6 Technology Trends Revolutionizing the Transportation Sector

Yves here. Hopefully readers will have fun with this. And I have priors. Scooters, as much as they are environmentally responsible, are injury futures unless and until they predominate on roads. Why do you think they are hated in San Francisco? Because they are all over sidewalks (not just as disposals, but as part of their ride) because their operators would rather mix it up with slow-moving soft 180 lb humans than 4000+ lb faster-moving metal-clad cars. And don’t get me started on flying taxis as death traps for the self-important (and sadly the pilots too). Helicopters are bad enough in that category.

And I struggle to see why virtual reality for meetings would be any better than video conferencing…in fact, with more data transmission, wouldn’t you get more latency, which is the big drag with video conferencing? And it’s no substitute for a vacation. We are a long way away from Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the basis for the movie Total Recall.

By Charles Kennedy, a writer at OilPrice. Originally published at OilPrice

The transportation industry boasts this inglorious claim to fame: It’s responsible for nearly 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Of that, cars and trucks alone are believed to be responsible for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions.

But here’s another figure that the transportation industry doesn’t want tossed around: A loss of $87 billion.

It’s not profit loss. It’s how much Americans lost on average every year due to traffic congestion.

Americans have lost an average of 97 hours a year due to congestion, which costs them roughly $87 billion, or an average of $1,348 per driver, according to 2018 INRIX National Traffic Scorecard.

And it’s about to get worse.

The market now is all about doing two things at once: cleaning up and getting out of traffic. The tech advance that makes both possible wins on all levels.

Here are the 5 cleanest modes of travel right now:

#1 Virtual Reality

Rather facetiously, we’re giving the top spot to a form of travel that is clean largely because it doesn’t involve any movement from one place to another. It’s the only form of travel that has a chance right now to pick up market share from trans-Atlantic flight-shaming. Anywhere you can’t get by train, you can get via virtual reality. And, of course, it’s the cheapest form of travel in the world.

Everyone from Google and Samsung to HTC and Oculus VR are offering VR hardware these days, enabling effortless, free travel to a very realistic 3D bonanza of exotic places.

Immersive Entertainment offers trips to just about anywhere you’d want to go virtually for less than $3 a trip. This is the new reality of virtual reality tourism. It’s not just about playing games anymore. Likewise, Solfar Studios can take you places like Mt. Everest, and beyond.

Source: Solfar Studios

As of 2018, the AR (augmented reality) and VR markets together offering opportunities worth up to $13 billion. And this market is expected to increase at a massive clip of up to 38% from 2019 to 2025.

#2 Micro-Mobility, The Real Answer to Clean and Congested

Until the advent of micro-mobility, nothing has really promised any revolutionary change to massive amounts of traffic, climate change or urban crowding.

The thing is, we don’t need cars at all, half the time. And that’s what the market is now catching onto: The real revolution is micro-mobility, and the best tech advancements come from things we’ve had forever: bikes and scooters.

And here’s why: In the U.S., where you might think giving up on cars is a bust, consider this: Nearly half of all car trips in the biggest cities are less than 3 miles. It’s shouting for micro-mobility, which could shave hours off time stuck in traffic, every day.

According to 2018 data of the US Department of Energy, in 2017 nearly 60 percent of all vehicle trips were less than six miles in 2017. Precisely three-fourths of all trips are 10 miles or less, which is ideal for means of transport such as scooters.

The first wave of regular electric scooters have turned into unicorns almost overnight, with investors pumping more than $5.7 billion into two-wheeled startups since 2015.

Scooter startup Bird is only two years old, but it’s already worth $2.5 billion. Just this month, it raised $275 million in fresh funding. In February, giant Lime raised another $310 million to push its valuation to $2.4 billion. Berlin’s Tier, a key European rival in this sector, just raised another $60 million in new financing, led by SoftBank Group’s massive Vision Fund.

It’s a crowded space, but that doesn’t seem to bother venture capitalists who keep throwing down cash for what they are sure is the next revolution in urban transport.

But right now, they’re throwing cash into chaos. And the first scooters were just … well, scooters. They’ve prompted a relentless backlash in the media for causing chaos and even more crowding. The next unicorns, though, will fix all of that.

One of those is OJO, whose scooters aren’t just fully electric and boasting zero emissions – they are also far more comfortable and safe than a majority of the vehicles in the micro-mobility boom. This is due to the fact that they are sit down scooters and are designed for the road, not the sidewalk. And instead of butting heads with local authorities, OJO is working with them to get cities the real answer they need to the current transportation crisis.

And here’s where micro-mobility offers some major upside that will really ping the radar of deep-pocket investors: Speaking on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” on CNBC earlier this week, OJO CEO Max Smith let this bomb drop:


“We think it’s a really big market not only for moving people safely, sustainably around the city, but this scooter is really designed to deliver food, to do parcels, to do packages.”

So, we’re not just talking about the market for moving people around cities – we’re talking about the explosive market for the delivery of products, services and food. That’s a revolution with multiple layers of upside from an investor’s perspective.

Both General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) have significant interests in this burgeoning sector, as well.

General Motors, for its part, has created its own brand of electric bikes, called Ariv. The bikes were just launched this year, but have already captured the attention of the European market.

While they err on the side of pricey, coming in at $3,800 per unit, they do boast a high top speed and can travel a modest distance on a single charge.

The kicker for many, however, is that they can fold into an easily carriable pack, making them the perfect choice for a lot of commuters. Especially in big cities like London or Berlin.

Ford, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. It’s swooped right into the scooter market, buying Spin for a clean $100 million. Initially deployed in San Francisco back in 2017, Spin is widely considered to be a part of the Big Three of the scooter world, along with Lime and Bird.

While Ford’s buyout of Spin made headlines, it’s certainly not the first urban transportation alternative Ford’s sunk its teeth into.

In recent years, Ford also bought commuter shuttle service Chariot, Autonomic and TransLoc, aiming to ensure that it does not miss the boat as this new movement accelerates.

#3 Electric vehicles

Ever since the first electric Toyota (NYSE:TM) Prius was released in 2000, critics have been questioning whether they are actually cleaner for the environment. But despite hefty criticism, it’s clear that the future of driving is electric.

In 2017, more than 1 million electric vehicles were sold for the first time. That number doubled to 2 million in 2018, and by 2040 EVs could make up more than half of all new sales.

Of course, global EV sales finished September 2019 down 8% year-over-year, with 183,000sales for the month. Market share in September was at 2.3%, both for the month and year-to-date. Still, it was an improvement over August’s sales of 158,000

It’s clearly bursting at the seams despite the September drag. Cities or even entire countries have teamed up to ban sales of cars powered by internal combustion engines. Norway announced its ban by 2025, India by 2030, France and the UK by 2040.

According to European Environment Agency (EEA) report, battery electric cars emit less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their entire life cycle than petrol and diesel cars.

But the real question is this, especially for big cities: Do we even need cars? The micro-mobility revolution says … maybe not.

#4 Hydro Boats

Powered by a combination of renewable energy and hydropower to propel the boat and charge its batteries, the hydrogen-powered boat is a favorite among environmentalists because it emits zero greenhouse gases.

This boat removes the salt and ions from ocean water, and then separates it into its base elements: hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored until it’s needed for fuel while solar panels and wind turbines supplement the power.

The world’s first hydrogen-powered boat, the Energy Observer, started its journey in 2017 in France. Powered only by electricity, relying on solar for about 52 percent of their energy and 42 percent from the wind and 6 percent from hydrogen, this boat has sailed around 18,000 nautical miles visiting 25 countries in the last two years. In total it is due to visit 50 countries and 101 ports during its six-year journey.

Source: Energy Observer

There won’t be a huge market share for the hydro boat, though, unless you live in Waterworld, so micro-mobility still steals this show.

#5 The Good Old Train

High-speed rail is gunning for new investment thanks to the lobbying efforts of railway proponents who argue that this is a key element of making transportation cleaner.

In fact, electric cars aside and micro-mobility solutions aside, rail transport is arguably the cleanest way to travel. Per kilometer, rail transport is responsible for emitting 80% less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional cars. This, combined with the fact that a typical passenger train line could transport up to 50,000 people per hour makes the case itself. It’s blown the freeway away, especially when it’s not electric.

Rail could play a huge role in what is bandied about as the “New Green Deal”. Rail is already a growing alternative to flying, especially in the midst of a flight-shaming campaign that’s gaining serious traction.

Earlier this month, the IAE noted in its Future of Rail report that trains carry 8% of the world’s motorized passengers and 7% of freight. At the same time, it is said to only use 2% of the energy consumed in the transportation sector.

While mass transit is the most efficient means of moving large numbers of people long distances, the problem is getting them to the mass transit point–and back–in the first place. And it’s a big problem when you consider that over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with Deloitte estimated that that will climb to two-thirds by 2050.

So for now, the revolution is all about the first mile, and the last mile. And that means micro-mobility is the answer to our “transit deserts”. That makes a company like OJO an investment that is anything but a mirage.

#6 Flying Taxis And Automated Taxis

We’re finally about to see dream of flying taxis become a reality. And spearheading this charge is Boeing (NYSE:BA).

In early October, the aircraft giant signed a deal with Porsche to create an automated flying taxi.

This is significant because both companies are leaders in their respective fields. And while other flying taxis have been conceptualized in the past…none have the market presence – or experience – that Porsche and Boeing have.

While still in the early stages, Boeing and Porsche hope to identify a market, define the use cases, and create a product that will solidify their places as royalty in this new market. Both companies have a history in doing just that. While Porsche isn’t exactly known for the volume of its sales, its profits are consistently impressive. And Boeing has led innovation in the aviation sector for decades.

And then of course, there’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL). As one of the world’s largest tech companies, it’s only reasonable tat it would have its own stake in the transportation revolution. It’s Waymo subsidiary was one of the very first movers on the self-driving scene, and it’s been a trailblazer ever since.

In 2018, Waymo launched a pilot program with Google to use autonomous trucks to move freight to its sister company’s Atlanta-area data centers. Using the same sensors and software as Waymo’s other autonomous fleet, Class 8 tractor-trailers began testing Waymo’s self-driving technology in California and Arizona in 2017

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  1. Alex

    The scooters don’t need to predominate as long as there are dedicated lanes for them. For instance in the city I live in they can use bike lanes.

    As more people start using them it’s not unrealistic to expect some roads or lanes converted to scooter- and bike-only ones

    1. tegnost

      Absolutely Alex, the commons should give the the tech vc’s dedicated profit centers like their own infrastructure. /s. Oh and I’m looking out the window now and it’s raining like bejeesus, can’t see why that should be a problem though we’ll just put a roof over all the dedicated lanes. I would have listed trains first because trains don’t need vc’s to work, so we won’t need to pay vc’s for the privilege of being fleeced by them. I’d say uber should have gone flying taxi’s first instead of self driving, neither will be an impactful traffic solution, and flying is way more unicorny. I could get carried away here (but not by a self flying car hahaha, I’m joking) so I’ll just add this as the reveal that modern capitalism is dead dead dead…
      Of course, global EV sales finished September 2019 down 8% year-over-year, with 183,000sales for the month. Market share in September was at 2.3%, both for the month and year-to-date. Still, it was an improvement over August’s sales of 158,000
      We’re totally losing money on this, but still, it’s an improvement!

      1. Alex

        Well, the idea that most of the road surface is for automobile use and everyone else are supposed to use leftovers is only about a hundred years old. There was a link to a good article about it here on NC how the auto industry lobbied to make it happen and invented things like jaywalking.

        So I don’t see a problem with rolling this back a bit and giving more space to bikes and scooters.

      2. Alex

        Also I think you should go to Amsterdam to see that a little bit of rain is not incompatible with riding bikes or scooters.

        1. Anarcissie

          I normally use a bicycle to get around New York City. Recently, there has been a great upsurge in the use of electrified sit-down scooters, stand-up scooters, electric bicycles, unicycles, skateboards, and possibly other devices I haven’t encountered yet. Although many of these vehicles travel as fast as automobiles (30mph) and are essentially motorcycles (and some are as big as motorcycles), they do tend to use the bike paths and sidewalks. One of the main determiners of the probability of crashes is difference in speed. Thus, the faster vehicles threaten the slower ones, for example, me on my muscle-powered bicycle. This has not yet become a political issue, because bicycles and pedestrians are a kind of lower class whose interests are inconsequential to the city, but it will, just as the expanded use of (conventional) bicycles was strongly resisted by pedestrians and motorists. Given that we seem to be in a sort of local interregnum, I don’t think any initiatives are going to be forthcoming in the near future to solve the oncoming problems in advance, other than to dress them in bureaucrat-approved decor. Nothing new about that, I suppose.

          Another problem which is at least solvable although it is not being solved is the bad condition of the city’s streets. If you put something with little tiny wheels like a skateboard into a pothole, you have a good chance of falling over in traffic. I have seen a number of such events, but nobody killed and not a lot of blood spilled so far. Not right in front of me, anyway.

          As for people riding around in the wet, cold, and dark, that is, New York City winters and springs, that sort of thing seems to be confined to fanatics like me (I have a rain suit, lights, boots, etc.) and to the youth who have the metabolism for it. However, at least we have our subway ($2.75, not pocket lint for the poor) and our urban density. God knows what they’re going to do out in car country where one may have to go five or ten miles just to get to a plastic deli.

  2. none

    That scooter looks like the Piaggios seen all over Italy. They never caught on in the US, maybe because the car traffic is too dangerous. Piaggios are gas powered and have been around forever. I don’t see how electric versions really change the picture for users.

    Me, I usually walk or take the bus locally, or drive if I have to. I’d ride my bike a lot more except for the likelihood of getting squashed by a car. Scooter or e-bike seems about the same as bike in that regard. Full size motorcycle at least keeps up with traffic and is more visible than a bike or scooter due to the extra size and height. Extra lights including in the daytime help too. Maybe bikes should have those.

    1. efschumacher

      Scooters have a hard time getting traction in the US because the climate is so much more demanding, and the suburban distances longer than in, say, Europe. This is also what militates against larger scale bicycle use.

      When I retired 2 1/2 years ago I wanted to leave the DC suburbs in favour of a place where I could leave the car at home as much as possible, and ride the bike, walk, talke a bus and get on a train, acording to the distances and destinations needed. I found nowhere in the US where I could do that. We moved to York, UK. Now we have one car, a hybrid, that sits on the drive 3 days a week, while I can pedal into the city centre in 12 minutes, or walk there in 35, and take a bus back home if necessary. York is also on of the most connected cities trainwise.

      For sure we are living cheaper than we did in the Maryland DC suburbs, where we had to have two vehicles, at least one of which pretty much had to be used every day to accomplish even the most basic journeys, both because of distance and because many days in the Summer were above 35 degrees, which is pitiless when surrounded by concrete.

      One of the things the US must urgently do, to take advantage of greener transport option is to re-nucleate the cities and provide shade. Scooters might be nice if you are only going a mile or two, but they suck when you have to go 5-10 miles in heat, rain, or a meter of snow.

      1. Peter Moritz

        This is also what militates against larger scale bicycle use.

        What speaks against large scale bicycle use – I used to ride Bike in Germany in rain, snow and sleet when I was apprenticing first and later studying – is the lack of consideration by drivers of cars and the lack of lanes.
        And it was easy to combine bike and rail in Germany as well as there was always a freight car hooked up to the train for this and other purposes.

    2. Ook

      Where I live, scooters have recently been banned from sidewalks, and are not allowed on roads. So they are now limited to the few dedicated lanes available to them. I understand France and Japan have similar restrictions.
      I am all for the ban, because walking on the sidewalk was becoming an unnerving experience, with UberEats drivers zipping past you from behind, at 20 mph with just a few inches clearance.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Those danged scooters are all over the sidewalks of Tucson. Especially when they’re not being used.

        When they’re ridden, they’re in the streets. And I have yet to see any scooter rider who’s also wearing a helmet.

          1. Synoia

            Th e car is the helmet. The safety is in the seat belts.

            I recall much squawking about “freedom” and compulsory seat belt use.

            1. Thomas Jennings

              No. Car drivers and passengers suffer thousands of traumatic brain injuries (as do pedestrians just walking around – usually the result of cars hitting them) so if you are going to suggest mandatory helmets for bikers, you better suggest them for drivers and pedestrians too. Further, you are clearly not well read on this issue because helmets do little to protect you from a car slamming in to you at 30mph. And lets be clear, in the absence of cars, unless you are racing the chances of getting killed on a bike are extremely low. Mandatory helmet laws reduce the number of bikers (the best safety is more riders and infrastructure changes).

              1. Anon

                …and helmets only protect your head, and not your neck or other body parts.

                Motorcycles are fun (I rode one in my college days). Cheaper than a car, too. But, even when you ride with supreme caution, impacts (crashes) have an impact (often serious injury). I gave up my Honda SuperHawk (350cc) when a lady didn’t see me stopped at an intersection and lightly nudged me 10′ into 35mph cross traffic. That cross-traffic truck crushed the bike as I dove for safety!

                (That was probably #4 of my nine lives available. Since then I’ve accumulated others; probably on #8 now.)

                1. Anarcissie

                  I have been hit several times while on a bicycle, mostly by motor vehicles, and more recently by other cyclists. In no case would a helmet have done me any good. One is hit from the side, not from above. This will also be true of other small vehicles like scooters and skateboards. I think helmets are mostly a security fetish.

                  I agree that bicycling is not particularly safe, but that is partly due to the class system of street traffic, in which preferential treatment is given to private automobiles (I assume because politicians, bureaucrats, and cops tend to use them. Public transportation, walking, and so on are for proles.

  3. Ignacio

    I dislike the approach as too casual for me. This is probably intended, not for ClCh wonkies like me, but for frivolous techies in search for a conversation theme during lunchtime. Anyway, he bets for bikes, and I concur.

    1. Ignacio

      Probably a vast majority has this romantic view of cars where they comfortably move, with the A/C on, hearing their favourite radio station, enjoying these moments of relative solitude with their eyes in the road and minds in their secret loves. It is hard to beat that.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Having a brother who pulverized his femur in a bike accident (huge car moved from a stop line stupidly placed well behind a high hedge, so crap sight lines from cross street; brother admittedly going at high speed) by hitting the right front fender and landing by the back rear wheel, and having broken a cheekbone myself, I’m no longer a bike enthusiast. And being older and creaky also makes one cautious about injury exposure.

        1. Frank

          Before retirement 20 years ago I traveled frequently to Ho Chi Minh city and worked at Cho Ray Hospital.
          Streets there were like a school of fish. No helmets then ( they were fashionable in Hanoi then and many scooterers wore them) and of course lots of accidents.
          An unexpected benefit? Cho Ray was said to have the best trauma unit is SE Asia.

        2. Ignacio

          I am sorry about your brother. I have seen myself in a couple of difficult situations fortunately without such dire consequences. Bikes and cars don’t mix very well. In cities where bikes prevail norms are very strict regarding speed (and bikers must also be very careful with pedestrians). Thus, it is a very big change. If bikes result too demanding, electric bikes are excellent alternatives IMO. What ‘s not to like about ‘slow cities’?

        3. Zamfir

          My wife’s grandfather died in a cycling accident (when she was a small kid). He hit a cow on the cycling path, in some nature reserve.

          To this day, my wife hates places where large animals are free to walk on a cycling path. She considers this near-criminal irresponsibility.

          She has never seen this as a risk of cycling. Cycling should be safe. If it is not, then the problem is whatever makes it unsafe.

          I find this attitude much more rare in other countries. People abroad are more likely to consider cycling itself as a risky activity, and take for granted that other activities (especially cars) can cause a danger to cyclists.

        4. Joe Well

          Let’s just remember all the wheelchair users who have no choice but to use our streets and sidewalks and be exposed to all the dangers of cars, and frequently are hit by cars. And frequently have to go into the street because of obstacles like telephone poles.

          If the streets are not safe for bikes and pedestrians, they are far less safe for people with mobility disabilities who don’t really have the choice just to walk nimbly or drive a car (many, many disabilities make driving impractical, even just a combination of minor disabilities). We need to reign in cars and take a Vision Zero-type approach to reign in car violence.

          1. Synoia

            I rdie a bicycle, here in SoCal.. The sidewalks are difficult to use, because of all the poles and assorted traffic management devices that stud the local sidewalls.

            There is no problem with the pedestrians, they hardly exist. In SoCal one could asset they are nearly extinct. s an aside, I’ve never understood drive to the Gym, then run and on a machine, then drive home.

            It’s quite amazing how impassable sidewalks are for other than walking.

            For scooters to become prevalent, they must have dedicated road space. That’s been done in Santa Ana here for bikes, but when one comes to an intersection, the dedicated lane vanishes, and one is then mingling with normal traffic.

            The bike lanes are an illusion of safety, because I believe most incident happen at intersections.

        5. Thomas Jennings

          As you state, the major issue is infrastructure – not the act of cycling. Changing the infrastructure (as simple as protected bike lanes – paint and plastic bollards) encourages more people to bike which increases safety for bikers and makes for a more livable and enjoyable city life.

          People don’t seem to place the same risk on riding in cars despite nearly every American knowing someone who has died or been seriously injured in one. It is confusing to me how/why so many forward thinking people on this site can be so reactionary with regard to cycling and not see it as a cheap, effective way to not only ameliorate transportation issues but environmental ones as well.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            My broken cheekbone had zero to do with infrastructure. Ditto my brother’s injury. I also fell a ton off my bike as a kid, whacking my knees. Not only can I not take another injury, I can’t even use a stationary bike. It’s easy for people who are unimpaired to moralize.

            1. Thomas Jennings

              Obviously cycling will not work for everyone, Yves, but there are impaired people who DO use electric bikes. The risk of cycling isn’t any greater than driving in a car – which was my counterpoint to your comment about the risks of cycling. Your comment implies that biking is somehow a VERY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY – it’s not. On top of that it is healthier (there was a recent study that showed you are inhaling much more pollution driving around in your encased living room on wheels than biking or walking.) And I say that being an owner of a car myself.

              Cycling is a solution to many problems with city life (it does not really help with suburban sprawl which is a separate issue) but Americans seem to hold the bike and bikers with such contempt – it’s almost like there has been 70 years of mass propaganda telling us all how great cars are. I live in Jersey City and I can’t tell you how much nicer (& faster) it is to bike my kid to school and how over the past few years after our mayor signed on to Vision Zero the infrastructure improvements have not only made the city safer for bikers, but for pedestrians and drivers.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Speaking as a Luddite, all this stuff about Scooters sounds great. Zooming down a road with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Admiring glances from all those who are consigned to merely walking. But what about when it rains? How well do those scooters work in a place like Seattle which has more than its share of rain? I heard too that motorcycles have been nicknamed ‘donorcycles’ due to a lot of the riders skipping wearing helmets because they don’t look cool in them (I’m looking at you Tom Cruise) so is the same going to be true for these Scooters? Inquiring minds wish to know.
    I would throw some different technologies into this mixture – namely canals with their boats and horses. Why these old-school technologies? Because with canals the oil could all run out and the electrical grid could be fried in a Carrington Event and they would still be working. Same with horses, especially since horses can make other horses while electric cars and scooters have not yet managed to pull off this trick yet. I do believe that our future will be a mixture of both high-tech and low-tech for maximum efficiency. Oh, and as far as virtual reality for meetings are concerned, I would go with connected phone lines. That way you could take part in a meeting in your underwear if you felt like it and nobody would know.

    1. vlade

      One of the reasons cars were originally hailed as a great innovation was that the cities around 1900 were full of horse and all that goes it them. Which is generally way more concentrated, pugent and stickier than what you get from cars these days. So be careful what you wish for :).

      Canals are nice, but easy to congest (assuming we’re talking the good ole towing canals).

      That said, rivers and water bodies are underused in most large cities.

    2. Zamfir

      By the numbers, Seattle has about the same rainfall and same number of rainy days as the Netherlands. It’s not a big hindrance to cycling here. It’s still dry 90% of the time. A little rain is really not much if an issue, if you are used to it. For a longer trip, a rain coat helps. If the rain is really bad, and you can’t postpone the trip or take a different vehicle, then it’s seriously uncomfortable but hardly the end of the world.

