For millions of people around the world, for much of the 20th Century, one of the most important skills they ever learnt was how to drive. Today, we see tremendous strain on our transport infrastructure, with roads handling many more vehicles than they were designed for. In many urban areas, twisting, turning streets built hundreds of years ago, where there isn't room to let two cars pass side-by-side, are expected to cope with thousands of motorists every day.
But while the invention of the internal combustion engine has changed the world in many ways - both positive and negative - in a relatively short period of time, a societal shift is taking place. Fewer people are earning a driving licence, and technological advances could see those people who are actually legally qualified to drive reduced to a very small minority in the next few years. I'm sure that my children will not ever need - or have - a driving licence.
To many of us that do hold driving licences, whether 18 or 80 years old, one of the key reasons we passed our driving test was to enjoy a greater degree of independence. We can travel where we want, when we want, in a highly personalised environment. For many of us, a car is a necessity to get us to where we work and to transport ourselves and our families to where we need to go. And a clean driving licence is considered a boon by many employers.
Of course, the motor car has traditionally been seen as a status symbol - but evidence suggests that the younger generations aren't so smitten by the car marques and prioritise other values such as eco-friendliness where transport is involved. Indeed, there is a great deal of research that shows that younger people have fallen out of love with cars, with a downward trend in the number of people taking their driving test dating right back to the 1980s in most of the developed world.
This trend is continuing, with reports from the UK and the US showing that younger people can be put off by the cost of owning a car, and citing greater access to other forms of transport as a reason not to own one. Socio-economic factors also dictate whether people own cars, with those still living with parents less likely to hold a licence. Another reason that a younger person wouldn't drive a car could possibly be that greater internet access reduces their need to travel either to work or to see friends.
However, people still need to get around, and technology is making it easier for non-car owners to do this. Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Hailo beat minicabs for price and availability in many urban areas across Europe and the US, and further technological advancements are going to make it even easier to get around in future, whether you drive a car or not or live in city hubs or more regionally.
I'm talking, of course, about autonomous vehicles - or self-driving cars as they are more commonly known. Many experts predict that these vehicles will dominate the roads in just a few years - while that doesn't necessarily mean that human-operated cars will become extinct overnight, it will eventually lead to a massive decline in their numbers. But it isn't just autonomous vehicles that advances in technology have enabled. The ability to gather, store and analyse large amounts of data also allows us to make much better use of all of the seats in motor cars in a way that is convenient for all passengers. Ride-sharing services such as BlaBlaCar continue to make progress, and Uber is predicting that half of all journeys made using its platform in London will be on UberPool, its ride-sharing service, in the future.
Public transport infrastructure will also be greatly improved by better use of data. It is possible to build a better, more flexible and more convenient system of public transport when you have more information about how individuals and groups of people use it. A system that the user has more control over, with flexible timings, pick-up and drop-off points, faster journeys and smaller numbers of passengers in each vehicle. Forget buses and trains holding dozens or hundreds of people, but think about smaller vehicles with eight to 10 passengers instead. These passengers will enjoy greater comfort and convenience than they are used to with existing public transport systems, not far short of those using private vehicles, in fact.
It is my firm belief that public transport will be improved not by catering for the masses but by focusing on individual needs and matching passengers up with those who have similar needs. Driving will also become a more specialised skill in years to come, a source of income for the those who wish to make a career of helping other people get around. But these drivers will be few and far between, as uncommon as people capable of speaking fluent Latin or playing the oboe at an orchestral standard. And chances are, my children won't be among those people.
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