Instead of continually improving the efficiency of cars, might it be better to replace them entirely?

A few cities encourageresidents to eschew car use for public transit, cycling, or car-sharing services--but now one is trying to eliminate privately-owned cars altogether.

Helsinki, Finland, is planning an ambitious public ridesharing service that could make privately-owned cars obsolete, according to a recent Navigant Research blog post.

The Finnish capital wants to create a subscriber service that would give residents on-demand access to several transportation options, including carsharing, bikesharing, ferries, and the minibus service the city launched last year.

Many cities have extensive public transit systems and bike- or car-sharing services, though. So why will Helsinki's scheme spell the end for private cars there?

Electric car drivers in Helsinki. Image:

Electric car drivers in Helsinki. Image:

The novelty of the system is that everything will be integrated, with one form of payment giving residents access to whatever transportation services they need.

Helsinki's transportation network would essentially be treated like a utility or cellphone service plan, with customers paying for access rather than individual trips.

It's also similar to the Ha:Mo ("Harmonious Mobility") concept Toyota is testing in Japan and France, which uses software to coordinate trips using a combination of public transit and i-Road electric vehicles for commuters.

Both plans would eliminate privately-owned cars from urban centers, but what about eliminating all cars?

That's the startling vision proposed by researcher Tom Turrentine and colleagues at the University of California--Davis, in a recent paper entitled, "California: Beyond cars?"

The paper's thesis is that the environmental impact and relative inefficiency of a car-centric transportation system make cars worth reducing--and that the inevitable conclusion of the continual process of improving automotive efficiency will be eliminating them altogether.

It's hard to imagine a world without cars, especially in the U.S., where 60 years of suburban-sprawl development without sidewalks, bike lanes, or mass transit anywhere near make private vehicles a matter of sheer survival for many.

But Finnish policymakers can at least imagine a city without them.

Or at least, vehicles that don't belong to individuals.


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