Predictions on the Future of Mobility

Micro Mobility Chart

Transportation modes mapped on a log scale from 0.1 miles (about one block) to 10,000 miles (Los Angeles to Zanzibar, Tanzania).

I was reflecting on the May 8 Chart of the Day post on micro-mobility that mapped the middle 68 percentile of trips for 18 modes of transportation, and I collected a few thoughts on the future of mobility. I have written several posts recently on bike share, ride share, and electric scooters, the rented side of mobility from about 0.5 miles to 10 miles on the log chart above. As the steep devaluations of Lyft and Uber post-IPO have shown, it’s still an open question whether the future of micro-mobility and short trips will be rented. Bird recently introduced its model One, “the Bird you can own,” for $1,299 (or 337 average scooter rides) and other manufacturers are upping their game. Right now, 61.0% of Minneapolis workers commute alone in a personal vehicle, and with average ownership costs adding up to over $8,000 per year (or $23.20 per day), clearly dollar costs aren’t holding people back from the choosing owning over renting or taking public transit (about $3.95 a day when getting an unlimited Go-To card).

First, I started with some predictions of what the future may look like.

  1. The future will be electric.

  2. The future will minimize human labor costs.

  3. The future will be won by those who have to raise the least capital.

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Tesla Model Y

Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla

The Future will be Electric

Remember when GM CEO Rick Wagoner told 60 Minutes that the company was investing $1 billion into hydrogen fuel cell technology? Now GM’s revenue is about one-fifth of what it was in 2003. The hydrogen bet didn’t play out and now Tesla is valued at 78.8% of what GM is even though it rolls out a fraction of the new vehicles. This prediction really ties into the third prediction because in 2019, creating a product that runs on electricity requires very little capital investment. Every home has 110-volt outlets, and adding a 220-volt to the garage requires just a trip from an electrician and some equipment. The grid of power lines, generating stations, human capital, and intellectual know-how is already all there. With hydrogen, it wasn’t on all counts, and that’s why the bet failed.

Looking to the future, what if Nice Ride stations rented power via the city’s streetlights and other street electrical infrastructure and were able to charge electric bikes in docks?

Lime juicer charger website

Become a “Juicer”, and be prepared to be juiced. Webpage: Lime

The Future will Minimize Human Labor Costs

Right now, electric scooter-share companies like Lime, Bird, Lyft, Jump (Uber), and Spin (Ford) hire meagerly-paid independent contractors to charge batteries for their fleets of scooters and place them in prime real estate to make real dollars the next day.

Human labor is expensive, especially with minimum wages that operators are fighting against every day. With a tight labor market, there are increasingly other, better paid, opportunities out there. What is a transportation network operator to do?

Eliminate human labor as much as you can. We already know Uber’s dream is to have driverless taxi cabs prowling the streets. Having driverless vehicles that charge themselves is the end goal. Having users plug in the old scooter in for you will do as well. Expect to see parking garages convert to Uber ramps with vehicles that dock in like a Nice Ride classic green bike.

Boring Tunnel

Seeing green. Photo: Boring Co.

The Future will be Won by Those Who Have to Raise the Least Capital

Remember the debut of the Boring Company test tunnel? Elon Musk had to raise over $100 million in financing to build that. And it still was an incomplete, bumpy ride with no car elevator.

The future will be won by start-ups that don’t need to make huge capital investments to get off the ground and fly. Websites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter started small, got some servers, and grew fast. Uber never had to buy fleets of cars, it just handed out refurbished phones to drivers, then switched to an app on driver phones. Drivers provided the huge fleet of cars.

One of the big problems right now with electric scooters is the cost of the machines themselves. According to a Quartz analysis of Bird data from Louisville, Bird loses $293 per scooter over the course of its average lifespan of 28.8 days. The high cost of charging, juicing, repairs, and government fees makes operator ownership of scooters difficult.

What if you, the user, rented that $1,299 Bird scooter for about $48 per month and paid to charge it? That would be equivalent to about a dozen trips per month.

