Sun | Jan 23, 2022

Anthony Clayton | Jamaica in 2050 – Part 4: The future of transport

Published:Sunday | November 14, 2021 | 12:08 AM
In this 2016 photo, an Uber driverless car waits in traffic during a test drive in San Francisco.
In this 2016 photo, an Uber driverless car waits in traffic during a test drive in San Francisco.

In this 2016 file photo, the driverless electric free shuttle Navly drives through a district of Lyon, central France, as part of an experiment.
In this 2016 file photo, the driverless electric free shuttle Navly drives through a district of Lyon, central France, as part of an experiment.
Professor Anthony Clayton
Professor Anthony Clayton
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This is the fourth in a series of eight articles looking at the ways that the world will change between now and 2050 and analysing the implications for Jamaica’s future.

The world’s vehicle fleet is about to be transformed by two simultaneous changes. By 2040, most new vehicles will be electric, with no internal combustion engines, and autonomous, able to drive themselves.

The market share for electric vehicles (EVs) is growing exponentially as the problems of battery storage, durability, charging time, range, and cost have been largely overcome. Between 2010 and 2020, the cost of one kilowatt hour of battery power fell by 90 per cent, and it is now price-competitive with gasolene. The latest batteries will last as long as the vehicle itself: about two million kilometres. Maintenance costs are much lower mainly because there are about 20 moving parts in an EV compared with about 2,000 in an internal combustion engine. Recharge time is still slow, at least 30 minutes, but most drivers just leave their vehicle on charge overnight or when they are not using it. There are also new batteries in development that should be able to fully recharge in about 10 minutes. The maximum range for an EV is now about 400 miles, which is enough to drive between Kingston and Montego Bay three times without recharging.

As part of the response to climate change, nearly 20 countries and 12 US states have set dates for the phase-out of combustion engines. The United Kingdom, for example, will ban sales of new gasolene and diesel cars in 2030. The switch to EVs will require building out a network of charging points to replace filling stations, and a number of countries are rapidly building the new infrastructure.

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

Most of the new vehicles will also be partially or wholly autonomous vehicles (AVs), and a number of countries and states in the United States have started the process of legalising their use on the roads. About 75 per cent of the cost of shipping goods by road across the US is the cost of the labour involved, so eliminating the workforce will reduce the cost by the same percentage. Driverless trucks can work for 24 hours per day, while drivers in the US are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day. This means that the shift to driverless trucks would double the capacity of the US road network while reducing the cost per load by 75 per cent, giving an eight-fold improvement in the price-performance of ground-transportation networks. Similarly, substantial savings will be made in other regions, such as Europe, where over three-quarters of all shipped goods are transported by road.

Shipping represents a significant part of the cost of all consumer goods, so an eight-fold improvement in the price-performance of ground transportation means that consumers everywhere will see prices fall significantly and their standard of living rise commensurately.

AVs will also be safer. At present, about 1.25 million people die in road accidents each year, with as many as 50 million injured. The total economic cost is US$518 billion per year, and the cost of road accidents to low- and middle-income countries is US$65 billion annually, which exceeds the total amount that these countries receive in development assistance. Most of these accidents are the result of human error, so those lives could be saved and the economic cost eliminated.

AVs also reduce traffic congestion as they use AI to reroute their journeys. This could allow cities to accommodate up to 30 per cent more traffic while reducing average travel time by 10 per cent to give a total global saving of one billion hours per day as a result. It is estimated that by 2030, about 80 per cent of miles driven in the US will be by AVs and that this will generate $800 billion in savings.

MAJOR SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

It is not necessary to own an AV as they can operate like Uber taxis, coming when they are needed. At present, most cars in the US are parked for 95 per cent of the time, representing a very inefficient commitment of capital, but removal of the need for ownership could reduce the number of vehicles needed to get everyone to work and school by about 80 per cent. This is why AVs are a major part of the solution to climate change.

The impact on employment will be equally dramatic. About 1.6 million people in the US work as truck drivers, which is about one per cent of the workforce, and most of them would then become redundant, along with many of the jobs in support activities such as local deliveries, gas stations, diners, and motels. A total of nearly nine million people in the US who would lose their current jobs. The shift to AVs would have a similar impact on employment in Jamaica. Bus and taxi drivers, gas pump attendants, and driving instructors will become redundant, and police will no longer have to spend time on traffic duties.

Vehicles in Jamaica are imported, so the pace of change in exporting countries will be one of the two key factors driving the pace of adaptation in Jamaica. In May 2021, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service concluded its review of the fiscal regime to develop Jamaica’s e-mobility architecture. This is an important pre-emptive measure to prevent the import of vehicles that can no longer be sold in other jurisdictions. The other key factor is the need to upgrade the roads; put the smart vehicle infrastructure in place; and update the legislation on traffic laws, liability, and insurance.

Ships, too, will become autonomous. In 2017, Rolls-Royce launched the world’s first remote-controlled commercial ship, and the world will be switching over to fully autonomous ocean-going vessels by 2030-2035. These offer substantial reductions in time and cost as crews are no longer required, an estimated 75 per cent reduction in shipping accidents, and a reduced risk of piracy. By 2030, it might be possible for a control centre with a dozen staff to manage an entire fleet of large vessels with shipping operations around the world. Shipping will be safer and cheaper, reducing the cost of both imports and exports, and fully automated trans-shipment operations can be established on islands in good strategic locations – such as Jamaica.

- Anthony Clayton is professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.