Silicon Valley is wrong about the future of transportation (2022)

There is perhaps no piece of technology more ubiquitous in the United States than the car. 83 percent of Americans drive almost every day, and three-quarters of American workers commuted by car in 2019. Outside of a handful of relatively dense cities like New York and Washington, DC, it’s difficult to get around without a car of your own to go to work, the grocery store, the hospital, or nearly anywhere else.

But the car’s rise to dominance was anything but predestined, as Paris Marx argues in their new book, Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation. Marx — a writer and podcast host who critiques tech, media, and cities — explores how local governments and corporations mobilized to have cities accommodate cars, leading to an inextricable dependence on them.

Today, Silicon Valley tech companies are getting into the business of redesigning American urban life, just as auto companies did previously. Though Big Tech companies claim they’re solving traffic and climate change, Marx argues that the techno-utopian visions around ride-sharing, electric cars, and autonomous vehicles have done little to truly address the root of these problems, and may actually be making things worse.

According to Marx, technology will not solve urban transportation and planning problems, but changing our political calculus will. No new fancy gadget will solve the fundamental problem of modern American transportation.

“Ultimately,” Marx said, “there needs to be organized movements of residents, workers, people who are demanding an alternative to how things work right now. That’s certainly not incompatible with more democracy within communities. But it certainly does require work.”

To learn more about the future of transportation in the United States, I spoke with Marx about their new book. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Muizz Akhtar

You write in your book: “Owning a vehicle is not a choice, it is a necessity, and to suggest otherwise would be silly.” How did cars go from being a luxury good for the wealthy to an indispensable good for the masses?

(Video) BetterPod episode 11: Paris Marx on Silicon Valley and the future of transportation [PODCAST]

Paris Marx

There is this powerful lobby of interests that do want to see the automobile become the dominant mode of transportation. There’s this narrative of the automobile as though it’s providing freedom, as though all of us are empowered when we have our automobiles, and this is reinforced in automotive advertising — you see the cars driving on the wide open roads. But anyone who actually drives the car regularly would know how often they’re stuck in traffic.

The reality of the automobile is quite different from the fiction that we’re sold; the reality is an almost radical dependence rather than a degree of freedom. There’s this high cost of the automobile where you need to buy it in order to get around. You need to pay your insurance, the oil, the gas or the diesel to power it. You need to pay for your occasional maintenance. For some people, those bills can disrupt their finances and their economic security. The idea that this is an example of freedom and not of dependency, in order to enrich a certain number of corporations, is quite laughable to me.

Automotive supremacy is this idea that we’ve reached this point where for many people, there is really no alternative because transit systems were defunded because everyone had an automobile or was expected to have an automobile. That’s a serious problem. It’s not actually as beneficial as it’s been sold to us, as we see in this moment where once again gas prices are through the roof. A lot of people are suffering and struggling as a result.

Muizz Akhtar

How did the 2008 recession and the decade after impact the tech industry’s relationship to public infrastructure?

Paris Marx

When we’re looking at post-2008, the economy is in a really difficult place. People have lost jobs, governments are looking for ways to restore those jobs to show that the economy is growing, that the economy is dynamic, and whatnot. The tech industry is really well placed to fit perfectly into that narrative: “Technology is bringing progress. We need to accept what these Silicon Valley companies are doing because this is the future.” After the recession, there’s this real desire to look at the tech industry and believe what they’re selling us as a positive vision that is making the world better and ignoring the potential downsides of that. That’s not to say that, at that moment, there were not people who were speaking out critically. It’s just that it doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention.

(Video) Silicon Valley's Transportation Future Pt 1: A Vision Beyond Gridlock

There’s this move into the city — there’s this desire to go beyond what’s just happening on your computer and to integrate the internet itself into so many other parts of the world. The idea is that this will make things better, this will improve things. But I think, especially now more than a decade on from that, it’s time for a reckoning of reassessment and to recenter ourselves, especially post-pandemic. How do we think about technology in the tech industry now? And how do we ensure we don’t get caught up in these promises, again, in a really uncritical way?

Muizz Akhtar

You discuss in great detail this linear idea of progress promoted by Silicon Valley, which positions technology as the primary driver of the last century of urban development. Why can’t we solve our transportation, urban planning, and mobility problems with technological solutions?

