The Future of Mobility. Development trends up to 2035
Mobility and the options for mobility are tightly linked with how we live our lives. We move to go to work, to study or to make use of our leisure time. The future of mobility can be seen in the broadest sense of how and where people live their lives, or more narrowly as the day-to-day mobility choices made within the existing system.
One of the most important factors reducing the need for mobility in how people live is the rise of remote work and remote services. The pandemic accelerated this rise, but it is unclear how permanent the changes will be. The spread of remote working reduces the obligation to travel at fixed times in fixed directions and increases the share of travel that does not have fixed patterns.
The space where people are depends on the regional development in Estonia. The Foresight Centre produced four regional economic scenarios in 2019 describing different possible regional development outcomes in Estonia up to 2035. It asked whether the future will see a Greater Tallinn, more equal growth centres across Estonia, or an Estonia of eco-communities, where the need for mobility is less than at present. Which scenario plays out will depend on external factors such as technological development and how quickly ecological values become ingrained in the economy and in lifestyles, but the choices made by the state are also important.
Mobility based on the private personal car is inefficient and wastes space
A large part of mobility happens within urban areas, where it is defined by planning practices and the quality of the urban space. Space is needed both for movement and for parking. The amount of public space is limited, and so developing infrastructure for cars reduces what is available for other forms of transport. Roads and parking spaces account for as much as 50% of the urban space in many towns. However, private cars spend around 95% of their time parked and are driven only 2.5 times a day on average in European countries.
Planning and use of the urban space that is centred on the car worsens the quality of the living environment and pushes people out of densely populated areas and into the suburbs. Planning that encourages different forms of mobility can, however, improve the living environment of a town and can stop, and even reverse in the longer term, the drift to the suburbs.
Mobility in Estonia features a high and rising rate of car use
The trend until now in Estonia has been for car use to increase at the expense of public transport and walking. Over 18 years the number of people going to work by public transport, on foot or by bike has fallen by 120,000. During the same period the number of cars registered has essentially doubled so that there were 598 cars per thousand residents in 2019, or a quarter fewer if cars that ceased being registered are excluded, which is one of the highest figures in Europe. Car use has grown particularly rapidly in rural areas where getting to work on foot or by bike has become harder as jobs have been relocated and commutes to work have increased.
Car use has increased rapidly among the lowpaid, who are at risk of mobility poverty, which arises when a large part of their budget goes on the costs of a car. A transport system centred on the car also increases mobility poverty among the elderly.
Such a system ingrains a sedentary lifestyle and a shortage of daily exercise, which is one of the main causes of premature death. The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers that integrating daily physical activity is more sustainable than sport for exercise, as 24 minutes of walking or cycling a day reduces the risk of premature death by 10%.
A third of people in Estonia move in sustainable ways, and a further 20% would be prepared to do so
The mobility profile analysis of people in Estonia shows that 33% of people move around following the principles of sustainable mobility. It would be relatively easy to change the mobility habits of around a further 20% of people. Demand-based transport in rural districts, which could in future be self-driving, would help with this, as would support for buying or renting vehicles that emit less pollution.
Public transport in towns that is clean, rapid, convenient, and easy to combine with other forms of transport would be a good alternative to owning their own car for several groups in society. Integrating the use of bicycles and trains is recommended, especially in districts bordering cities.
Demand and preferences for mobility are diversifying, and there will be no single typical road user in future
Different age groups act and move entirely differently in the urban space, and public behaviours will increasingly diversify. There is no single typical road user whose wants and needs should be the basis for setting mobility policy. Young people move in various ways and prioritise environmental sustainability, and they are less and less interested in owning and using cars.
Relying solely on technological development will not solve transport problems
Electric and hydrogen-powered cars reduce the local environmental burden and self-driving cars increase safety and convenience, but neither reduces the need for space for cars in towns and cities, and they could cause car use to increase. Micromobility broadens the transport options in densely populated areas, but needs to be regulated. Drones are energy intensive, need launch and landing sites, and require a lot of space to move safely.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) can make car use more efficient, but needs smart guidance
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and transport solutions in the sharing economy are developing rapidly. Their success depends on how prepared people are to share transport and to make their mobility data available. In the longer term there are great prospects for self-driving cars as a part of public transport. Public transport will in future be a flexible service that is based on data, is integrated with other forms of mobility, uses vehicles of different sizes, is frequently demand-based, and optimises routes.
Achieving the goals of environmental sustainability requires large and rapid changes in how people move around
Estonia has set a target for the transport sector of total emissions of 1750 kt of CO2 in 2035, which is 28% less than the level of 2018. This will require a rapid turn away from the current trend, as the greenhouse gas emissions of the transport sector have increased steadily each year since 2014. Car use needs to become more efficient and daily commutes need to be shorter.
Planning and infrastructure development based on expectations of increased car use become selffulfilling prophecies
The transport and mobility strategies in Estonia are in line with contemporary principles of sustainable mobility and the framework documents of the European Union. Achieving the changes set out in them though is made harder by the framework for infrastructure development that uses baseline forecasts for mobility, mobility research methodologies and standards for roads in town that continue to be based on increasing car use and so end up encouraging it.
Promoting sustainable mobility requires compromises
Designing mobility in towns means choosing between a high quality public space and the convenience and speed of travel by car. Movement between towns depends on the choice of developing rail transport or road transport. Public transport between towns assumes however that mobility services within towns are of good quality and flexible. Two different possible approaches for rural districts are either to provide better and more sustainable connections, or to bring jobs and services closer to reduce the need for mobility.
Taxation of transport needs to change
Taxation of transport that is based solely on fuel excise is not sustainable as electric cars spread more widely, and receipts of excise on petrol and diesel should be expected to fall by at least a fifth by 2030. VAT receipts from fuel would also fall alongside excise receipts.
Sustainable mobility will not be achieved without intervention
People make their transport choices by looking at how well transport services can meet their practical needs. They consider for example whether the transport infrastructure favours the use of cars or public transport. Mobility is not an end in itself, but is linked with different areas like environmental, health, energy, regional and education policies, and mobility policy must be pursued in line with those policies and through them.