Transportation’s Third Wave

Amazon.com delivered a package to a commercial customer in England via drone on December 7th.  It was the first such delivery in history.   It was only reported yesterday.  According to the BBC, the package arrived 13 minutes after the order was placed.  The customer was apparently pleased.

Welcome to the future…a future of drones and autonomous vehicles.  Transportation is undergoing a third wave.   We’ve gone from horse and buggy to automobile and now we’re going to something else.  As is often the case with systemic change, most people don’t yet realize just how dramatic it is, but they will.

Drone delivery, Canada.  By Tdb2016 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Drone delivery, Canada. By Tdb2016 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing in life is static and transportation is no exception.  Throughout history, people have moved about in different manners.  For the last 100 years or so, we’ve used automobiles and trucks.  Our built landscape reflects this and not in a good way.  We have big box stores on the edge of town because cars make it easy to get to those stores.  They’re surrounded by acres of parking because the merchants need a place to store their customer’s cars while they shop.  We haven’t made good land use decisions because we haven’t had to.  Now we do.  Things change.

I understand that lots of people don’t like change but in the end it doesn’t matter.  Change inevitably happens when change is needed.  The world is getting more crowded and resources are getting harder to extract without negatively impacting people.  We no longer can afford to waste millions of acres of land for the express purpose of parking cars…land that could be better used in other ways.

The implications for cycling are staggering.  Imagine not having to make grocery runs.  The day is soon coming where you’ll do all of your shopping on a screen and whatever you buy will magically appear wherever you ask the delivery drone to drop it.  In that world, there’s no need for a big SUV to haul all that stuff home.  There will be less need for delivery trucks as well.   Many retail outlets will cease to exist.  Goods will fly from centralized warehouses directly to you.  Because redundant steps in the supply chain will be eliminated, you’ll get fresher products more quickly.   Need to return something?  Use an app to dial up a drone.  It doesn’t get easier than that.

It won’t stop there.  More of us will discover that we can use bicycles for a greater percentage of total trips and, as a result, many of us will choose to abandon car ownership altogether and pocket the savings.  At first we might use car share services like Uber or Lyft for those occasional  trips.  Those firms are innovating, too.  “Self-driving” cars will be the norm.  These cars can move in closer proximity to one another than human controlled cars.  We will be able to dramatically increase the carrying capacity of existing roads, freeing up trillions of dollars of resources to use on other more pressing needs.  These vehicles won’t operate under the influence.  They won’t hate bicyclists because we’re in the way and slowing them down.  Think about that for a minute.

Eventually, we will begin to view automobiles not as something we own, but rather something we dial up as we need them.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen more quickly than any of us can imagine.

Here’s a neat exercise anyone who reads this blog should try.  Set up a spreadsheet and track how you move for a month.  How many car trips do you take?  How many are to a place of work?  How many are grocery runs?  How many are really necessary?  How many could be replaced with a bicycle?

I’ve been tracking this for a year now and what I’ve discovered is that I am probably already at the point where I no longer need a car.  If you had asked me if I could do this as recently as two years ago, I would have laughed.  Now I’m just grinning.   My wife and I share one car between us now.  It has put close to $10,000 additional dollars in our pocket this year.  That’s significant.  We’re one small step away from saving another $10,000.

I no longer worry about gas prices.  In fact, I wish they’d go up.  I wish they’d go up big time because when they do (and they will) millions of my friends and neighbors are going to come to the same conclusion I have…that there is a better way to move around the planet than in a 4,000 pound plastic and aluminum pod.  That better way is a bicycle.

I sometimes have moments of clarity in my life…not often, but sometimes.  This is one of those times.  For whatever reason, this is all very clear to me.   It makes sense.  It’s not pie in the sky and it’s not someday.  It’s happening right now and it’s very good news for those of us who prefer to cycle to wherever it is we have to go.  Things are only going to get better for us.  We live in amazing times.

 

 

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