For a car lease, a Toyota Corolla leases for $189 per month with $2,999 due at signing.

Would you like to rent a scooter for the cost of a phone plan? Would you like to be a Uber landlord and covert your garage into an autonomous ride charging station? Share your dreams and nightmares on the future of mobility in the comments.

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8 Responses to Predictions on the Future of Mobility

  1. Jack May 16, 2019 at 12:22 pm #

    I’m still waiting for flying cars like in The Jetson’s.

  2. Mark May 16, 2019 at 1:15 pm #

    Fact check:

    General Motors posted a revenue of $185 billion in 2003, so for 1/5 I would expect something around $37 billion for 2018….which is what they did….for the 4th quarter. Total 2018 revenue was $147 billion.

    It’s also not a fair assessment to state that the hydrogen bet hasn’t paid off. GM continues to work behind the scenes on hydrogen technology, especially for use in military vehicles.

    • Allen May 20, 2019 at 5:21 pm #


      It’s also not a fair assessment to state that the hydrogen bet hasn’t paid off.
      ” ~ Mark

      By “hasn’t paid off” that means that they haven’t made boat-loads of money off of the hundreds of millions they’ve plowed into the tech. At this point in time no one working on hydrogen has anything that looks practical; nothing that overcomes hydrogens core drawbacks which have lead people to avoid it.

      Hydrogen’s been a dud.

      • Mark May 20, 2019 at 7:26 pm #

        Has it failed like Conrad claimed in his article? No, it has not. Until the time that GM halts all research into hydrogen that claim can’t be made.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke May 21, 2019 at 2:43 pm #

          Seems like semantics to me.

  3. Wilj May 18, 2019 at 6:46 am #

    A different way of looking at your 3 bulleted predictions would be to say that: what will emerge will be a solution that is least energy intensive.

    For your points on labor & (financial) capital this is directly true. For your point on Electricity this is partly true. It’s true that electrical infrastructure already exists and thus it’s easy to envision an electric future arising from our present arrangement. But a lot of this infrastructure is also incredibly energy intensive and it remains to be seen how long (and to what extent) it can be supported.

    Absent some sort of technological revolution in the production, storage, and transmission of energy, the less energy-intensive transportation solution for the future will actually be a realignment of peoples’ relationships to transportation infrastructure resulting in less energy-intensive travel modes and less travel itself (ie: using mass transit, living closer to places we frequent).

  4. karen alane Nelson May 20, 2019 at 12:47 pm #

    “Absent some sort of technological revolution in the production, storage, and transmission of energy, the less energy-intensive transportation solution for the future ”

    I’d say were will have a present, not absent, technological revolution happening under our noses – on average, EV batteries are getting 20% cheaper a year! As more companies pile into the sector and battery making scales up, double-digit decreases in prices are to be expected for years to com.

    Meanwhile, wind and solar and variety of electricity storage options get 5-10 percent cheaper annually.

    So energy to transport people and things is going to become cheap.

    The future will be electric and when electricity is cheap and storage of electricity is cheap, whole new means for transportation that don’t make sense now will come on.

    Not too many would have seen little “EVs” and ebikes, escooters, etc becoming fast growing things there are now, even just at the start of this shift…but cheaper, better batteries are already making things happen we didn’t really see coming.

    Who knows what else will become mainstream in 15-20 years because of this shift.

  5. Allen May 20, 2019 at 5:37 pm #


    I’d say were will have a present, not absent, technological revolution happening under our noses – on average, EV batteries are getting 20% cheaper a year! As more companies pile into the sector and battery making scales up, double-digit decreases in prices are to be expected for years to com.

    You’re conflating symptoms with causes. Lower costs for a technology come from the fundamentals of the technology. Volume only helps spread a few fixed costs for production.

    A lot of folks are saying what you’re saying about improvements. They’re missing the core issue. It’s been well known for years. The current tech in batteries won’t cut it and no one has been able to find a breakthrough.

    For example —> https://www.technologyreview.com/s/534866/why-we-dont-have-battery-breakthroughs/

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