BBC World News - Horizons

An Insight into the Future of Global Business

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The dangers of cars and transport solutions

Whilst the desire to explore is age-old, the ability to pick up sticks and move across the world or even one’s own country, is now moving within the easy grasp of perhaps billions more people.

Congestion is already costing the world’s biggest cities billions of dollars a year and the problem will get worse with the percentage of the population living in urban areas set to jump from half to 70 per cent by 2050.

Before Ford’s Model T car became popular, most people in the USA didn’t travel more than 25 miles from their home. The car enabled a kind of democracy of transport. Relatively ordinary people could suddenly move beyond their small town and explore communities and ideas beyond their home. The irony is that so many of us are now travelling, that we are getting in each other’s way.

The contradiction of the 21st Century transport problem, is that in a century increasingly defined by individualism, some of the most exciting transport thinking is all about collective transport and high speed rail.

Bill Ford is Executive Chairman at the Ford Motor Company. In an interview for our programme Ford said that “Back in China a few years ago we had the 11 day traffic jam, and for as far as you could see nothing moved, now that’s an extreme, but frankly if one extrapolates that into the future that could become more and more and more of an occurrence, and that’s what we have to prevent.”

Ford’s answer to the problems are technological.

As their drivers attend work or a conference, why can’t cars sitting in a car park talk to each other, find out where everyone is going and collectively plan the best route home to avoid all the cars using the same road?

Since a huge amount of petrol is wasted in finding parking spaces, why can’t the available spaces talk electronically to the cars to tell them where they are?

Why can’t cars make better use of the road space by using wireless technologies to speak to each other so they can drive more safely but more closely packed together.

Of course the answer, Ford says, to all of the above is that they can or may soon be able to do all these things.

I thought it was a little cheeky to use Henry Ford’s arguments against his grandson, but that didn’t stop me doing it.

Henry Ford said if you asked people what they wanted they would have just asked for faster horses – they didn’t have the imagination to ask for a different kind of transport.

I am not sure more advanced cars are a different enough kind of answer to our transport problem. I worry that making cars more technologically advanced is like offering people faster horses when what they need is a completely new mode of transport.

However, as in so many things, the real answer to our transport problem will most probably lie in a mixture of more advanced intelligent cars and perhaps a revolutionary idea that might become the new Model T of the 21st Century.

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