by Till Schmiedeknecht, Managing Director BGP Asset Management.
Urban life is about to be disrupted. Soon, the first driverless cars will be put on sale: interconnected robots with a taxi license. “The technology is essentially here”, Barack Obama told Wired in October 2016. According to recent studies by the General German Automobile Club ADAC (equivalent to the UK’s Automobile Association), three quarters of Germans consider it likely for human drivers to be replaced by robots in the future. A strong statement, coming from a nation of driving enthusiasts.
These new automobiles, truly deserving of the name will initially exist parallel to “analogue cars”. Eventually, the move from owning ones’ personal car to a share in individual mobility concepts will prevail: It’s more cost effective, efficient and finally, more practical. Even today, there are early signs for this trend on the market: Be it chauffeur services like Uber or Lyft, be it car sharing companies like DriveNow or Car2go, all of them already offer successful concepts of mobility beyond owning ones’ own vehicle. The next step is already foreseeable: What if the car starts at the push of a button and goes to pick up its next passenger after dropping the last one off? This concept saves space, time, money and brings with it some extra amenities: Finally, that second glass of wine again becomes what it should be – a matter of taste – not a question of road safety.
Driverless cars will significantly change the face of our cities and therefore, our living arrangements. Even more importantly, they will change our living possibilities. The inner cities will be much less dominated by metal, exhaust fumes and status – consequently, fewer parking spaces will be needed. Do you know what a car’s principal activity is today? Being parked. Cars spend almost 90 per cent of their time unused; over 30 per cent of overall ground space in cities is reserved for transportation. The potential uses, especially in times where there is a shortage of residential space, are quite obvious. Formerly wide roads will become lawns, multi-storey carparks will disappear and parking spaces will fall into disuse.
Smart mobility concepts will directly influence our way of living. Still we sacrifice too much land for our cars, instead of putting it to use for peoples’ growing need for modern housing. The areas freed up by the new style of mobility would then be reassigned and used for sustainable projects. Society needs to recognize these changes and prepare for this immanent disruption. Incidentally, some small steps have already been taken to that effect: Since the German reform of federalism, the Länder (states) can individually vote on their regulations regarding the planning for car parking spaces with urban building projects. Once they are amended to reflect modern reqirements, a lot of land could be reclaimed for housing and the rental market could be eased.