      It might be a matter of expectations – in every year since I was a kid, there have been a few times where I got soaking wet from cycling in the rain. It’s just part of life, and doesn’t feel odd. You curse, put on dry clothes, thats it. But I can imagine that the same event would feel weird if you’re not used to it, and might make someone avoid cycling altogether

      1. tegnost

        I spent probably 20 years as a bike commuter in seattle. Yes it’s an ok biking city, pretty hilly, but if you know your topography it’s better. You need to be pretty stout to withstand it, and have money to buy fancy gear (for a longer trip, say from kenmore to uw, if you’re only wearing a raincoat you will be soaking wet on the inside and out, one side from the sweat, the other from the rain. Fenders and a rain suit and full change of clothes at least if you’re going to work especially) A very small percentage of transportation demand can be successfully shuffled off on bikes. But I would have put non vc funded bikes as #2 behind trains. Proven tech, no partnership with venture capital. I’m looking at the list and I don’t see buses mentioned…strange…oh wait, they’re publicly owned, sorry…if we could just dedicate those bus lanes to something else that will ensure softbank gets their money back hmmmm…

        1. Zamfir

          Bikes help to expand the reach of public transport – a single station serves 10 more people if they come by bike instead of walking. If there are enough people using bikes, of course. That might be more relevant than direct commutes.

      1. T

        Can’t speak for everyone, but I carry an umbrella.

        Now, if the bus services are canceled for extreme weather, I have to rely on a commuting coworker to get home. I guess other people sleep in the streets, unless they work for a benevolent Subway franchise and are allowed to camp out in the store.

    3. Donna

      I am old enough that I had grandparents who never owned cars. They lived in a coal mining town in western Pennsylvania. When they needed something they walked to town. If they needed something in a neighboring town they actually could take a taxi. Can you imagine that a taxi service in a lttle coal mining town? But it existed. Of course I was never there in winter so that could be another tale to tell.

      I felt my grandmother’s health started to deteriorate in the late 70s when they closed down the local grocery store and opened up a supermarket in a neighboring town. She no longer had a consistent source of food, a food desert you would call it today.

      To this day my preferred form of exercise is walking. It was a wonderful way to live, an almost daily walk into town along the train tracks to get what you needed.

  5. vlade

    For me, the problem is mixing traffic.
    If you mix pedestrians with just about anything (including bikes), you’ve problems. I’ve been almost run over more times than I care to think of by cyclists on cycle & pedestrians walkway – they behave the same way they hate car users for.
    If you mix cars and bikes etc..

    Basically, anytime you mix bodies that move with considerably differnt energy, you will have problems sooner or later. But there’s only so much space, so total separation is not relly viable lot of time. That said, I believe that where there are short-distance trips possible, we’d downshift the energy. Create a hub, and downshift the mode of tranport.

    I.e. it’s ok to use car for 100miles trip, but not for a mile. Unfortunately, our cities were built the way they were built, which makes hubs hard. It’s possible with catchup parking on the edges tied with high-availability public transport, but the problem is the human nature.

    A couple of weeks I went to a theatre with a friend of mine. He drove into the city, we met for a dinner, and then he drove to the theatre. It took us about an hour, when the distance was few miles, and on public transport we’d be there in 10 minutes (including waiting time). Even from there, we could have taken public transport to the town we live, and get off on a train stop that is about 10 minutes from either of our houses.

    But my friend doesn’t do public transport.

  6. Larry

    I just spent two weeks in SF and didn’t find that the scooters are littered all over the street. Perhaps that was the case when the first rolled out. I did note however that they all seem to have mandatory locks on them now. I do however agree that you would not find me on on of those things. SF is highly congested with cars with lots of walking pedestrians crossing roads.

    I used scooters in Louisville and found that to be fine. The roads are very wide in that city and it does not have heavy traffic, so you can easily stay to the side of a larger road and avoid cars. And the scooters did not require locking, but you were encouraged to park them out of the way of pedestrians on the sidewalks and confirm that you did with a photo.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The big issue is not them being dumped on the sidewalks (I did see a few over the summer) but scooter people on sidewalks which is a hazard to pedestrians.

  7. cnchal

    Losing $13.90 per hour due to traffic congestion presumes that your main goal in life is working that hour at a McJawb or as a cubicle dweller in a soulless organization doing a bullshit jawb.

    It must have been a soulless cubicle dweller’s jawb just doing the math to precisely come up with a garbage number.

    1 – VR goggles. How many zeros and ones have to be transmitted at what velocity and then retransmitted then all of it kept alive in a power sucking data cemter for Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple or even the NSA and CIA to pore over every detail to decide what to sell to you based on a facial tick or to determine if you are a threat to the “system”. Data centers are the new scourge on the planet. Their owners, instead of getting their power for cheap, because they use so much, should be charged triple retail to discourage their use. This idiocy is growing exponentially.

    2 – scooters = big hospital bills. So what if cheap debt is thrown at them and they are “valued” (that word doesn’t mean what it used to) at billions, based on what the last rich asshole decided to pay. The tape is being painted with a thick roller of hopium. Got profits? It’s like the stawk market. The latest price of a share traded deems all the other ones at the same price, which means nothing. What means something is what is the price of a stawk when sold compared to when bought, at the individual level. The point of these numbers is to impress the rubes so that the rubes will bail out the rich assholes at IPO time.

    3 – electric vehicles. Natural gas powered, good. Gasoline powered, bad. And, now we are learning these electric cars eat tires and if you put the wrong replacement tires on that reduces range. Who saw that coming? Oh, and got cobalt? We would be better off mandating weight limits, say 3,000 to 3,500 lbs and tax high horsepower cars and trucks. Really, 600 to 700 horsepower is absurd and in a 3,000 lb car 200 HP is more than enough..

    4 – Hydro boats – there were some interesting comments the other day about hydrogen fueled automobiles and the same would apply to boats. Where can one buy explosion futures?

    5 – trains. I like trains. Haven’t been on one in years though, because they take too long to get there and can’t carry all the stuff I’m taking with me. Besides, I enjoy the drive and once there have my own car to get around with and not have to deal with the expense and grinding hassle of renting a late model crapbox.

