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How Will Electric Cars, Car Sharing, and Autonomous Cars Affect Cities Tomorrow?

The US has 10 cities with a population of 1,000,000 or more. China has over 100. The percentage of the world’s population living in cities will grow from 54% today to 66% by the year 2050 according to the United Nations. A new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and consulting firm McKinsey & Company looks at 50 world cities and tries to predict how the switch to electric cars, use of car sharing services, and the arrival of driverless vehicles will impact the quality of life in urban areas in the future.

“Vehicles and the way they are used will change more in the next two decades than they have in the last 100 years,” says Colin McKerracher, BNEF’s head of advanced transport in London. “There’s a lot of room for [technology] to significantly benefit people moving around in cities, in terms of costs, environmental impacts and ease of transport,” he adds. “But there are some pitfalls if we don’t get it right.”

One of those pitfalls is cities drowning in a sea of humanity where getting anywhere is next to impossible. Take London, for example. When horse drawn carriages were the primary mode of transportation, the average speed of traffic within the city was 3.5 mph. Today, with all the Big Red Buses, taxis, delivery vans, and cars on London’s streets, the average speed of traffic within the city is the same 3.5 mph.

The Bloomberg report finds that the convergence of electric cars, car sharing apps, and autonomous driving technology can make cities of the future places that are clear of congestion and smog. Large cities in emerging economies will see a rise in car sharing services, such as Zipcar or car2go, the BNEF report found. In cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Mexico City, shared vehicles could account for nearly half of all passenger miles traveled as soon as 15 years from now.

In high income cities like London and Singapore, private car ownership will grow but most of those cars will be electric. EVs are expected to represent as much as 60% of all cars on the road by 2030, thanks to policies that require or provide incentives for the purchase of zero emissions vehicles. In areas where people live in suburbs and commute to work, self driving cars are expected to become the norm.

Electric cars, car sharing, and driverless cars should permit cities to grow while reducing the total number of cars on the road and reducing the carbon emissions from their transportation fleet. One area the BNEF report did not address is the need transition to zero emissions sources for electrical energy in the future. Electric cars are not the panacea everyone expects them to be if the source of the electricity to keep them charged up is not as green as possible.

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