Research

Mobility of the Future

Examining future changes in personal mobility

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MITEI’s three-year Mobility of the Future study has explored the major factors that will affect the evolution of personal mobility through 2050. Using a scenario-based approach, the diverse study team of MIT faculty, researchers, and students examined how different factors will shape the future of personal mobility at different scales, from global and national markets to policy and mobility choices at the city and individual levels. The study team’s report, Insights into Future Mobility, will be released in November 2019. The report will present results and findings to help stakeholders anticipate and navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

The study is organized into five main areas of inquiry, each of which focuses on a particular aspect or set of influences on the future landscape for personal mobility:

  1. The potential impact of climate change policies on global fleet composition, fuel consumption, fuel prices, and economic output
  2. The outlook for vehicle ownership and travel, with a focus on the world’s two largest light-duty vehicle markets—the U.S. and China
  3. Characteristics of alternative vehicle powertrains and fuels that could affect their future market share
  4. Infrastructure considerations for charging and fueling, particularly as they affect future demand for electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
  5. The future of personal mobility in urban areas, with a focus on the potentially disruptive role of autonomous vehicles and ride-hailing services

Motivation

Personal mobility is a central and highly valued feature of human society—indeed, mobility is essential for economies to function and for individuals to access the opportunities they need to thrive. Therefore, the benefits of the technologies and systems that have evolved to enable personal mobility on a large scale are difficult to overstate. However, even as mobility options proliferate, expanding accessibility for many, there is growing concern regarding the long-term sustainability of our transportation systems. Our current transportation systems have a substantial physical footprint, require enormous public and private investment, consume significant energy resources, are a major contributor of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollutants, and impose many other negative externalities. While these issues apply to all modes, petroleum-powered private vehicles present the greatest opportunity for disruption.

As populations increase and incomes rise, global demand for personal mobility is expected to grow, which adds an urgent dimension to the daunting policy challenges of air pollution, climate change, road safety, congestion, and social exclusion. This is especially true in emerging economies that currently have relatively low levels of vehicle ownership. More than half a billion passenger vehicles could be added to the global fleet by mid-century. Light-duty vehicle travel is expected to increase by roughly 50% in the same timeframe to reach nearly 5 trillion miles per year, raising important questions about resource use, climate and pollution impacts, system capacity, and safety.

Concurrently, and partly in response to these pressures, personal mobility itself is changing. As mobility technologies and services, consumer preferences and behaviors, and transportation policies co-evolve over the coming decades, there is great uncertainty about both the pace of continued change and which mobility options will be adopted. A few things, however, are certain: as the world’s population grows and becomes wealthier, the demand for personal mobility, convenience, and flexibility will increase. As the world urbanizes, mobility solutions will need to become more compatible with the density of activities concentrated in cities. As the world responds to environmental concerns, powertrains and fuels must evolve to become more sustainable. And as disruptive technologies and business models develop, some conventional lifestyles regarding car-ownership, shopping, and commuting may yield to the shared economy, e-commerce, and telecommuting. The forces involved are complex and sometimes in conflict but they have the potential to shape a mobility landscape that looks very different from today’s.


Lead Investigators

William Green

Hoyt C. Hottel Professor of Chemical Engineering

Faculty Chair, Mobility of the Future study

Sergey Paltsev

Senior Research Scientist, MIT Energy Initiative

Deputy Director, MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Moshe Ben-Akiva

Edmund K. Turner Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Director, Intelligent Transportation Systems Lab

John Heywood

Professor Emeritus, Mechanical Engineering and MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Climate Change

Chintan Vaishnav

Senior Lecturer, System Dynamics Group, Sloan School of Management

Jinhua Zhao

Edward H. and Joyce Linde Associate Professor of City and Transportation Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Director, JTL Urban Mobility Lab and Transit Lab

Bryan Reimer

Research Scientist, MIT AgeLab

Christopher Knittel

George P. Shultz Professor of Applied Economics, Sloan School of Management

Director, MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research


Current Consortium Members

The current consortium members include: