Image via Work Design Magazine
Work does not look like it did twenty, ten, or even five years ago. But the ways most people get to work have not evolved to keep up with the pace of change. Public transit systems are overstressed. Transportation infrastructure, at least in the US, has reached a “precarious condition.”
“Commuting may get worse before it gets better,” writes Luis Cilimingras in a realistic assessment at Quartz. “The United Nations reckons 60% of the world’s population will move to cities by 2030—up from 50% today—which might threaten to overwhelm the public transportation systems already operating beyond full capacity.”
But he promises good news. “In the future” (you may have to suspend some disbelief to follow his argument) “people will actually look forward to their daily commutes.” What will future commutes look like? They will be “dynamic, multi-modal, on-demand.” In more concrete terms, we already see many of these characteristics in ride-sharing opportunities by car, bike, and scooter.
In a few years “the commute itself,” write Jodi Williams and Joelle Jach at Work Design Magazine, “when taken, will become more flexible and personalized, faster, more environmentally-friendly, and less dependent on single-occupant cars.” Cars will remain a staple but will probably not fly—well, not just yet.
However, in addition the mass expansion of walkability, biking, and ride-sharing and the availability of self-driving cars in ten years, Williams and Jach do see flying cars becoming mainstream in a quarter century, pointing to the successful test of one design from a Slovakian company, AeroMobil, as evidence.
Moreover, high-speed trains might float, using magnetic levitation, “already being piloted in some parts of the world — in some cases reaching speeds over 300 miles per hour.” These forecasts of sci-fi commuting seemed right around the corner to the optimistic futurism of sixty years ago. The technology is now far closer at hand.
Even as old transit options rumble toward seeming obsolescence, the near future of commuting has already arrived, not only through ride-sharing startups, but through private personalized options from some of the largest US companies, including Google, Apple, and Facebook, who “offer shuttles or arranged ride shares to get employees to work,” notes CNN’s Matt McFarland. These services “don’t have to follow a set route—they can adjust to where their workers live.”
Major car companies are also trying high-tech personalized services. Ford now “offers a crowdsourced shuttle bus service called Chariot that considers feedback from riders and determines where to route shuttles. Passengers book a $4 seat through an app, and Chariot’s algorithms map out routes based on demand and where riders are going.”
Toyota has a personalized self-driving project in development. And while it remains the case that over 90 percent of Americans still drive to work, the “connected car” may offer “a nearer term antidote than the more widely-known driverless car,” explains Siemens in a sponsored post at The Atlantic.
Connected cars “talk” to each other to reduce traffic and accidents. Before flying cars and levitating trains become the norm, an “internet of cars” could ease the familiar pain of highway traffic, which has worsened with the increase of reverse commutes, as many jobs move outward from cities and into former bedroom communities that house major tech campuses and office complexes.
If you’re still struggling to imagine how anyone could look forward to commuting in the future (except, of course, for piloting flying cars), consider the possibility that someday the office might come to you, with what Cilimingras calls the “rise of the ‘inverse commute,’”—“self-driving office pods” that show up at your front door. Welcome to the world of tomorrow.
Meanwhile, some of the best options for urban commuters have already taken over city streets around the world. Bikes and electric scooters get people where they need to go cheaply and easily, without fossil fuels, long waits, sweaty crowds, and traffic jams. And hey, you know, the bonus is…. they’re fun!