Throughout the 20th century, countries focused on the development of physical infrastructure like roads, ports, and railways in order to boost economic development. Now, the focus has shifted to digital infrastructure needs. As services like Amazon flood roads and skies with deliveries, infrastructure must keep pace.
Still, even as digital and other types of infrastructure are recognized as essential for the movement of people and goods, and for the basic functioning of economies, infrastructure the world over has languished - resulting in a global annual total infrastructure funding gap of close to $800 billion, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report published in 2016.
That came even as the world had spent $9.5 trillion (equivalent to 14% of global GDP) during the prior year on infrastructure - primarily related to transportation, social infrastructure like education and healthcare, and real estate, according to a subsequent McKinsey Global Institute report. Transportation alone accounted for nearly $1.1 trillion during the year, according to the subsequent report, and a number of impending technology disruptions promise to shape transportation in ways that cannot yet be predicted, like increased electrification and autonomous vehicles.
The better integration of emerging digital infrastructure into existing systems will be key for developing smarter and more sustainable means of mobility. However, the cost of developing digital infrastructure remains high; the launch of a single satellite can require several hundred million dollars.
According to a report published by the consultancy BCG, about 3 billion people and organizations were already using the internet every day to shop and interact by 2015. Amazon alone has been the source of hundreds of warehouses, and tens of thousands of delivery vans, and is now estimated to deliver the bulk of the orders made through the site on its own; additions to its delivery capability include the rental of dozens of Boeing jets. Amazon’s Prime service in particular, which involves faster and free shipping for members, has spurred an expanded need for infrastructure - and resulted in increased wear and tear.
As a result, there is an increasing need to attract more private funding. In addition to digital infrastructure, there is a corresponding need to develop dependable, basic infrastructure designed to foster the burgeoning digital economy.
More Sustainable Mobility
In 2015, the “Dieselgate” scandal revealed that diesel vehicles were producing as much as 40 times more pollution than had been detected during testing, due to widespread cheating. Whether through “train bragging” or technology advances, getting from place to place must become cleaner.
As of four years later, despite changes made to systems for measuring emissions and the recall of more than 10 million vehicles, the positive impact in the European Union had been minimal, according to a report published by the European Court of Auditors in 2019. It may take many years to improve city air quality in the EU, according to the report, given the large number of highly-polluting cars that remain on the roads.
In the US, the number of vehicle miles driven has been increasing dramatically, from about 1.5 trillion in 1980 to 3.2 trillion by 2017, according to the US Department of Transportation. While the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber has encouraged people to drive less, those services may be less beneficial for the environment than anticipated; a study published by the San Francisco County Companies are continually working to find new ways to improve the sustainability of cars, ships and aircraft. The 3D printing of relatively lightweight parts has played a related role in the aerospace industry, for example. Transportation Authority in 2018 found that ride-sharing services accounted for about half of the increase in local traffic congestion between 2010 and 2016.
In addition, growing consumer awareness can be a factor. In Sweden, for example, “flygskam,” or “flight shame” has become a means of socially engineering people away from emissions-heavy air travel, while “tagskryt,” or “train bragging” has emerged as a local corollary. However, measures to combat climate change by adopting more sustainable mobility practices still fall short of what is necessary. To call further attention to the need to travel smarter, climate activist Greta Thunberg journeyed from England to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in summer 2019 via a carbon-free sailboat.
Global governance can also play a constructive role; the International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting in 2019 approved a resolution calling on governments to fully implement a carbon offsetting and reduction scheme designed to cap net carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation as of 2020 (which had been agreed through the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization).
Energy Efficiency and Mobility
Policy-makers can do more to limit energy use by bolstering public transportation. Transportation accounts for 23% of global carbon dioxide emissions, a figure that is expected to nearly double by 2050 if policy-makers continue to prioritize speed over accessible, compact and connected development, according to a paper published by the LSE Cities centre at the London School of Economics in 2019.
In response, transportation systems are rapidly changing - thanks to the application of energy-efficient technologies to engines and fuels, and the general adoption of more sustainable behavior and less-energy-intensive modes of transportation (such as ride sharing).
Particularly in non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, which are home to 80% of the world’s population and 61% of global transportation consumption, there is tremendous potential to implement smarter and more efficient means of mobility - through emerging technology, new business models, increased consumer literacy, and informed regulation.
Mandatory energy efficiency regulation had already been applied to as much as 30% of global consumption by 2021, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report. Those legal safeguards are necessary, as global energy use is expected to grow by 48% between 2012 and 2040, according to the US Energy Information Administration (one positive aspect of this growth is that the amount of energy spent on the transportation of people and goods is expected to remain constant over the period, accounting for about 19% of total demand).
