ForeSight looks at Transportation Scenario’s upto 2050

Via Gravity Lens I came across a BBC look at 4 scenario’s for transport in Britain up to 2055, the result of work done by uber Brit GOV Think Tank Foresight.

You can also look at much more details (a 1mb and a 1.6mb pdf’s) on ForeSight’s page. (although there is some chop off text peices here and there). And you can purchase hardcopy.

It’s worth remembering that scenario planning is not about say “this will happen” but is looking at possible consequences of events, in order to prepare for them and/or make better choices.

The major event focused is the increasing cost of oil and a) “whether or not we will develop low environmental impact transport systems”; and b) “whether or not people will accept intelligent infrastructure”. Translated from Gov speak: how high will energy be, will technology make enough of a difference?

So what are the scenario’s:

1)Perpetual Motion: The big picture is of a very busy city with lots of private car traffic, all running on clean forms of energy. Everyone is plugged into the grid and is ‘always on’, always in touch, and ready, willing and able to travel using clean forms of energy. High-density cities and low-density suburbs
perpetual motion

2)Urban Colonies : The big picture is of a high-density (but not necessarily high-rise) green city with a lot of locally produced goods and efficient public transport systems. Buildings are sustainable and the public realm is active and vibrant. High-density, mixed-use, compact cities
Urban Colonies

3)Tribal Trading : The big picture is of a world that has undergone a huge energy crisis and has achieved tranquil equilibrium through simple lifestyles that no longer rely on being supplied power through a national grid. Former city dwellers still need to live in communities where they are in close proximity with others. These dense social conditions allow the community to share resources more efficiently and help to preserve the maximum amount of green areas for agricultural use. Empty cities and clustered, compact rural housing

4)Good Intentions: The big picture is of a big city where people’s lifestyles are determined by a strict and enforced scheme of carbon consumption control. Biofuel is the primary alternative form of energy, but the need to reduce energy consumption is now a matter of survival in a rapidly degrading environment. Cars are lighter, smaller and more efficient, and more and more people are cycling, even for long distances. High-density cities and empty suburbs

Good IntentionsPerpetual MotionUrban ColoniesTribal Trading
EconomicsContinued economic growth, but not within environmental limits.Glottalization and technology drive economic growth..High-value knowledge jobs combined with strong local services drive.Deep global recession caused by energy shocks
SocietySlow to accept the need to change.‘Always on’ society – growing divide between the in motion and those who disconnect.Pursuit of socially inclusive society.Fragmented and focused on local communities
EnviromentConcerns force governments to collaborate to minimize damage.Clean energy leads to reduced environmental damage.Some improvement due to policies designed to reduce travel.Limited travel and alternative forms of transport reduce emissions.
SafetyHigh – though some concerns due to aging infrastructure.Investment creates high level of (automated) safety systems.Poor integration of public systems means that private
networks are
most trusted.
Unsafe, insecure world.
Infrastructure degrading
RobusnessPatchy investment affects interoperability.Highly standardised, interoperable systems.Mistrust of IT systems reduces integration.Little robustness – local solutions to
local needs and no co-ordinated effort

One thing is clear. In all of the scenarios, fast and cheap plane travel is toast. Even if we go to hydrogen or electric for private and public transportation of people and things, there are really few alternatives to aviation fuel for “bang for your buck”. Ships and Trains will do okay, but for flight? Beamed power to airplanes is the only one I can thing of.

And what would be the impact of places that are counting on international tourism? Ranging from “Not Good” to “The least of your problems”.

Of course, fast and expensive will still around for the ultra wealthy and military. For the rest of us, other possibilities might be “cheap and slow”, like or ultra efficient prop planes. How about “fast and far”: ballistic intercontinental HTOL vehicles like the ?

As well, it’s interesting to look at the role of computer technology and, beyond the problems of sheer invention, what would cause people to reject the potential benefits? The scenarios point to things like incompatible formats and standards, reliability, and privacy issues.

It strikes me that Digital Rights Management systems (or Digital Restrictions Management – DRM) could cause, certainly contribute to, the collapse of “Perpetual Motion” into “Urban Colonies” or “Good Intentions” scenarios. DRM is part of the benefit and cost equations we make even if the copyright industry do not want us too.

In the real work, going forward, it is likely that a little of all 4 scenarios will happen. Some places and people will adapt better than others, due to luck, culture or leadership. This applies to counties and regions or cities within those countries. It’s easy to imagine a future Singapore or New York as a Urban Colonies, Los Angles as “Perpetual Motion”. And imagine other places a Tribal or Good Intentions.

And all of this is a ready-made setting for story telling of the near future. I was visualizing Cory Doctorow “” in the “Perpetual Motion” scenario.

Update: Bruce Sterling lead me to Paul Saffo on 7 rules for forecasting., see also Fellow Future Travelers for links to the Future Wiki and Scenario Thinking

Update : the very worth while links back in “Transportation Futures”, as does the japanese .

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