What A Commute in a Car-Free City Might Be Like
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What A Commute in a Car-Free City Might Be Like

Imagine a commute in the year 2040.

By William Boston
Wed, Nov 10, 2021 10:15amGrey Clock 4 min

Look out any window in most urban areas and you’ll see streets lined with parked cars. Every year the arteries of the world’s biggest cities become more clogged. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, analysts estimate, creating a string of global megacities even more crowded and polluted than today. How will they organise daily life to promote safety, efficiency and the well-being of residents?

Now imagine a city without private cars. A city where transportation is emissions-free, largely self-driving and connected to the internet. A city where cars, as well as taxis, buses, trains and bicycles, are shared. Instead of parked cars and concrete, city streets might be filled with mini parks, markets and more.

Several trends are visible today that could bring about these reimagined transportation networks: the rising popularity of electric cars, a regulatory environment that is increasingly geared toward fighting climate change, and advances in technology from electric and self-driving vehicles to the spread of the Internet of Things.

Many obstacles exist. Autonomous cars are still more theory than reality today. Cities will have to pony up huge investments in new public transportation infrastructure. They will have to make technology and policy choices today to make car-free living easier for residents, including restricting private car ownership within the city, levying higher taxes on carbon emissions, making parking prohibitively expensive and shifting regulations and urban planning to favour shared, autonomous vehicles. And it isn’t certain that the public will give up owning cars.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McKinsey & Co., Deloitte, KPMG and others have outlined visions of what a city with greatly reduced personal car ownership would look like. Follow the urban dweller Bonnie as she heads home from a day at the office in 2040.

The Internet of Everything

Before leaving the office, Bonnie books her commute—a shared bicycle to an automated train to a driverless shuttle that will take her to her door—via an app that is connected to a vast Internet of Things. Much of this technology has been available for years, but in 2040 it is ubiquitous.

Buildings, vehicles and transportation infrastructure are all linked, able to share widely and easily on ultrafast wireless networks. Self-driving vehicles communicate with traffic lights, for example, easing the flow of traffic and potentially preventing jams. Bonnie and other pedestrians wear connected clothing that warns vehicles of their presence, preventing many accidents and identifying her to the transportation she uses so her digital preferences can be installed automatically. Two big trends in the 2020s and 2030s drove this shift: the digitization of everything and the drive to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

A view of the city

When she looks out her office window, Bonnie sees only a handful of cars. The din of engines and honking horns has almost disappeared: Vehicles operating within city limits are electric, and public transportation and taxis are self-driving. Years ago, Bonnie’s city restricted private vehicle ownership within city limits and greatly expanded mass transit to fill the need. Where parked cars once clogged the streets, the city planted trees and built networks of hyperlocal transportation hubs.

Head to the hub

Bonnie heads toward a local transportation hub, a drop-off point for several modes of transportation residents use to get around the neighbourhood, including shared bicycles, electric scooters and driverless shuttles. Faster trains and robotaxis are available for longer distances.

The app-based commute

When Bonnie approaches the parked bicycle, it recognises her and unlocks. Apps connecting modes of transportation emerged more than 20 years earlier, but by 2040 they are more connected—platforms for collaboration between transportation companies and businesses offering services, such as charging vehicles on the fly, repairs, or advertising tailored toward individual passengers using augmented reality. Bonnie has chosen the premium option for her travel plan, a monthly subscription for all forms of transportation.

Personal preferences

Bonnie’s premium plan includes a private pod on the train. After arriving at the station and taking her seat, the train’s network identifies her and adjusts the environment—the seat, lighting and temperature—according to her profile preferences. Screens in the pod automatically connect to her digital world, allowing her to instantly access work files or personal apps. She can check the fridge at home, order groceries online and time a delivery to arrive at her destination when she does.

Board the shuttle

Bonnie gets off at the train station near her home. A self-driving shuttle is waiting to take her the last stretch of the way. Like the train, it adjusts the environment to her preferences and grants her access to her digital world. Bonnie has a conference call with a customer in her calendar. The shuttle establishes the connection at the appropriate time and Bonnie conducts her meeting. At the end of the drive, the vehicle’s digital assistant asks Bonnie about several appointments in her calendar the next day and whether she needs to book a shuttle. Also, her daughter has scheduled a pod to go to her karate lesson but still needs Bonnie’s permission to complete the booking.

Arrive home

Bonnie’s shuttle informs her smart house of her coming arrival. When she gets home, the lights are on and the temperature is just how she likes it. A drone carrying the groceries she ordered en route is waiting for her.

Two visions

If cities make the kinds of choices that Bonnie’s hometown did, 40% of all kilometres travelled by 2040 will be with shared mobility services, McKinsey predicts. If not, McKinsey says, the lack of regulation promoting emissions-free and connected transportation and inertia in consumer behaviour could result in a world in which private car ownership falls only 10% by 2040. That will make it even harder to roll out technology and transport system changes and reduce emissions.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 9, 2021.



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Appliance technicians blame a push toward computerisation and an increase in the quantity of components inside a machine

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Our refrigerators, washing machines and ovens can do more than ever, from producing symmetrical ice cubes to remotely preheating on your commute home. The downside to all these snazzy features is that the appliances are more prone to breaking.

