FREEDOM AND SAFETY
While Londoners used to be faced with a binary choice between car or public transport, new ways of getting around the capital have been cropping up.
In London, the number of journeys made by cars has fallen 25 percent since 1990. Problems with congestion have caused the number of drivers entering the city centre during rush hour to fall from 137,000 in 2000 to 64,000 in 2014, while the number of cyclists trebled during the same time. The number of young people learning to drive across the UK has also dropped - in 1994, 48 percent of 17 to 20-year-olds had a driving licence, compared to just 31 percent today.
The government is attempting to push down the number of cars in city centres to ease problems like pollution. Inner-city drivers are stung with congestion charges and more and more streets are slated for pedestrianisation, such as the major shopping area Oxford Street.
But as car usage declines, which modes of transport are taking its place? We’ve heard plenty about the autonomous cars and flying taxis of the future, but how is technology changing how we travel in the capital today?
The chances are, if you live in London, you’ve seen the distinctive bright yellow or orange and silver frames of Ofo and Mobike cycles dotted around the capital. These dockless bikes - hailing from China - represent the next step in bike sharing. Users can locate the bikes through the app, rent them and park them without the need to search for a docking station, unlike the ubiquitous Santander Cycles (also known as Boris Bikes). A locking mechanism on the back wheel means they can be parked anywhere (although you are advised to do so in a sensible and considerate manner).
This idea has existed since the 1960s, when a similar programme was launched in Amsterdam, but until now there has not been the location tracking and app enabled rental technology to successfully realise the idea.
Today, these bikes are so popular in China that they litter pathways and are stacked in the thousands in scrap yards awaiting repair. They are relatively new in London, numbering in the thousands right now, although Ofo alone eventually plans to populate the streets with 150,000.
Dockless bike-sharing schemes are also massive in - generally ahead of the curve - Silicon Valley, which surely signals their potential for other parts of the world.
An alternative to dockless bike-sharing for those not in the market to buy their own bike is Buzzbike. This company lets you ride a high-quality bike around London for £30 per month. The only catch? The bikes are branded with the colour scheme and decor of various different advertisers. However, the company only works with select companies and ensure that the overall look of the bike remains aesthetically pleasing. You sign up to a rolling contract but can return the bike whenever you want.
Uberpool - where Uber users travelling along the same routes can share rides - has been around for a while now. But this is just one example of how technology is connecting people for shared journeys. The appetite for carpooling in the UK is increasing - with a 765 percent increase in car club memberships between 2008 and 2017. And tech is making this easier to achieve.
Citymapper, the popular route-mapping app, has used its sizeable data collection of London travel to launch its own form of transport.
The Smart Ride - a hybrid between a bus and a taxi - will travel set routes in London that are under-served by buses, but will pick up and drop off people individually, all orchestrated by - of course - an app in which you can pay too. The route will cater to real-time demand (as well as historical data about route popularity). These can be accessed directly through the ‘Smart Ride’ section on the app, or will be suggested when it makes sense for your desired route.
Citymapper also partnered with black cabs signed up to Gett (the black cab app) to launch the BB1 Black Bus, where taxis run along set routes like buses, offering a space in a cab for a fixed fare of £3 through the Gett app. These operate between 7am and 10am and 5pm and 8pm on weekdays, catering to the rush hour travel.
Even TFL is looking into the possibility of trialling bus routes serviced by on-demand minibuses to complement its services in outer London, where there is greater car dependency.
The sharing economy has already changed our attitudes towards our houses, are our cars next? There are an increasing number of peer-to-peer car-sharing companies on the market, such as HiyaCar and EasyCar. These are platforms which allow car-owners to rent out their cars within their communities.
For HiyaCar, renters can download the app and browse the cars available in their area. They then sign up and take the car out for however long they have paid for. On some of the cars, ‘keyless’ technology is being trialled where the renter can unlock and start the car with only their smartphone. This technology has proved popular among users, with 22 percent going for a car installed with it, despite only two percent having the tech integrated into their cars.
These relatively new companies follow in the footsteps of other companies revolutionising the car rental market such as Zipcar, the short-term rental car and van service.
Uber is also changing how people approach car ownership. The cheap taxi service has taken over the London taxi industry. Offering inexpensive rides all over the city, five percent of users say they wouldn’t buy a car because of Uber.
Of course, in London, the underground remains one of the most popular ways to get around, transporting 1.37 billion passengers each year. TfL sometimes faces criticism about its lack of technological innovation, but they are increasingly using data to ensure the lines keep running smoothly. A group of data scientists are using predictive analytics to counter potential disruptions to good service on the underground. This can include predicting when a motor is about to fail.
TfL also advocates for open data, which is offered up to developers through its Unified API, and is estimated to save the London economy £130 million through its value to third parties.
TfL are also working on increasing users' connectivity on the tube by increasing Wi-Fi coverage, even within tunnels, and (shudder) 4G mobile coverage billed for 2019.