    6 – flying taxis – As a kid, I used to read about flying cars and dream. I’m not a kid anymore. Just because Porsche makes a profit selling 500 and 600 HP SUVs along with a smattering of fine sports cars doesn’t mean they will make a buck with flying taxis.

    1. Roy G

      In the interest of fact-based discussion, it’s necessary to point out that VR doesn’t use ‘power sucking data centers,’ as the computing-intensive content is rendered via a local PC. All things considered, VR is exponentially more environmentally friendly than car or air travel.

      1. cnchal

        It is true that having a VR “experience” kyaking through the Grand Canyon uses exponentially less energy than doing it for real, and that the local machine does the heavy lifting to put on the show, however the file is hosted at a data center and shipped over the “wires” to get to local machine, and a few million downloads of the fake experience will undoubtedly consume orders of magnitude moar energy than the energy expended for the few that do it live.

        Yves also mentioned video conferences, and knowing techbros, that would be a strong use case for VR which would require data centers as the central node to the conference and all data would be recorded for posterity and pored over by AI to try and sell the spyed on participants something, consuming ever more power.

        See where this is going?

  8. Joe Well

    In most of the urban nucleus of Greater Boston, the sidewalks are just too narrow for scooters so they have been banned. The authorities are very, very slowly rolling out dedicated bike lanes and maybe the scooters could eventually be used there. But scooters without infrastructure for them is nuts.

    I am in Buenos Aires now where the streets and sidewalks are famously wide. Lots of startup scooters but I don’t see many people using them anyway.

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    That this stuff is revolutionary is sort of sad humor more about marketing capabilities and repetitive reinforcing mass hypnosis than about transportation. What would be truly revolutionary, and I’m not holding my breath, would be transportation systems designed for social benefit rather than for profit and status. In that light, energy efficiency would be a social goal and not a patent opportunity that has a good BS profile. That would be revolutionary.

    1. GERMO

      Absolutely agree.
      The OP is a very typical view that favors latest tech fads as coming in to save the all of a sudden notable “last mile” problem. Thing is the tech bros are not going to be content with taking passengers on the last mile or merely dropping them off at the train station. Uber and all the rest of them frankly are getting these ridiculous valuations only because investors can assume the private companies will eventually consume and replace real mass transit with their “apps.” The technocrats that oversee mass transit agencies are blind to this. The agency here has a new mission statement that in fact doesn’t even use the words “mass transit” but instead states “mobility options” about three different times. Got it, you want out of the transit business and into the platform business!
      Ride share and micro-mobility are a total illusion when it comes to solving the need for more mass transit. What the vast majority want is to get on a bus or light rail without waiting more than five minutes. Everything else is distraction.

  10. Steve

    Of all the newer transportation options I have seen the best one by far is an e-cargo bike. They really have the ability to replace a car depending on where you live. I think I just read somewhere that Scotland and other countries either have or will make 0% interest loans available for people who choose to buy one over a car. They are amazingly capable. After riding an e-bike to commute the last two years (Faraday) I got a e-cargo bike (a Tern GSD) for my 60th birthday recently. It is a very safe bike and as a class one is only pedal assist and will not assist over 20mph, no throttle. If you are not already a bike rider it would be very hard to keep the bike going faster than 14- 16 mph for any period of time. There are great fun videos of the Tern.
    As for safety! While driving my vehicle I have been smashed into by other vehicles 4 times in the last 12 years. Each of them were serious and occurred when a driver plowed into me while I was stopped at a stop sign or stop light. Luckily I walked away from all of them with just a stiff neck for a month or two. The last one hit me so hard it totaled my vehicle and the car that hit me flipped over on its roof. This was all on the city streets of Minneapolis where I live. Of the more than a dozen people I know who have been killed by cars one was my younger brother and one was one of my best friends.
    In order for these newer transportation options to make a big difference they do not need to be used everyday. Just bike commuting one or two days week makes a huge difference. Here in Minneapolis I still try to bike in once a week during the Winter but only if conditions are good and I ride a regular fat tire bike. A big advantage of e-bikes is they make it very easy to take a safer route even if it is a mile or two longer. They have much higher visibility and ability to negotiate hazards than do stand up or sit down scooters. (I’m not against e-scooters).
    Just as a note: I stop for pedestrians and stop signs/stop lights. I also wish something could be done to slow down reckless cyclists.

    1. Michael

      I’m also a Twin Cities resident, but live on the fringe. I use a cargo trailer on my e-bike so I can get the best both worlds. I connect it when I go shopping, and disconnect it when I’m traveling long distances, or putting it in my garage. I prefer the Burly, as it has a kick stand to manage heavy loads, and a quick release coupling to ease connecting and disconnecting. I ride five miles each way to the grocery store, using beautiful trails and side streets. I even get a little single track in to make it more adventurous.

      The thing about riding, especially on safe trails and protected bike lanes is my stress level is way down, I am staying active vs sitting in a steel box in traffic, and the dreaded trip to the store is transformed into an adventure.

      1. Steve

        Awesome! I totally agree that managing to stay on safe trails and protected bike lanes makes trips much less stressful (and for me fun). I just got back from a grocery run, going to work for a bit and a meeting about a design project. The whole trip was 23 miles and over 90% of it was on the bike paths. From where we live on the first tier edge of Minneapolis my wife can bike in many days faster than she can drive since where she works is on the Greenway. It is 17 roundtrip but the e-bikes make that fun and something we look forward to. This was the second year she did it and averaged two days a week since March. Have fun!

  11. Big River Bandido

    With the exception of The Good Old Train, I thought this piece was rather bonkers. Parts of it read more like a prospectus than analysis. Flying taxis??? More Elon Musk-like hogwash.

    And while the idea of packing up the Ariv into a suitcase is charming (comes from the travel bike, with shades of George Jetson), they’re only a seasonal alternative for much of the US. I have no trouble with scooters that aren’t on the sidewalk. But those that are, whether moving or not, are nothing but a nuisance; certainly they’re not our transit panacea. Beefing up (real) rail is, and that was the only part of this piece that wasn’t “starry eyed”.

    VR: when things get bad enough that the American government has to take climate change and rail rehabilitation seriously, I suspect there will simply be less business to transact over long distances. Supply chain issues will probably greatly contract the global markets and force changes in consumer habits in which we buy more locally.