Paris Marx

It doesn’t really change anything about the larger construction of our communities. Early on, Uber promised it was going to reduce car ownership, fix traffic, make transportation more accessible, empower drivers, all of these things. The research has shown us quite conclusively that it makes traffic worse, does very little to car ownership, and mainly serves young, college-educated, urban dwellers earning above-average income. Increasingly, we see prices going up, and convenience of the service is going down. Some people are even going back to taxis.

Jarrett Walker, who’s a transportation planner, talks about how the problem here is not a technological one, but a geometric one. We only have so much space in our communities in our cities. A new technology doesn’t change that. If we really want to solve these more fundamental transportation problems that arise from the mass ownership and mass use of the automobile, we need to deal with it at its core. It’s a political problem that has been created over the course of many decades. Adding a new technology to cars isn’t actually going to solve those problems.

Arguably, what we’ve seen over the past decade or so is that adding those technologies is actually making things worse. We need to stop believing that it’s just technology that could solve these problems. But we need to get to like the fundamental politics of it, and deal with that question, before these things are going to be fixed.

Muizz Akhtar

(Video) Future Trends In Mobility & Transportation

What is the difference between transportation as envisioned by Big Tech and the auto companies, and transportation as a public service? And why is that more of a political question than a technological question?

Paris Marx

There’s a big benefit to these companies to have a transportation system that is dependent on automobiles. There’s a lot of ways companies can profit from that, whether it’s the automotive company that’s selling you the vehicle, the garage that’s providing service to the vehicle, the gas station and the oil companies that are selling you the product to power the vehicle, the insurance company that is insuring the vehicle, and on and on. I would argue that what we’re largely seeing with the tech companies is not really the desire to change that on a large scale, but rather to insert themselves into that pre-existing relationship, so they can take their own cut of that as well.

If we were to reorient around public transportation, collective forms of transportation, and a greater degree of cycling, I would argue that there’s less profit opportunity for a lot of companies. So naturally, there is a reluctance to accept that as a future of transportation, or even for governments to pursue that. Because then it means you can’t point to all the manufacturing jobs for cars that are being created. Or maybe those factories would eventually close, because people aren’t buying so many cars anymore.

You can see how there are two very different visions that have different sets of benefits. The one that we have so far chosen is one that really benefits companies, I would say, at the expense of the public. We need to find a way to reorient ourselves to get a different system of transportation that’s more beneficial to us, rather than companies that want to profit from us.

Muizz Akhtar

What would it mean for there to be democratic power and control over new and emerging technologies?

Paris Marx

(Video) Innovators gather in Detroit to talk future of transportation

It can be a difficult proposition because the way that we plan our societies right now — the way that things work is quite undemocratic. We leave a lot to these private corporations, and even the governments that we have can be bought off by a lot of these commercial interests. So a lot of decisions don’t necessarily reflect the desires of the public. I think that people would say that with how planning processes can be put together, it’s possible for a small number of very vocal people to control that and ensure it works in very negative and regressive ways. There are certainly proposals for how these sorts of things could work to ensure that you’re including a greater number of voices that would usually be excluded in these kinds of conversations. But there would also need to be a component of educating people of the trade-offs of the different kinds of systems that are available to them.

Muizz Akhtar

What futures lie ahead of us if American society continues on its current transportation course?

Paris Marx

It’s not a great future, really. We’re kind of stuck in this bind, where we’re dependent on these automobiles, where the cost of using them is increasing, where the number of deaths on the road continues to rise every year. If we do a mass transition to electric vehicles, as it’s being pushed by these companies, and also by the governments, I think that we’re going to find that that doesn’t solve the climate problem of the transportation system to the degree that we’re being sold right now. It will also continue these kinds of neo-colonial relationships between the Global North, and the countries where a lot of this mining is actually going to happen in parts of South America, Asia, Africa. That would have severe consequences for a lot of communities that would be near those mines in the Global South.

