shared, intelligent mobility will transform urban life

23.01.2018 / Geir Vasseljen Mørkrid

A wave of electric, self-driving vehicles is about to change urban life. Here is why digitalisation of transport will affect you, your business and the society in the next few years.

Self-driving cars are about more than a hands-free driving experience. The autonomous era will have a profound impact on the environment, how we design our cities, and it will transform urban life as we know it.

The technological development will not necessarily be for the better.

Autonomous vehicles (AV) could increase urban sprawl and outcompete public transport, causing increased traffic and less productive cities.

A sustainable future for our cities requires policy makers and urban planners to design policies and cities to avoid these pitfalls and to secure the sustainable potential the new technology holds.

Making 9 out of 10 cars redundant

Tesla already has autonomous software in its cars. Uber have introduced a new business model for transport. What happens when you combine autonomous EVs and the sharing economy? We get an electric, on-demand car-sharing service. If we combine new technology with high-capacity public transport, we can remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a medium-sized European city, according to an OECD report.

The Nordics are among 18 European countries getting ready for the autonomous era. In 2018 Oslo will deploy a fleet of 10-50 autonomous minibuses to deliver an on-demand service fully integrated with the rest of the public transport network already this year.

People need smarter mobility to meet their individual needs today and build a sustainable future for tomorrow. They want to move around freely and easily, and be sure they are doing good for the environment around them. We need to make this easy. – Ruter (The Public Transport Authority (PTA) of Oslo and Akershus, Norway)

Road safety

Self-driving trucks, buses and cars are already on the roads across the world. Google’s self-driving fleet of cars has driven 3.5 million miles on real-world roads since 2009. This is in addition to 1 billion miles driven in simulation in 2016 alone. Tesla, GM, Volvo and other automakers are now investing heavily to prepare for the disruptive, autonomous and electric future of the car industry.

Waymo, Google’s company for autonomous cars, states that 94 per cent of US traffic collisions involve human errors. There were 1.2 million traffic-related deaths worldwide  in 2013. This is costing society approximately $1,000 billion per year, according to Waymo’s safety report for 2017. Research shows that technology is a far better driver than humans are. 

Autonomous cars could save thousands of lives annually and save billions of dollars in reduced cost of injuries. Should it even be legal to drive your own car in 2050? 

The self-driving car will take you wherever you need to go. This comfortable and increased access to cars could flood the streets with traffic.
Øystein Berge Senior Specialist, COWI

Urban sprawl or productive cities

Europe is the only region in the world whose total population is projected to shrink by 2050. The “old continent” is also ageing faster than any other region, and the employment-to-population ratio is shrinking. 

We need to increase our productivity growth to keep our economic strength and to  finance the welfare states in the future. Data show that European productivity growth is declining. Cities play a key role in overcoming this challenge. Cities play a key role in overcoming this challenge because cities are more productive than non-city areas. And dense cities are more productive than sprawling cities. 

Transport and land use policies are important tools to increase productivity. Autonomous cars could facilitate denser cities, thus increased productivity.

Comfort, identity and freedom

The story of the personal car is remarkable. The car is part of our identity and, for many, a symbol of freedom. Although car sharing is a rapidly growing trend, most adults still want to own their own car. So how does a future with autonomous cars look like? Let’s look at three scenarios: 

Scenario 1: Individually owned cars

In this scenario, autonomous cars are used in the same way as cars are used today. The scenario may seem similar to today’s situation, but the autonomy will change how we use our cars. Commuting by car will be easier, simply because you will not have to drive yourself. You can work on your way to and from work when using an autonomous car. Cars will also be available for people who cannot drive themselves, such as children and disabled people. 

The result will be an increase in car use. This scenario will make cars more attractive at the expense of other means of transport. It will encourage urban sprawl, since commuting will be less of a burden, and the sprawl will have a negative impact on productivity. Traffic will increase and lead to more pollution and more need for expensive road investments. This scenario will have a negative impact on society.

Scenario 2: Mobility as a Service combined with individually owned cars

In this scenario, we have a combination of individually owned cars and different car sharing services. A market for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) develops, with car manufacturers, taxi companies and tech businesses such as Uber and Google providing a wide range of transport services. 

Price mechanisms will determine the market share of these services. Authorities can facilitate increased car sharing through road taxes and other policies favouring sharing. 

Increase in shared mobility will lead to less traffic, less pollution, less travel time and less need for road investments.

Scenario 3: Ban on individually owned cars

In this scenario, private car ownership is banned. All transport is part of an integrated public transport system that includes all kind of transport modes.

A typical journey will look something like this: the passenger calls for the required transport through an app, and an autonomous car or small bus picks her up. The passenger takes this transport to the nearest underground station, and takes the metro to the nearest station of the destination. If necessary, another autonomous car or bus will take her the last part of the journey. 

This scenario may seem far-fetched. However, it is fascinating to analyse because it contains huge positive impacts on society.

This is a scenario in which individually owned cars do not exist, and all transport is provided by a system that integrates all modes of transport. A typical journey will look something like this: the passenger calls for the required transport through an app, is picked up by an autonomous car or bus, taken to the nearest underground station, takes the underground arriving closest to their destination and, if necessary, is driven by another autonomous car or bus for the last part of the journey.  

The OECD’s International Transport Forum has carried out a study of the potential effects on traffic in Lisbon. The study shows that this scenario we can reduce number of cars by more than 90 per cent without negative impacts for travellers. Other studies from Lisbon and Helsinki have later confirmed the results. 

You get much less traffic, much less pollution, more effective transport and better cities with less space dedicated to roads and more to citizens. The downside is that you have to trade in the freedom of owning your own car.

and it showed that in this scenario you can provide a transport service equal to or better than today’s with less than 5 per cent of the number of cars. The results of this study were later confirmed by other studies in Lisbon and Helsinki. 

So in this scenario you get much less traffic, much less pollution, more effective transport and better cities with less space dedicated to roads and more to citizens. But to get this, you have to trade in the freedom of owning your own car.

What will the future look like?

The first scenario will have negative impact on society. We need to move towards more shared mobility to increase city quality and reduce pollution.

Dense, liveable cities are not compatible with one-person, one-vehicle solutions. With the environmental threats we are facing, business as usual is not an option.

The question should be, how far towards scenario three could we get without challenging citizens’ freedom of choice?

This is not a technical question, but rather a question of politics and our mental addiction to personal cars. The biggest change will perhaps be in the way we think about mobility.


  • Half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities today
  • By 2030, almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas
  • 95 per cent of urban expansion in the next decades will take place in the developing world
  • 828 million people live in slums today and the number keeps rising
  • The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions
  • Rapid urbanisation is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment and public health
  • But the high density of cities can bring efficiency gains and technological innovation while reducing resource and energy consumption

Source: UN Sustainable development goals / No. 11 Sustainable cities and communities


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Geir Vasseljen Mørkrid

Geir Vasseljen Mørkrid
Head of Section
Roads and Transport Planning, Norway