  12. AEL

    A fundamental problem is urban sprawl. If you have lots of suburbs, you need lots of travel. Do like the Dutch and make sure that existing farmland can never be turned into houses. Then raise taxes on sprawl so that density rises. Higher density => less travel and better travel modes.

    1. Steve

      Totally agree with one addition and that is the root of sprawl which is too many people. Without a vast majority of people choosing not to reproduce for a generation or two there is little hope.

    2. Synoia

      The UK has, or had,the 1948 Town and Country Act, which froze urban development limits. Is that still in force?

      1. stan6565

        Green Belt is under great, concerted and persistent attack. Speaking as a SW London resident, with experiences from Esher, Kingston, Surbiton, Weybridge, Walton, Sunbury, Claygate and such like beautiful semi rural towns in that neck of woods.

        LibDems (running most of these towns) harvested votes on the platform of fighting the excessive development, only to betray the taxpayers/voters by allowing under the table a number of mega developments set to double numbers of inhabitants in these parts. Without doubling schools police or hospitals of course. And off topic, this was not enough for them so they also moved to destroy the rule of law and democracy in UK and directly fight against the biggest people’s vote we had for 50 years.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      The main obstacle to telework is the inability of managers to manage.

      That’s a glib statement, let me flesh it out. To manage someone performing a job remotely, one must manage to outcomes (results delivered) instead of managing behavior (activity). A remote worker isn’t visible, so behavior can’t be monitored nearly as much.

      Specifying outcomes – the things the remote worker is to produce, at what cost, by what time…is not easy to do, certainly not the first time. One must really, really understand the job to do this well. And, it has the tendency to render the manager … redundant. If the job’s spec’ced out that well, who needs managers?

      Many managers want to be managers because it confers power, and that power seems to attentuate over distance. So, that’s one big emotional reason managers exist. Humans love to achieve power over one another.

      The most obvious solutions to our problems involve changing ourselves, and that’s why we keep hoping for “technology” (in the form of machines and gadgets) to do the heavy lifting for us.

      We need “technology” in the form of understanding ourselves – why we want what we want, how to be content, how to live more harmoniously with nature, etc. These are more emotional capabilities than intellectual.

      Melissa Mayer was neither inspired entrepreneur nor great manager. Yahoo was in big trouble when she took over; she probably wasn’t the right person to turn that situation around.

      Can you think of any really great managers that are running mostly-remote workforces?

      One example might be WordPress – which may be the company that provides the software that supports this blog – is an almost entirely-distributed workforce.

      Any others come to mind?

      1. Arizona Slim

        I have a former neighbor who was a freelance web developer while he was living up the street. After he and his (now former) wife moved away, he got a job with Automattic, the company behind the WordPress software. And, yes, he was working remotely.

        To say he loved his job was an understatement. Working for Automattic couldn’t be beat, as far as he was concerned. I think he’s still working there — haven’t talked to him in a few years.

      2. False Solace

        Nah, you just install spyware on their computers and count the number of mouse clicks. If your employees ever get up and leave the keyboard for a few minutes you dock their pay. If you go on Amazon you’ll find mouse cradles that keep your mouse moving side-to-side automatically to evade the idle detection software.

      3. Mike Elwin

        Well, it’s true that management is often behavior-based instead of outcome-based. But the computer industry as a whole made the transition decades ago, in spite of dumbasses like the Yahoonic. Of course, being computer-based made the tranistion less of a hurdle, but other industries that are similarly white collar have caught on.

  13. King

    It shows how bad previous decisions were when we find ourselves talking about a ‘tech revolution’ to remake our transportation system. AEL is right about sprawl being a problem. Getting people away from carrying around their living room with them is going to be hard, but necessary.
    On a happier note here is a video of the drivers view from a tram tour of Amsterdam [56:36]

  14. oliverks

    There are all these startups trying to do electric helicopters. I really don’t get it.

    I get that quadcopters are much easier to control and stabilize with electric motors, but the weight of the batteries just seems to kill the idea. Trying to add more batteries quickly becomes self defeating.

    These things would be lucky to get 20 minutes of safe flying at car speeds. Perhaps there is a limited market in some very high density urban areas, but in LA they would be ridiculous. You would need 3 of them just to get across LA.

    Perhaps there is some magic market I am missing for these things, other than high risks toys to the uber wealthy.

  15. Jeff N

    Porsche is a “leader in its respective field”? Umm, they’re part of VW.

    In July 2012, it was announced that Volkswagen AG was taking over the Porsche AG automotive company completely, which bears the same name, but is only a subsidiary of Porsche SE. In June 2013, Qatar Holdings, through the Qatar Investment Authority, sold its 10% holding in Porsche SE back to the founding family, giving them 100% voting rights in the holding company. Porsche SE currently owns 50.73% of the voting rights in Volkswagen AG as the largest (controlling) shareholder.

  16. LFUC Mayer

    I’m not a personal fan of scooters (I’d rather bike or walk or bus), but their appearance has called attention to the terrible lack of bike lane infrastructure, a product of (mainly progressive) city leaders across the US only giving it lipservice these past 2 decades while continuing to fund car infrastructure. That’s a good thing; maybe now that Sillicon Valley venture capitalists care about bike lanes, our local leaders will start building them. (Of course, that’s also the problem: Silicon Valley financiers determine the building…)

    Scooters could easily go in bike lanes. Here is Jarret Walker talking about three levels of transit infrastructure, where scooters fit into protected bike lanes.


    Most cities have room to work all three of these lanes into most of their streets, particularly where cities merge into the suburbs, if only we redirected our transit support.

  17. Peter Moritz

    I have no idea why buses are not mentioned for commuting? Many cities in Germany have a combination of near-rail traffic, streetcars, subway and buses, and since they are communally owned there is interchangeability in use – with one ticket you can ride any of the choices.
    When I visit my relatives in Germany I refuse to use a car even if offered, as the use of those systems is more convenient that being stuck in rush hour traffic.

    1. Ashburn

      Yes! I love the idea of city centers being closed to cars and instead have a constant flow of hop-on hop-off circulator buses moving north/south and east/west. With less traffic these buses would be far more efficient and could quickly move large numbers of folks. Of course, in a rational world the buses would be absolutely free and zero emissions.

