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: electrictraffic.fi
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.