Appliance technicians and others in the industry say there has been an increase in items in need of repair. Yelp users, for example, requested 58% more quotes from thousands of appliance repair businesses last month than they did in January 2022.

Those in the industry blame a push toward computerisation, an increase in the quantity of individual components and flimsier materials for undercutting reliability. They say even higher-end items aren’t as durable.

American households spent 43% more on home appliances in 2023 than they did in 2013, rising from an inflation-adjusted average of $390 to $558, according to Euromonitor International. Prices for the category declined 12% from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2023, according to the Labor Department.

One reason for the discrepancy between spending and prices is a higher rate of replacement, say consumers, repair technicians and others. That’s left some people wishing they had held on to their clunky ’90s-era appliances and others bargaining with repair workers over intractable ice makers and dryers that run cold.

“We’re making things more complicated, they’re harder to fix and more expensive to fix,” says Aaron Gianni, the founder of do-it-yourself home-repair app Plunjr.

Horror stories

Sharon J. Swan spent nearly $7,000 on a Bosch gas range and smart refrigerator. She thought the appliances would last at least through whenever she decided to sell her Alexandria, Va., home and impress would-be buyers.

That was before the oven caught fire the first time she tried the broiler, leading to a 911 call and hasty return. The ice-maker in the refrigerator, meanwhile, is now broken for the third time in under two years. Bosch covered the first two fridge fixes, but she says she’s on her own for the latest repair, totalling $250, plus parts.

“I feel like I wasted my money,” says the 65-year-old consultant for trade associations.

A Bosch spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company has been responsive to Swan’s concerns and will continue to work with her to resolve ongoing issues. “Bosch appliances are designed and manufactured to meet the highest quality standards, and they are built to last,” she said.

Kevin and Kellene Dinino wish they had held on to their white dishwasher from the ’90s that was still working great.

The sleeker $800 GE stainless steel interior dishwasher they purchased sprang a hidden leak within three years, causing more than $35,000 worth of damage to their San Diego kitchen.

Home insurance covered the claim, which included replacing the hardwood down to the subfloor and all their bottom cabinetry, but kicked the Dininos off their policy. The family also went without access to their kitchen for months.

“This was a $60 pump that was broken. What the hell happened?” says Kevin, 45, who runs a financial public-relations firm.

A GE Appliances spokeswoman said the company takes appliance issues seriously and works quickly to resolve them with consumers.

Increased complexity

Peel back the plastic on a modern refrigerator or washing machine and you’ll see a smattering of sensors and switches that its 10-year-old counterpart lacks. These extra components help ensure the appliance is using only the energy and water it needs for the job at hand, technicians say. With more parts, however, more tends to go wrong more quickly, they say.

Mansoor Soomro, a professor at Teesside University, a technical college in Middlesbrough, England, says home appliances are breaking down more often. He says that manufacturers used to rely mostly on straightforward mechanical parts (think an on/off switch that triggers a single lever). In the past decade or so, they’ve transitioned to relying more on sophisticated electrical and computerised parts (say, a touch screen that displays a dozen different sensor-controlled wash options).

When a complicated machine fails, technicians say they have a much harder time figuring out what went wrong. Even if the technician does diagnose the problem, consumers are often left with repairs that exceed half the cost of replacement, rendering the machine totalled.

“In the majority of cases, I would say buying a new one makes more economic sense than repairing it,” says Soomro, who spent seven years working at Siemens , including in the home-appliances division.

These machines are also now more likely to be made with plastic and aluminium rather than steel, Soomro says. High-efficiency motors and compressors, too, are likely to be lighter-duty, since they’re tasked with drawing less energy .

A spokeswoman for the Association for Home Appliance Manufacturers says the industry has “enhanced the safety, energy efficiency, capacity and performance of appliances while adding features and maintaining affordability and durability for purchasers.” She says data last updated in 2019 shows that the average life of an appliance has “not substantially shifted over the past two decades.”

When simpler is better

Kathryn Ryan and Kevin Sullivan needed a new sensor to fix their recently purchased $1,566 GE Unitized Spacemaker washer-dryer. GE wasn’t able to fix the sensor for months, so the couple paid a local technician $300 to get the machine working.

The repairman also offered them a suggestion: Avoid the sensor option and stick to timed dries.

“You should be able to use whatever function you please on a brand new appliance, ideally,” says Sullivan, a 32-year-old musician in Burbank, Calif.

More features might seem glamorous, Frontdoor virtual appliance tech Jim Zaccone says, but fewer is usually better.

“Consumers are wising up to the failures that are happening and going, ‘Do I really need my oven to preheat while I’m at the grocery store?’” jokes Zaccone, who has been in the appliance-repair business for 21 years.

He just replaced his own dishwasher and says he bought one with “the least bells and whistles.” He also opted for a mass-market brand with cheap and readily available parts. Most surprisingly, he chose a bottom-of-the-line model.

“Spending a lot of money on something doesn’t guarantee you more reliability,” says Zaccone.

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