Even further than that, if we keep believing what these tech folks are telling us, then I think that we’re heading toward a future that is more unequal, where wealth is even further in the hands of a very small number of people. You can see technologies being used within the city to further entrench these divides, even as they’re sold to us as greater convenience and accessibility for people. The usual promises that are made don’t get followed through on. There’s a real risk here that if we don’t really start to deal with the politics of these problems, and we keep believing that the techno solutions are going to lead us to a better future, that the reality that we’re dealing with just keeps getting worse and worse and worse.

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FAQs

What will be the future of transportation? ›

The future of transportation involves moving into new, smarter sources of energy, modes of transport and physical and technological infrastructure to support these transportation innovations. Three common themes in transportation innovation are: smart technology. electrification.

What are the benefits of future transportation? ›

Advantages and disadvantages
  • Fewer accidents.
  • Faster travel times.
  • You will be able to do other things on your trip, e.g. work or play with your kids, increasing productivity and happiness.
  • More people can use cars (e.g. children, elderly, those with disabilities)
  • Less car theft as each vehicle can be tracked.
24 Sept 2014

How would future technology change transport in our lives? ›

What could the future of transportation look like?
  1. Maglev trains. These high-speed trains use magnetic levitation from powerful electromagnets to travel high speeds with less noise and vibration than traditional trains. ...
  2. Flying taxis. ...
  3. Driverless cars. ...
  4. Delivery drones. ...
  5. Underground roads. ...
  6. Hyperloop.
21 Sept 2022

What will replace cars? ›

Eventually, one could envision most daily travel needs being met by cheap battery-powered vehicles like Segway-style walkers, electric bikes or scooters, or one- or two-person urban pod cars, with long-distance travel reserved for specialized vehicles.

Why could future transport have a negative impact? ›

Traffic Congestion and Long Commute Times

More cars and buses on roads make for slower commutes, and a high number of commuters on trains and other forms of public transit can cause delays, strain the system, and cause people to give up using public transportation.

What are some negative examples of transportation technology? ›

This leads people to expand the urban areas, which eventually destroys the land for agriculture. The transportation's biggest negative impact is its impact to the water system and wildlife habitat. Transportation impacts the quality of water and divide the life habitat of animals.

What is the advantage and disadvantage of transportation? ›

Comparison Table for Advantages and Disadvantages of Road Transport
AdvantagesDisadvantages
Cheaper transportationLack of organization and structure
Less packaging costRandom due to involvement of too many organizations
Acts as a feeder to other means of transportDelivery of heavy cargo is expensive by road
7 more rows
7 Jan 2022

What are disadvantages of transportation? ›

Disadvantages of Road Transport:
  • Frequent Accidents: ADVERTISEMENTS: ...
  • Inadequate Roads: Most of the roads are in bad shape and are inadequate. ...
  • Heavy Taxes: There is heavy tax burden on motor transport in India. ...
  • Poor Maintenance of Roads: ...
  • Rising Cost of Petrol and Diesel: ...
  • Unsuitable for Long Distances and Bulky Goods:

What are three disadvantages to using public transportation? ›

Disadvantages of Public Transport

The fixed schedules that public transport follows may not mesh precisely with the travel demands of some users. Privacy is compromised a great deal. Travelers are crowded and personal space may not be available.

What are the effects of technology on transportation? ›

The medium of transport, which are roads, has become well maintained and better developed since technology has come into the picture. Roads can open and close to let ships go under a bridge. Technology has been able to cover portholes that cause accidents in the quickest way possible.

How technology affects changed transportation? ›

New technologies are transforming the way we plan, design, build, and operate transportation systems. Transport agencies use them to count traffic, detect crashes, collect tolls and fares, and manage transit operations and traffic signal systems.

How does transportation affect our lives? ›

Transportation moves people and goods to different neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries; and it allows people in those various places to trade and do business together.

What will transportation be like in 2050? ›

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. Hyperloops and High-speed Trains. Smart Highways and Transit Systems. Point-to-Point Suborbital Flights.

What will transportation be like in 2030? ›

By 2030, the report's authors predicted, 49% of all trips undertaken within cities would be completed via those “greener” methods, while car trips would account for 46% of all urban journeys — down from 51% in 2020. Journeys made by taxi and ride-hailing apps like Uber would make up the remaining 5%, Kantar said.

