|» The Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority and Regional Transportation Authority are looking for a chief operating officer. [More]|
|» Los Angeles Metro has an opening for an executive officer, human resources. [More]|
|» The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is accepting bids for construction and renovation work at a bus maintenance facility. [More]|
|View more Classified Ads »|
|TO PLACE AN AD: E-mail the requested date(s) of publication to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mailing address is: Passenger Transport, 1666 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006.
Ad copy is not accepted by phone. DEADLINE: 3 p.m. EST, Friday, one week prior to publication date. INFORMATION: Phone (202) 496-4877.|
Urbanization and Smartphones Are Killing Car Culture; Cars Once Facilitated Social Outings. Has that Role Been Filled by Technology?
BY LEO MIRANI
The Western world's century-old love affair with the automobile is coming to an end.
People are driving less than they did before the recession, and there are fewer cars on the road. In the U.S., the number of vehicles per driver has fallen from a peak of 1.2 in 2007 to 1.15 today, according to data compiled by Schroders, an asset management firm. Young Americans are getting their drivers' licenses later than they did in 1983 or even in 2008. Fewer Britons under the age of 30 have licenses today than in the 1990s. And many young people on both sides of the Atlantic are not getting licenses at all.
This could very well be the end of the road for car culture, writes Katherine Davidson, automotive analyst at Schroders, in a fascinating note that makes the argument that car sales may never recover to their pre-recession peak. The reason comes down to two things: urbanization and smartphones.
A Status Symbol No More
The majority of the world's population now lives in cities. And young people are increasingly willing to stay there, unlike their parents, who flocked to the suburbs as their families grew. Nearly two-thirds of American "millennials," or people born after 1984, live in cities today, and some 40 percent say they're not leaving. For them, "cars are not as relevant as a status symbol, and getting a license is no longer a 'rite of passage' in the way it once was," writes Davidson.
Urban centers, of course, are less pleasant and more expensive to drive in, thanks to congestion, lots of traffic lights and pricey parking. And the proliferation of smartphones--with apps that let city residents access real-time information on public transport and capabilities that have given rise to private taxi services like Uber--add to the sense among city dwellers that owning a car is an unnecessary expense.
A New Object of Desire
Smartphones cut car use in other ways, too. By allowing people to easily stay in constant contact, smartphones have reduced the number of trips people take. Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft, noted this phenomenon in her 2014 book, It's Complicated, which looked at the use of communications tools among teenagers. "What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging and other social media are to teens now," she writes.
E-commerce also has detrimental effects on car ownership. If your supermarket delivers a hefty order to your home every weekend, trips to the out-of-town hypermarket suddenly become unnecessary. Ditto for bulky items, now delivered from Amazon.
New Models Needed
What does all this mean for car companies? "Our base case is that there will be a structural stagnation in the developed world auto industry, with no further gains in density and all future vehicle sales driven by replacement demand," writes Schroders' Davidson.
Nigel Griffiths, chief automotive economist with the research firm IHS, is somewhat more sanguine: "We do believe there is a structural change occurring. The question is how significant that is and how pervasive that will be in the long term," he says, adding, "We are being very cautious in our forward-looking models."
One reason is for that is the difficulty in reading structural changes amid a lot of cyclical noise. Gas prices are falling. Exchange rates are volatile. It's not clear where car ownership levels will settle out, post-recession. All of that has "really clouded the issue," says Griffiths.
Emerging markets don't offer much cause for optimism. Modest increases in car ownership in developing countries have already led to gridlocked cities, thanks to terrible (or, in many cases, a complete absence of) urban planning. From Mumbai to Nairobi, and certainly all over China, vast amounts of money are being poured into public transport. While there remains much room for growth in car ownership in these markets, signs are that emerging economies will learn from the west, adopt new technology, and avoid building their cities around the automobile.
Reprinted with permission. (c) 2015 The Atlantic Media Co., as first published in the Atlantic Magazine. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Mirani is a reporter with London-based Quartz, a partner of the Atlantic.
This "Commentary" section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.