well, first, there are the things we all can do. Active transport modes, including walking, cycling and other small-wheel modes can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as air and noise pollution — especially in urban areas.

But looking at the wider picture, there are two main obstacles to the successful transition to renewable energy in the transport sector. First, the obvious easily accessible source of energy, biomass, is quite limited, and second, the demand for transportation is increasing.

Still, our hands are not completely tied on reducing the effect of fossil fuels on our planet. Fortunately, there is something we can do.

How to be more green?

This September, we announced our Green Plan, a commitment for Bolt to become a greener company by supporting multiple carbon offsetting projects around the globe. Carbon offsetting isn’t a magic solution, but it can help us reduce the impact that burning fossil fuels has on our environment.

We must take responsibility for our actions and doing everything we can to protect forests, plant trees and switch to renewable energies is a must if we wish to live sustainably on this planet for a longer period of time.

What about electric cars?

We have no option but to move toward a more sustainable future, so the number of electric vehicles used on a daily basis should continue to increase.

Bolt_global EV sales

Global sales of electric vehicles
Source: IEA

This should be especially true in cities, where the importance of micro-mobility is already on the rise. But, looking at the speed that the tech world has evolved over the last decade, we’re likely to see even a faster change over the next 10 years.

But when you think about an electric car, how come it’s always a Tesla that immediately comes to mind instead of, let’s say, a Chevrolet? The Volta and Roadster weren’t launched that far apart from one another, but only one of them became a global phenomenon. Why?

Because Tesla made electric cars sexy.

When today the sales of electric cars make up only around 6% of total global car sales, by 2040, 54% of all cars sold globally will be electric. Sure enough, it’s not all on Elon, but he can certainly take a lot of credit for it. If it wasn’t for his ambition, there’s a good chance that the industry wouldn’t be where it is right now. We’ve gotten a glimpse of how the future might look and, because of that, we expect more from everyone.

So, is it all about marketing? Well, it certainly plays its part, especially when cars are quite literally launched… into space! But, it’s safe to say that Elon and his team have been bold enough to bring to life ideas that others follow.

Will we drive cars or will cars drive us?

Much like stirring up the pot with their electric cars, Tesla has become the one everyone looks up to when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

It was in 2015 when the first autopilot-enabled Tesla hit the market. From that point onward, any average Joe would be able to get his hands on a car that “would do all of the work” for him.

Of course, it was far from able to actually drive on its own. Instead, it offered a way of helping drivers stay in their lane and manage their speed and distance from others, which was enough to make other players in the industry sit up and take notice. This initial launch pushed them to send out PR messages about their future plans and make the necessary investments to be able to launch their own autonomous cars.

The money going into the autonomous vehicle industry has now reached over $100 billion, with market leader, Volkswagen, investing more than half of this alone.

Bolt_investments in driverless tech

Investments in driverless technology
Source: Leasing Options

Who will win the race? Leasing Options predicts Waymo to get the olive branch, with General Motors and Apple tight behind them. When will the winner be crowned? Waymo itself avoids making projections about when driverless cars will be able to take over our streets, but experts predict it’s going to take at least another decade.

But why aren’t we there yet? Well, we may have been too optimistic at first – the task of making cars drive themselves was a little more complex than first predicted. If a Level 1 autonomous car has driver’s assistance and a Level 5 one is completely capable of driving itself, we’re currently somewhere between Level 2 and 3. There’s a long way to go.

This year, we’ve also started exploring the world of self-driving cars, in partnership with the University of Tartu. When will the first Level 4 be integrated into the Bolt app? Hopefully at some point during the next decade.

Solving the last mile problem

But what about the micro-mobility solutions created to cover the last mile? For all the enthusiasm surrounding electric and self-driving cars, electric scooters and shared bicycles may, in fact, be a much more powerful and immediate tool for cutting down on emissions and transforming our urban and suburban communities.

Bolt_the efficiency of micromobility

The efficiency of micro-mobility
Source: Wired

Sure we have a long way to go, but as long as policy makers see challenges as conversation points instead of obstacles, we may see cities full of two-wheeled scooters, instead of four-wheeled steel boxes sooner rather than later. The spread of micro-mobility is inevitable – it’s already happening. The market for these last-mile short trips is big and it will only increase hand in hand with urbanisation. United Nations stated in their 2014 report that 54% of the world’s population already lives in urban areas and by 2050 that number is expected to rise to a whopping 66%. With that, the need for more efficient ways to move around in cities will skyrocket.

A bit of math to illustrate the performance power of micro-mobility: one kilowatt hour of energy can get a petrol powered car to travel 0.8 miles (1.3 km). An electric car can travel 4.1 miles (6.6 km) under the same conditions. For an electric scooter, the same amount of energy = 82.8 miles (133 km) worth of rolling around.

So, the real question isn’t whether micromobility will take over in the near future, instead we need to think about how to stay healthy with all of those possibilities around us — will future generations walk at all, or will they have wheels glued to their feet for even the shortest of distances?

What will the future of urban transportation be like?

Imagine urban transportation by the end of 2029. What do you see? Flying cars? All-electric vehicles? The Hyperloop? Drones delivering your Bolt Food order? Self-driving cars everywhere? Cities filled with e-bikes?

Well, you might not be far off…

Small package delivery by drones has already been tested and done. Autonomous robots from Starship Technologies, capable of handling local package and even milk deliveries direct to consumer doorsteps, are now roaming the streets. Opening your front door and finding a friend of R2-D2 staring up at you is an actual thing and no longer just something from a galaxy far, far away.

Thanks to the rising popularity of on-demand services, ride-hailing has now become a normality. In 10 years, apps like Bolt will most probably be part of a holistic smart-city system, offering you the best means of moving around a city quickly and affordably.

Everyone’s heard of Maglev trains for longer city trips. But what’s next? With big players like SpaceX and Virgin both testing ways to transport people in vacuum tubes, Hyperloop may very well be a reality in 10 years. If that’s the case, we’ll go from trains clocked at 375 mph to pods travelling at double the speed. Futurama, anyone?

If tunnels don’t excite you, then perhaps a Fifth Element style air taxi will? Currently, moving from one helipad to another is something reserved for the super-rich. But, consumer versions of such technology may not be far away. Who knows, this time next decade our urban-transport review article may describe how we now cross cities through the clouds!

But before hopping into a futuristic pod and moving through your home town in only a few seconds, you can visit Aunt Martha with Bolt. Download the app, request a ride and you’ll be on your way in no time!

download the bolt app


Recent posts