Without a doubt, transportation and technology are inextricably linked. When Henry Ford revolutionized car manufacturing by mass producing his Model T, he made automobiles more affordable for the average person and opened up new possibilities in personal transportation. This is turn led many Americans to move to the suburbs as they were no longer restricted to public transit or walking to get places.
But the mass production of automobiles didn’t just affect peoples’ transportation choices. It opened up new business opportunities (e.g. gas stations) and irreversibly altered urban form with highways and sprawling suburbs. Many people began to value single family homes in residential communities far removed from the downtown core.
Today we are on the verge of yet another massive shift in transportation. Like Ford’s Model T, technological changes in transportation could bring about new business opportunities and alterations to the urban form – indeed many of these shifts are already taking place.
This article will 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 suggest that personal transportation needs a complete overhaul.
Although the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EV) was relegated to the minds of science fiction writers 20 years, EV technology has vastly improved and most major automakers now have an EV on the market. Although 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 middle class Americans would prefer go places by car, nowadays many people value having a variety of transportation options at their disposal.
Increasing numbers of people are choosing to live in “new urban” communities that promote walking, biking, and alternative transit forms. These communities are designed to link people to various forms of transportation, so that they do not need to rely solely on their personal vehicle.
Common features of these communities are 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
Finally, 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, the necessary infrastructure for charging up EVs is relatively inexpensive. Most areas can tap into the electricity grid easily, and installing a charging station requires a comparatively small investment of capital, time, and space.
As a result, the deployment of EV charging infrastructure has become decentralized, wherein 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. Big 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 EVs become cheaper and increasingly common, more people will embrace them instead of 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.