Without a doubt, transportation and technology are inextricably linked. When Henry Ford introduced his Model T and revolutionized modern manufacturing, he made automobiles more affordable for the average American and opened up new possibilities in transportation. Then, no longer restricted to public transit or walking, many families were able to move to suburbs. But the mass production of automobiles did more than just change how people travel. It opened up new business opportunities and irreversibly altered urban form with highways and sprawling suburbs.
Today we are on the verge of yet another massive shift in transportation. Like Ford’s introduction of the Model T, technological changes in transportation are beginning to create new business opportunities and alterations to the urban form. Let’s look at how transportation is changing and where new business opportunities will likely arise in the future.
The Clean Revolution
The first major shift in transportation has been brought about by a need to protect the environment. Aggregate emissions from personal vehicles are at an all-time high and linked to rising greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and climate change. Already, emission standards have been imposed on cars to lower their impacts on the environment, but many experts suggest that personal transportation needs a complete overhaul.
While the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EV) was relegated to science fiction years ago, EV technology has vastly improved and most major automakers now have at least one EV model on the market. And while EVs are still a small percentage of all vehicles on the road, their numbers have been growing every year.
Linked to concerns over the environment is the idea of “flexible transportation.” Whereas 30 years ago, many middle class Americans preferred to travel by car, they’re now shifting towards a variety of transportation options. Increasing numbers of people are choosing to live in “new urban” communities that promote walking, biking, and alternative transit forms. Many of these communities feature higher densities, mixed uses, and closer proximity to the city core. Additionally, many of these communities are tapping into the emerging EV market by installing EV charging stations.
Decentralization of EV Charging Infrastructure
New forms of transportation, particularly in the EV economy, have opened up new market opportunities due to the decentralization of charging infrastructure. Unlike gas stations, which require large amounts of capital for construction, electric vehicle charging infrastructure is relatively inexpensive. Most areas can tap into the electricity grid easily, and installing charging stations requires a comparatively small investment of capital, time, and space.
As a result, the deployment of EV charging infrastructure has become decentralized, and any business or retailer can become involved. In fact, many charging stations have already popped up in such places as sports stadiums, office buildings, parkades, airports, and residential communities. Leading companies such as Ikea and Walgreens have even started installing EV charging stations at many of their stores. Clearly these shifts in transportation are presenting new economic opportunities for businesses looking to capitalize on the emerging EV market and sustainability.
Changes in transportation have wide-reaching implications for personal choices, individual values, environmental sustainability, and urban form. And although environmentalists would claim that transportation needs to change to promote sustainability, in the end, it will be the economics that will make the most sense. As electric vehicles become cheaper, they will soon replace the gas-guzzling automobiles of the 20th century. In turn, new business opportunities will emerge to tap into this new economy, thus heralding the dawn of a new transportation era.
Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.