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Global Gridlock - What are the solutions?

At Ford we envision a radically different transportation landscape where pedestrians, bicycles, private cars as well as commercial and public transportation are all woven into a connected network to save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety.
Jeff Nemeth
Jeff Nemeth
When we look at the expected population growth in the coming years it quickly becomes clear that we can't keep doing things the way we always have. Global gridlock is poised to become a reality.

While none of us enjoy sitting in a traffic jam there is more to the problem than just the inconvenience of being unable to move. Gridlock will limit our ability to conduct business and in turn stifle economic growth.

We see a world where vehicles talk to one another, drivers and vehicles communicate with the city infrastructure to relieve congestion and people routinely share vehicles or multiple forms of transportation for their daily commute.

Henry Ford believed that mobility brought freedom and progress. If we continue to do things the way we always have, our freedom of movement will slowly be eroded. We need to change the way the world moves, much like Henry Ford did when he introduced the Model T Ford over a century ago. We are on the precipice of a new revolution. We can't just keep making and selling cars the way we always have. A new business model is needed, and at Ford we call this model our Blue Print for Mobility.

Keep the world moving...

Based on an analysis of population growth, urbanisation and other key societal and economic trends, Ford's Blue Print for Mobility seeks to keep the world moving. Our goal is to make mobility affordable in every sense of the word - economically, environmentally and socially - and provide seamless mobility for all.

Everything in our Blueprint is achievable in the future based on existing technology. The key challenges are making the offerings affordable and attainable to all customers and finding ways for all stakeholders - the auto industry, governments, technology companies and more - to make the adaptations needed to improve the transportation infrastructure.

The challenges we face in terms of implementation in Africa may differ somewhat from the challenges faced by Europe or Asia - but the common thread remains a growing burden on existing road networks that will not be sustainable going forward.

With almost 7 billion people in the world, and that number expected to grow to nine billion within our lifetime, the numbers are not on our side. Some reports predict that by 2025 we can expect to see around half of the world's populations living in megacities of 10 million residents or more.

New thinking is needed, and at Ford we've already started exploring the possibilities by taking the first critical steps by means of experimentation.

Understanding consumers' mobility needs around the globe

Ford introduced the smart mobility plan in January, along with more than 25 experiments aimed at better understanding consumers' mobility needs around the globe. These experiments, or research projects, are building blocks to enable people - especially those in urban areas - to enjoy mobility products and services designed to deliver a better quality of life.

A few key initiatives stand out as potential solutions to global gridlock. But the question for us remains whether these approaches would be viable in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

Peer-to-peer car sharing is one example. More than 25,000 customers across six different cities in the US and in London are being invited to sign up to rent a Ford credit-financed vehicle for short-term use, offsetting monthly vehicle ownership costs.

Participants have access to a web-based, mobile-friendly, ride-share software system to help them track availability of cars in their area.

The insights gained from this research will help Ford to gauge the appetite customers' have to earn extra cash while keeping their vehicles in use.

The research will be used to support our commitment to innovation and is aimed specifically at developing smarter transportation systems that take the worry and anxiety out of journey planning and improve the quality of life in busy cities.

On the face of it, these concepts may seem fraught with obstacles, but the fact is that these concepts are already becoming a reality in our society. In South Africa, despite the obvious concerns around crime, there is already a car sharing service called Locumute, available to the market.

We faced similar concerns in July when we showcased Ford's eBike concept at our Go Further exhibition in Sandton. While the eBike garnered much attention, there was an underlying scepticism from those who viewed it. Although most loved the concept, they couldn't see it working in South Africa.

The Mode:Pro eBike a customisable electric bike experiment is designed for all types of commercial uses and is aimed at reducing congestion by allowing small businesses and courier companies to deliver goods without negatively impacting on traffic.

In addition, the Mode:Me is an electric bike that folds and stores easily into most vehicles. This means the commuter's car can be parked outside of a high traffic zone area, the eBike extracted from the boot and the commuter can then choose a mode (including a non-sweat mode where the bike does all the work) to get to their destination.

Working with an app-based route selector the commuter's bike will take them to the office with signals and buzzes generated through the handle-bars. This means the commuter gets the best route to the office, in the most efficient way and as safely as possible. With the app working through the bike, the commuter can keep their eyes firmly on the road.

Johannesburg show-goers were quick to point out concerns around safety both from a theft and driver perspective. Faced with rampant crime and many reckless motorists on the roads, it's easy to identify the difficulties that South Africans might face in implementing these solutions.

In addition to car sharing programmes and multimodal transport solutions there are other options of the horizon. Autonomous vehicles are an example and industry is already making huge strides in the move towards this. Similarly, the infrastructure needs to exist in order for autonomous driving to become a reality in our daily lives.

An autonomous car, or a car with autonomous features, has the ability to perform a function independently from the driver. The technology exists for these cars to be a reality today.

Auto-functionality - such as Active Park Assist and Active City Stop - is already available in a host of Ford models. These features utilise the same technologies that will make autonomous driving common place.

In Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates a sophisticated network of driverless electric cars moves beneath the city streets. Communicating with one another, they operate seamlessly.

So why don't we see driverless cars on our roads?

The key is connectivity

Like the aforementioned mobility solutions we first have to create an infrastructure that supports these technologies in order to make them a mainstream reality.
Connectivity will form the foundation for an autonomous future. It is vital because cars need to speak to one another as well as the infrastructure around them. The connected car will share information with a communication network as well as other cars on the road. This information could include traffic updates, navigation based on potential traffic problems, finding open parking spots, avoiding hazards and more.

This will be a large contribution to the gridlock solution in large cities around the world.

In South Africa in particular this remains a challenge. While our internet speeds will improve in the future, we have a long way to go before autonomous driving might become a reality for us.

One has to also consider customer acceptance. A willingness to share data and trust in the reliability of autonomous functions is needed. Many believe that this will be one of the major roadblocks the industry faces going forward. However, a recent report[1] by the McKinsey Company illustrated that personal data privacy is not as big a hurdle as we once may have thought. In fact the opposite is evident.

The public's demand for connectivity is increasing at a rapid rate, with the number of customers willing to switch their car brand in order to obtain better connectivity almost doubling in the space of a year. According to the same survey, 55 percent of global consumers would allow car manufacturers to use their data without any formal guarantees, while an additional 21 percent would be open to doing so if they had guarantees that the data would not be sold to third parties without their consent.

Once customer acceptance becomes demand, the motoring landscape as we know it will revolutionise.

At Ford we believe the potential solution to global gridlock and traffic congestion exists in the changing mobility landscape. We can't do it alone though. The infrastructure of our cities and our access to high speed data will become pivotal to the successful implementation of many of the mobility solutions we can expect to see in the future. As a country we will need to embrace the change in order to realise the benefits on a massive scale.

In the midst of the World EcoMobility festival consider for a moment a Sandton that has the infrastructure to cater for alternative modes of transport. It might not be a reality now, but for multimodal forms of transport to be a success the architecture of the cities needs to cater to new forms of mobility. This month's festival demonstrates that the city is indeed exploring the model for the 'City of the Future' and the way people will commute in decades to come.

This is critical, as no one party can solve this problem alone. A symbiotic ecosystem of regulators, cities, countries and private businesses working together in harmony will give life to a changing mobility landscape.

About Jeff Nemeth

Jeff Nemeth, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company Sub Saharan Africa region

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