Publication Detail

Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation


Research Report

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program

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Suggested Citation:
Fulton, Lewis, Jacob Mason, Dominique Meroux (2017) Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-17-03

The world is on the cusp of three revolutions in transportation: vehicle electrification, automation, and widespread shared mobility (sharing of vehicle trips). Separately or together, these revolutions will fundamentally change urban transportation around the world over the next three decades.

Each revolution addresses different societal needs, but can also lead to societal costs:

  • Vehicle electrification can cut vehicle energy use and CO2 emissions. However, for electrification to have maximum benefits, power generation must be strongly shifted away from fossil fuels and deeply decarbonized. In addition, these vehicles will likely remain expensive for at least one more decade.
  • Automation can provide important safety benefits, reduce labor costs, and enable cheaper travel and more productive use of time. However, by lowering the cost of travel in terms of time and money, automation would likely induce more travel and dramatically reduce the number of jobs in transportation.
  • Shared mobility, whether through shared vehicle trips or public transport, can lead to more efficient use of urban space, reduce traffic congestion, enable more walking and cycling, cut energy use and emissions, and generally improve urban livability. However, this would require large increases in load factors (passengers per vehicle trip), and a range of strong policies to achieve.

Together, the positive and negative aspects of each revolution will interact in many complex and difficult-to-predict ways. This report may be the first to attempt to quantify how these major changes could evolve and interact on a global and regional basis out to 2050. It considers possible end states, as well as transitional pathways and policies needed to get there.

Our central finding is that while vehicle electrification and automation may produce potentially important benefits, without a corresponding shift toward shared mobility and greater use of transit and active transport, these two revolutions could significantly increase congestion and urban sprawl, while also increasing the likelihood of missing climate change targets. In contrast, by encouraging a large increase in trip sharing, transit use, and active transport through policies that support compact, mixed use development, cities worldwide could save an estimated $5 trillion annually by 2050 while improving livability and increasing the likelihood of meeting climate change targets.