How can I live without a car? ›

Alternative options to owning a car.
  1. Ridesharing. Apps like Lyft and Uber have made getting around simpler than ever. ...
  2. Public transit. Public transportation systems vary greatly from city to city. ...
  3. Car sharing. ...
  4. Bicycling. ...
  5. Bike sharing. ...
  6. Walking. ...
  7. Car rental. ...
  8. Taxi.
5 Sept 2018

Why could these future technologies have a negative impact in schools? ›

Relevant research has proven that technology could change education negatively through four paths: deteriorating students' competences of reading and writing, dehumanizing educational environments, distorting social interactions between teachers and students and isolating individuals when using technology.

What is the negative effect of technology in work? ›

This only leads to their feeling frustrated, pressurized & stressed out at work. They also agree that long term increased distractions result in the brain to develop a chemical imbalance. This causes anxiety & fatigue & is regarded to be a major impact of technology on employees.

How does transportation affect the economy? ›

A transportation network makes markets more competitive. Economists often study resource allocation—that is, how specific goods and services are used. A transportation system improves the allocation process because it widens the number of opportunities for suppliers and buyers.

What are the negative effects of technology in our environment? ›

These technologies have damaged our world in two main ways; pollution and the depletion of natural resources. Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and methane are introduced into the earth's atmosphere.

What are the positive and negative impacts of technology on the environment? ›

Technology also has positive and negative environmental effects. The positive effects are recycling of wastes, reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and renewable energy production. The negative effects include depletion of natural resources, air pollution, and accumulation of wastes.

What technology is bad for the environment? ›

E-Waste (Electronic Waste)

The environmental costs of consumer technology do not end there. These products also pose a problem at the end of their useful lives. Globally, we are throwing away $62.5 bn of electronic waste every year.

What is the problem with transportation? ›

Some of the biggest issues surrounding transportation systems include: Traffic management measures. Long commutes. Parking issues.

What is the main disadvantage of modern transport? ›

⇒ The use of modern means of transport has caused air, land, noise, and water pollution and an imbalance in the environment. The gases emitted by various vehicles in the air, oils and fuel spilled by ships in the water, and horns by the road vehicles are the major effects caused.

What are the problems of modern means of transportation? ›

Problems of modern transportation include traffic safety, declining fuel reserves, environmental problems, and inadequate public transportation facilities. These problems are most severe in countries that depend heavily on automobile transportation.

What is the negative of public transport? ›

Less convenient compared to cars

In general, public transport is considered to be less convenient compared to the use of cars by most people.

Why do people not use public transport? ›

Among those who said they could, at least in theory, use public transport to travel to work, the most common reason for not doing so was the belief it would 'take too long'. Those in remote rural areas were more likely to cite 'lack of service' as their reason for not travelling to work by public transport.

Would you prefer to use public transport in the future? ›

I think I'd prefer public transport. It's much more inexpensive and because it can contain a large number of people, it helps ease the intensity of traffic jams during peak hours and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by vehicles. Private transportation is more costly in terms of fees, taxes and gasoline.

Which technology is currently used in transport? ›

Near-Field Communication (NFC) With transport networks increasingly becoming interlinked – given that multimodal travel and transit network connectedness emerging as a trend, consumers are seeking more seamless travel experiences. NFC or Near-Field Communication is making that possible [4].

What technology is used in transport industry? ›

As technologies like artificial intelligence, data science, manufacturing and deep learning become more advanced, so too will vehicles themselves. These fields act as the backbone for everything from autonomous vehicles to aerospace travel, and even function as the basis for ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Lyft.

Why technology is changing the face of transportation? ›

Improved technology has also increased productivity in the supply chain, minimizing costs and errors. These advances benefit all areas of the logistics industry: trucking transportation, international transportation (ocean and air), supply chain management, and shipment tracking.

How can technology improve transport systems? ›

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)

Real-time traffic and passenger information can be fed through intelligent transport systems which then automatically adjust traffic signal timings. This can greatly improve the capacity and speed of transport systems.

Why transportation is important in our life essay? ›

Transportation is important because it facilitates exchange and travel. Without transportation the different regions are isolated from each other. Improved transportation plays an important role in a country's economic growth, tourism industry and infrastructure. We can call transportation “lifeline” of a nation.

