Publication Detail

Three Revolutions in Transportation


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel and Austin Brown (2018) Three Revolutions in Transportation. EM Magazine July 2018

We love cars. Or at least we love the freedom, flexibility, convenience, and comfort they offer. Cars provide great benefits, which is why they are popular. But they also impose huge costs on society in the forms of pollution, congestion, safety risks, and infrastructure construction and maintenance. Our transportation problems are exacerbated by the fact that the United States has fallen behind much of the rest of the world in providing affordable, fast, and reliable public transportation, resulting in more traffic congestion and disadvantaging those unable to buy and drive cars.

These downsides have long been acknowledged but not vigorously addressed because there were so few solutions. Now new services and technologies are at hand, with the potential to disrupt the status quo. The signs are all around us: Zipcar, Lyft, Uber, microtransit companies like Chariot and Via, dockless bikes and scooters, plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) from almost every major automaker, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and partially automated cars. Taken together, these innovations represent the “3 Revolutions” of electric, pooled, and automated vehicles.

The 3 Revolutions can support a radically improved transportation system for all—if we play our cards right. Electrification, pooling, and automation are progressing in distinct ways. But they are linked in that they offer profound opportunities for positive change, as well as a risk of unintended consequences. Understanding how the 3 Revolutions are unfolding provides the insight needed to ensure that we realize the positive outcomes while avoiding undesired consequences.