Nothing is certain except taxes and death–but what taxes, and whose death?

It's time to reflect upon how to make the future of mobility not only sustainable, but also affordable whilst at the same time financing the infrastructure investments needed to avoid gridlock in our cities.

by Jochen Renz


Mobility will fracture the very laws and infrastructures that our cities stand upon. How will we pay for the loss of revenue usually sourced through tickets, parking and license tax? How will our laws adapt to the disorder that changes in mobility will bring? How do we make the future of mobility not only sustainable, but also affordable whilst at the same time financing the infrastructure investments needed to avoid gridlock in our cities?

If we are successful, parking space for unused cars will be repurposed for walkways and green spaces. Our cities will become more walkable, and we will embrace a multi-modal mobility world which includes innovative PEVs (Personal Electric Vehicles) that have a smaller footprint and are eco-friendlier. Fleets of robotic taxis will float around our urban areas governed by laws and ethics that we are still trying to work out. But how will we pay for the loss of revenue from tickets, parking, license tax? And how will our laws adapt to the disruptive changes the future of mobility will bring?

The fuel tax that finances most countries road infrastructures will fade as electric mobility takes off. In its place, road usage charging models will begin to appear where people – and robotic taxis – pay taxes on miles travelled instead of fuel used. As infrastructure has a fixed capacity, and urbanisation continues to grow, the pressure to optimize utilization grows. This could be in the form of dynamic pricing, incentivising people to use the road infrastructure at different times of the day. Instead of going to work at 09:00 am, the system would suggest that you work from home or commute off-peak – helping optimise traffic flow. Tokens issued to citizens could serve as related incentive mechanisms.

Other methods to encourage people to use sustainable modes of transportation could be introduced to incentivise mobility users. Where users insist on using their own car, the system should encourage people to share rides to increase occupancy rates. It would be possible to offer them access to priority lanes or lower their road usage tax if they share their ride with others. Without a doubt: the future of mobility is multi-modal. It would be best to think of all of these solutions in a multimodal sense – intelligently connecting different modes of transportation – which ensure a seamless transition from one mode of transportation to another.

On top of this, methods for ensuring that this change in systems will be affordable could include the introduction of an unconditional basic income for mobility – wherein each and every citizen would have a minimum budget for access to mobility and transportation. Everyone will be allocated tokens that can be spent on any mobility service or even traded amongst one other for goods outside of mobility. Tokens could help finance fleets of Personal Electric Vehicles shared amongst the community members. Such new ways of financing could also help modernize infrastructure and nurture an understanding of it being owned and used by the local community. Because of urbanisation, these major investments will need to be made anyway. If we don’t have to build new parking lots and bigger roads for new arrivals then we will already be saving a lot of money otherwise wasted.

Whenever a new technology becomes the norm, it takes a while for laws and regulations to adapt. With mobility, we are looking at uprooting and changing some very basic laws that have been in place for a very long time.

But we will also be wading into completely new territory, with new ethical and legal questions that must be answered. Questions remain as too what level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) system performance will be the industry norm. And how we should think about liability given that the very nature of AI is that of a black box which continuously learns and adapts? When self-driving cars occupy our roads, and when something inevitably happens, we still are unsure of who will ultimately be accountable. The trolley test, e.g. should your AI enabled self-driving car save its own passenger over the lives of a pedestrian (or vice versa), is riddled with ethical potholes, even disrupting our idea of the first law of robotics (a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm). MIT are now offering a test online that is allowing users to engage in this conversation – showing where participants are in regards to the consensus. But before we can get even remotely close to solving these issues, we need to agree on the ethics of it all. Currently, most countries make these decisions by themselves, with little bilateral discussions or consensus occurring.

In any case, the march towards a shared mobility economy will continue, and both urban and legal infrastructures will have to adapt. In the U.S.A. today, 90% of all accidents are caused by human error – sadly we are the bug in the mobility system. Luckily, advancements in machine learning and autonomous vehicles mean that when we surrender our ownership of mobility to a properly thought out and safer, shared system, we will succeed in making mobility more affordable, efficient, and safer for everyone and the cities we live in.