What's the importance of transportation? ›

Transport is important on the basis of socio-economic factors as well as the influence it has on relationships between different countries. Through the role of moving people and goods, transport enables tourism and travel by making it possible for people to go to the places they want to see.

Why transportation is important in economy? ›

► The principal role of transport is to provide or improve access to different locations for individuals and businesses. Transport thus facilitates a wider range of social and economic interactions than would otherwise be possible. ► Transport is an important sector of the economy in its own right.

What will transportation be like in 2050? ›

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. Hyperloops and High-speed Trains. Smart Highways and Transit Systems. Point-to-Point Suborbital Flights.

What will transportation be like in 2030? ›

By 2030, the report's authors predicted, 49% of all trips undertaken within cities would be completed via those “greener” methods, while car trips would account for 46% of all urban journeys — down from 51% in 2020. Journeys made by taxi and ride-hailing apps like Uber would make up the remaining 5%, Kantar said.

What will transport be like in 50 years? ›

In 50 years, electric vehicles will outnumber gas-powered, which have been outlawed from city limits due to global warming. Because of new breakthroughs in making cars more intelligent, lighter and stronger, more people are choosing to commute longer distances than ever before.

What is the future of transportation in 21st century? ›

A 21st century urban transportation system will have a multitude of modes (walking, bikes, car-sharing, transit, car-on-demand, private cars and probably other innovative technologies such as pedelecs, Yikes, etc.) seamlessly linked together.

Which technology is currently used in transport? ›

Near-Field Communication (NFC) With transport networks increasingly becoming interlinked – given that multimodal travel and transit network connectedness emerging as a trend, consumers are seeking more seamless travel experiences. NFC or Near-Field Communication is making that possible [4].

What will vehicles look like in the future? ›

When it comes to future car design, technology is the biggest driver behind new car models. Major trends show that cars of the future will be electric, autonomous, connected and sleek.

Will cars fly in the future? ›

We're now in 2022 and we haven't yet seen flying cars made available at the local dealership. However, that doesn't mean flying cars don't exist. According to Tracxn, at least 36 startups in the U.S. are already working to make flying cars a reality.

What will happen to public transport in the future? ›

Public transportation may soon be able to travel near the speed of sound. The Hyperloop will allow passenger-carrying pods to travel up to 750 mph and is expected to be functional by 2020. An influx of new moving walkways also has the potential to streamline transit.

How does technology impact transportation? ›

Freight movements are improving with increased computing power, expanded distribution options, and the possibility of aerial drone delivery. Further, self-driving cars, or at least those with some autonomous features, are coming onto the market and have the potential to further transform how we get around.

What technologies are currently used in transport 2022? ›

Top 10 Transportation Trends
  • Autonomous Vehicles.
  • Green Energy.
  • Electric Transportation.
  • Artificial Intelligence.
  • Mobility as a Service.
  • Transportation Management System.
  • Smart Shipping.
  • Last Mile Delivery.

What technology will we have in 2050? ›

According to Forbes, by 2050, IoT technology will be in 95% of electronics for new product designs. And by 2050 it is expected to have everything connected to the cloud and to the internet. According to Business Insider, Space tourism could be feasible in 2050, but likely only for the very wealthy.

How did people travel 100 years ago? ›

The 1900s was all about that horse-and-carriage travel life. Horse-drawn carriages were the most popular mode of transport, as it was before cars came onto the scene.

Will there be flying cars in 2050? ›

Transportation In 2050 - This Is What It Will Look Like - YouTube

Do you think transportation is likely to continue to improve in the future? ›

Do you think transport is likely to continue to improve in the future? Answer: Yes, I have every reason to believe that the improvement in our transportation sector will continue to improve in the future as the county is well on course to become a middle-income developed country in the next decade or so.

What type of transport do you think we will see in the future? ›

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) and AI

Self-driving public vehicles running on advanced algorithms will pick up people who are going in the same direction. In the future, robot vehicles may look entirely different from the hands-free/big-screen version we expect.

Which is the new way of transportation system? ›

Explanation: Hyperloop is the new way of transportation system.

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