    2. Danny

      A not mentioned factor is people being dissuaded from riding mass transit by crime, and or harrasment, especially of women, occurring on it.

      In San Francisco, pools of vomit and scabies ridden bums sitting next to you are hardly an inducement to ride transit. Yet the police do nothing and people have had enough. Why do you think Uber got its start in transit rich San Francisco?

      Bay Area Rapid Transit, a subway that goes all over the Bay Area is a criminal’s paradise with multiple shootings in stations. Here’s an egregious example of what drives people from transit or dissuades them from ever considering it:

      “OAKLAND …a mob of 40 to 60 youths robbed train passengers Saturday night, punching some of them. At least seven people on a Dublin-bound train and the platform were targeted, and two victims suffered injuries to their heads and faces and had to be treated by paramedics.”


      Lifetime bans would be a solution for those convicted of transit assaults.
      Paraphrasing that old poster:
      “Morale will decline as the beatings continue”

      Now, read the humanitarian apologia why nothing will change:

  18. PKMKII

    Scooters are a non-starter for the very young, very old, and those with physical and certain mental impairments. VR is just telling people, why not play a video game instead of going out? EV’s, the issues with those have been so thoroughly discussed on NC I won’t beat the dead horse. The boats and flying taxis are complete fantasy land. Trains, yes please.

    The one I’m surprised they didn’t mention, as it’s related to the VR trend, is telecommuting. A lot of travel time, energy use, and accidents could be avoided if more employers got over the assumption that employees have to be in office in order to get work done and let them do it remotely, especially with positions that require little face-to-face interactions.

  19. anon y'mouse

    as someone who grew up near SF, it has always puzzled me that these scooters are needed for anyone not doing delivery/messenger service.

    SF, with its various forms of transport, is one of the most walking-friendly (if you can manage the hills) towns around.

    i used to ferry over from Alameda and walk, trolley, bus and BART around the whole town in one day. (ohyes, where on this list are TROLLEYS?)

    is that another thing that is “just not possible” anymore?

  20. Michael

    What a great topic!

    Regarding telecommuting, people in the IT sector currently use it all the time, and has the added benefit of fewer interruptions, (depending whether or not you own a dog or have small children). Also snooping can be prevented by the use of a private VPN.

    The advent of electric flying cars has me pretty frightened.

    They are very seductive and not as far off as you might think. Already, a Lilium Jet, has what appears to have sufficient range to be competitive and attractive (claims low noise), and claims to be working on US Certification. If this is a scam that’s great, but if it is real, look for flights starting in 2024.

    While theoretically, the vehicle will reduce fossil fuel use and road maintenance, it will continue to advance sprawl, (diminishing farmland; and reduce train and road maintenance), it will an instrument of the rich, and energy and material use will increase as the price comes down to reasonable prices. The idea of flying seems attractive, but because you also have to levitate the vehicle, you will always use more energy than the land based alternatives.

    Regarding e-scooters, this seems attractive, and the parking problem will be solved via local ordinances, but currently they are death traps, due to small wheels that do not manage pavement cracks and potholes very well, and a high center of gravity.

    Regarding cycling and e-biking, Minneapolis/St Paul metro area, where I live, has one of the best trail systems in the US, and the area being flat makes it even easier. We can travel over 100 miles just on bike trails, which makes it prime for bicycle commuting. If you live in the burbs, and you have enough time, you can safely commute to work on an e-bike, which is becoming very popular.

    From an infrastructure perspective the problems for e-bikes are safe bike ways, and lack of secure parking within the city. While some businesses in Minneapolis provide secure parking, there are no public facilities. From what I’ve heard second hand that even some “secure” parking in places like Seattle experience bike thefts, due to lack of security cameras, and lockable doors.

    The things that hinder e-cycling all year around are a combination of icy conditions and salt applied generously on pavement; and temperatures in the winter are too cold for the batteries. The first can be obviated by studded tires or a fat bike, the second (ie salt) by a belt drive bicycle, but the third is trickier. E-bike batteries do not perform well when it gets very cold. There is technology available from the BEV industry to warm batteries internally, but I do not know if it would be small and cheap enough to implement on an e-bike. Cold weather does not matter to the rider, as you can always dress for just about any condition.

    The combined use of folding electric bikes and rail seems the most attractive. You can bike to the rail station even if it five miles away, and use the bike to get to your factory or office at the other end. The lightest folding e-bike is around 40 pounds, which would make it difficult get up stairs, but eventually with the improvement in battery technology this will be reduced.

    The fossil fuel industry is up in arms against trains, due to a loss in revenue, and constantly lobby the legislature against any new lines.

    1. Michael

      Interesting article.

      I am not against electric scooters, but the first gen obviously was poorly designed, mimicking kick scooters with tiny wheels, (the least capable of handling surface irregularities), stand up riding (which raises the center of gravity and allows the rider to stand too far forward), and a very short wheel base. It appears as in most start-ups, the designed was rushed to market, and safety was not the central motivation. The sit down scooter as shown in the above article is a much better design, as the center of gravity is lowered and moved to the rear, it has a longer wheel base, and there are much larger tires. Those tires, however, would probably not survive mid-western potholes

      As to the article referred a couple points must be made. First, it ignored the Rutgers study, which showed that head injuries from 2008 to 2017 tripled by 300%, from a sample of 100 ERs around the country.


      The studies cited in your linked article are all, interestingly, from southern locations, where none go though repeated freeze thaw cycles. Such environmental conditions produce potholes and pavement cracks in short order after paving. Where I live I see pavement cracks every 100 ft or so on a paved bike way built 10 years ago. Also potholes on Minnesota streets are an accepted fact of life, which can even physically throw ordinary bike riders with 29 inch wheels.

  21. Adam Eran

    Two items: 1. Good news! California now mandates “Complete Streets” (not just for autos, but bikes / scooters and pedestrians too) for all new development…although Gov. Newsom vetoed a requirement that Caltrans retrofit existing projects. Still…this is kind of a big deal.

    2. Mixed use (mini-stores among the residences) and mixed-income (multi-family among the single family) are starting to gain favor. Mixed use provides, incidentally, the only significant relief for congestion, say studies.

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