Many governments have meanwhile succeeded in shifting spending away from road-building and maintenance to public transportation. In Colombia, for example, Bogota has developed a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that has won plaudits, while also paving hundreds of kilometers of new bicycle paths and closing many roads to cars on Sundays.
Meanwhile, legacy private transportation is frequently being optimized by technology; in 2018, DHL announced it was deploying an Internet of Things-based system in India to optimize trucking routes and potentially cut transit times by 50%.
New rules and regulations can help maintain positive momentum, by mandating the further reduction of carbon footprints and limiting energy use where possible.
Greater Mobility, Bigger Security Risks
Better security through data sharing and collaboration is badly needed. The movement of people around the world inevitably involves risk, particularly during global health crises.
Global international tourist arrivals increased by 6% in 2018 compared with the prior year, to 1.4 billion, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization - and there remains a general expectation for the free and safe movement of people and goods, barring the application of specific pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Geopolitical realities and security shocks like a pair of Boeing 737 Max crashes within six months of each other in late 2018 and early 2019 put safety and security (both physical and digital) at the top of the agenda. Air travel is actually one of the safest (albeit highly carbon-intensive) modes of transportation; roughly 1.35 million people die each year in road accidents, mostly in lower income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Nonetheless, airports have been compelled to add new layers of security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Clear opportunities to use technology and data sharing to further enhance safety and security for air travel and other types of mobility exist. Better collaboration among governments, international institutions, and the private sector would be helpful in this regard.
The movement of people within urban areas presents its own set of challenges. A 2014 McKinsey study showed that more than a third of people polled would not consider purchasing a car with internet connectivity due to privacy issues, for example, and more than half were afraid of being hacked through a connected car.
In recent years, efforts to create more sustainable urban mobility have resulted in their own safety issues. The growing popularity of electric scooters as a carbon-free means of navigating crosstown traffic has resulted in sidewalk crowding, legal dust-ups and fatalities; some cities, like San Francisco, were inundated with e-scooters before local legislators had an opportunity to try and regulate their use. In San Francisco, this resulted first in a temporary ban and then in the belated installation of a permitted system that excluded some of the biggest players in the market, including Bird and Lime. Bird, however, proceeded to purchase one of the approved e-scooter providers.
Cyber breaches are a real threat and can be hard to detect; the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and FBI have all warned drivers about over-the-internet attacks on cars and trucks.
Trade and Travel Barriers to Mobility
Most mobility-related infrastructure, bureaucracy, and thinking is decidedly dated. Excessive red tape and a lack of cooperation are hindering the movement of goods and people. Lingering barriers to mobility include the use of trade tariffs - the US-China trade war, for example, has resulted in a series of tariffs that have made parts more expensive for American manufacturers and thereby made it more difficult for them to remain competitive - and onerous visa requirements for travelers.
Free trade agreements and an expansion of goods and services moving across borders can have profound economic benefits. However, recent casualties in world of free trade deals include the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would have created a free-trade area between the US and the European Union, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was expected to become the world’s largest free trade deal before the US withdrew in 2017 (other signatories have since forged ahead).
In 2018, international tourist arrivals increased by 6% compared with the prior year, to 1.4 billion, according to a report published by the International Organization for Migration - marking the latest upswing in what has been an explosion in travel and tourism in the last few decades.
However, in order to truly help many countries bolster their economic competitiveness, more must be done to make it easier for people to visit them, according to the report, which noted that only 21% of the global population did not require a visa when traveling for tourism purposes in 2018. A number of bilateral and regional agreements have been implemented to reduce travel barriers, including the Schengen Agreement, the US Global Entry program, and the APEC Business Travel Card.
Much must still be done to better align the hundreds of regional trade agreements in force; according to the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business project, a single export was liable to require up to 11 documents and 86 days of shipping due to red tape.
New technology and digitization can also help make travel a more seamless experience. However, the private sector must take a proactive role in making the case to governments that travel facilitation through technology can bring economic and security benefits.
Mobility is a fundamental human need, and an essential enabler of prosperity. But the current mobility paradigm is not sustainable; car travel causes millions of deaths every year, a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions are transport-related, and congestion causes heavy financial losses.
There is hope on the horizon, however - the global mobility system is in the early stages of massive transformation, as new technologies enable innovative related businesses, and as policy-makers seek out ways to foster mobility that is smarter, cleaner, and more inclusive.
A glimpse of what is to come is captured in Deloitte’s Future of Mobility: What’s Next? Publication.