The majority of people in the 1920s thought cars were a passing fad. So perhaps it’s surprising that today we think cars will be here forever. They will not and what replaces them will have a huge impact on where you want to live and where you should invest. Transportation Expert, Carlton Reid, joins Adam & Matt to talk about the pending revolution and what that means for urban mobility and cities like Vancouver. What replaces the car? How will cities change? And how should this impact your investment decisions? The pace and scope of this revolution might surprise you… and it may even be televised depending if TV’s are still a thing. TBD.
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Who is Carlton Reid?
I’m a journalist and author, and a historian. I’ve been doing this for at least 32 years. I started in the bicycle world and have stuck there as much as I can because I like bicycles. For Forbes, I will do other forms of transportation, but not long-form. I do urban transportation – things like e-scooters. Intra-city transport, and doing that by ways other than cars, is becoming more and more important.
Have cities like Vancouver seen big changes in the way people use transportation in the last 30 years?
The dominant mode of transportation almost everywhere, certainly in North America, is the motorcar. That hasn’t changed a huge amount in the past 30 years. Yet, at the same time, it’s changed completely. I’m doing stories on Paris all the time and Paris is rapidly transforming itself. Paris, under the current mayor, Hidalgo, is changing. What she’s doing is what many mayors have to grapple with: there’s too many people in cities who need to get around and if you do it in cars, no one can get anywhere. So you need an intra-city solution to transportation.
The politics of transportation changes are challenging in Vancouver. Does Anne Hidalgo have support for her transportation plans in Paris?
She’s a socialist so she has that going for her. The mayors in European cities tend to have jurisdiction almost completely over transport. They can make a difference. If they have a four year term, they can make some big changes. Hidalgo made some big changes in her first four years and is now doing that again in her second term. She’s just announced the fulfillment of her promise to remove half of the surface parking spaces in Paris. That does lead to some political friction, but she then points out that only 13% of Parisians have cars. So why should they get half of the space in the city? In those terms, it makes perfect sense.
You talk about the automobile as the dominant mode of transport and an important part of the history of the 20th century. How can understanding the history of the car help guide our changing transportation path moving forward?
The majority of people in the 1920s didn’t want their cities to be overtaken by cars. But over the years, not overnight, motor industries grew. There was a lot of expensive, behind the scenes lobbying – some of it quite dodgy. After people accepted cars in cities, the hegemony of cars began. But people forget that there were massive protests over cars. People did not welcome cars at first.
The motorcar seems so dominant now. Just like how trains seemed so dominant at one point, and canals at one point before then. So there’s no reason why motorcars need to be dominant in cities forever. Modes of transport change.
What will replace the car?
Historically, the people who championed motoring had no idea the thing they were creating would get so big. So we probably have no idea what the next big mode of transport will be right now. It probably won’t be driverless cars. That’s not revolutionary technology; that’s a taxi. Nobody knows what it will be but ask me again in 30 years’ time. History won’t tell us what it will be. Over a 20-30 year stretch, something will completely change the world of transport.
Is multi-modal transportation the future of transportation?
That’s a safe bet. You need to have lots of forms of transport available, including great public transit. That’s what moves a lot of people quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, public transit has been hurt by the pandemic. But in general, it’s on the up pretty much everywhere. So we could see swifter and cleverer forms of transit. We might see individualized transport, like bicycles and micro cars. But big behemoth vehicles have no place in the city.
How has coronavirus impacted transportation?
Clean air has been a big positive! Getting around on your own two feet or by bike, and not being stuck in traffic jams are things that opened people’s eyes. People saw that there was a different way of doing things. We don’t have to have polluted air and congestion. We can get the noise out of cities. We may relapse into our bad old ways. But so many people have seen how we could live. The leaders of the future who are living through this have learned something.
Are there a lot of cars in Vancouver?
You do live in a fantastic place in Vancouver. If you want to keep it that way and not build any more major roads, you need things like public transit. You don’t have to go the Los Angeles route. You have a lot going for you.
What transportation predictions did World Economic Forum make recently?
They asked 346 global experts to think about the future. Experts do get things wrong, like the people in the 1890s who didn’t guess the car. However, it’s likely that these experts are on the right track because we can see the beginnings of what they’re saying on the ground now. The majority of these experts think bicycles and buses are the future. That’s an interesting majority opinion.
How will technology change transportation?
Buses and bicycles are nothing new. Of course, you’ll have faster and better versions, like e-bikes. You can make transit greener and contactless. But in essence, they’re 19th century technology. So we haven’t had anything radical in our streets in 140 years. But you can always improve the types of transport you do have. So it’s old technology, but being improved all the time.
I’m doing a downer on cars, despite owning one, because they are an inefficient way to get around a city. Buses and bicycles are incredibly efficient ways to get around a city. So if you want people to get around, you need to choose the most efficient methods.
Are you optimistic about the future of transportation? What are the challenges to moving away from the car?
It always comes back to climate change. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future unless we make some major changes. If we can make some radical changes to transport, and other sectors, I’ll become an optimist. I have to see how it plays out. There are encouraging signs but the next 10 years will determine it. But I’m naturally an optimist, so I’ll say yes, things look good because we’ll all be on bicycles. I won’t force it on anyone, but give it a try! If you don’t want to sweat or if you need to carry something, try an e-bike!