How to Combine Three Revolutions in Transportation for Maximum Benefit Worldwide

According to researchers at the University of California at Davis and the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, three transportation revolutions are in sight: vehicle electrification, automation and widespread shared mobility. Together, they say they could help reduce traffic, improve livability, eventually save trillions of dollars each year and reduce urban transportation CO2 emissions by 80% or more worldwide by 2050. But to receive the most benefit from these revolutions, the report says “the most critical component is something most preschoolers know: Sharing is caring.”

The report delves into three urban travel scenarios surrounding the revolutions:

  • Business as usual: a future without widespread electrification or automation
  • “2 Revolutions:” electrification and automation are embraced but shared mobility is not
  • “3 Revolutions:” electrification, automation and shared mobility are all widespread

The report determined that shared mobility is the third and vital piece that could move global transportation into a future that not only saves energy and emissions but also decongests highways, frees up parking lots for other urban uses, cuts transportation costs, and improves walkability and livability. Notably, this aligns with an analysis from BP earlier this year on the issue.

Shared mobility includes ride-hailing services, but only when carrying multiple occupants. It also includes new forms of on-demand public transportation, such as small commuter buses with flexible routes. Active transportation, such as cycling, complements this scenario.

The report spans eight global regions, including five major markets: United States, Europe, China, India and Brazil. The researchers say the different global regions vary considerably in their starting points. For example, the U.S. is highly car-dependent, whereas India’s challenge will be to preserve and enhance shared mobility options they already have. Yet, across the globe, the researchers found the “3 Revolutions”, or 3R, scenario to hold the most environmental and societal benefit.

“As shown in the figures below, the greater range of modes (on a passenger kilometers basis) in India is clearly evident compared to the U.S., but in both cases the overall travel levels are lowest in the 3R scenario, with a far higher share of shared mobility (saving even more vehicle kilometers) than in the other scenarios.”

Without a concurrent shift away from private vehicle ownership and toward ride sharing, the potential for electric, autonomous vehicles to reduce traffic and sprawl are severely limited, and CO2 reductions will be significantly less than with sharing, the report says.  Electrified, driverless vehicles alone could actually increase traffic congestion. “Imagine people spending even more time in their cars or the possibility of zero-occupant, driverless vehicles continuously circling the streets rather than parking.”

The researchers say electrification is also very important. The report estimates that an autonomous vehicle world without electrification or trip sharing would not cut CO2 emissions at all, and might increase vehicle travel by 15 to 20%.

“The findings point out that urban transportation has to evolve beyond single-occupancy vehicles and a single HOV lane,” said Jacob Mason, Transport Research and Evaluation Manager at ITDP. “If passenger vehicles do not become predominantly shared by 2050, our cities will continue to be choked by congestion, and defined by sprawling land development and the massive emissions this system generates. Instead, the urban residents of tomorrow should ride electric, automated, and shared vehicles into a cleaner and healthier future.”

The report assesses policies including those that incentivize widespread adoption of electric and driverless cars, as well as support for ride sharing, public and active transport, and land-use planning that helps shorten most vehicle trips. Such policies could consider fees tied to vehicle CO2 emissions, vehicle occupancy, and possible restrictions or heavy charges on private ownership of autonomous vehicles, along with strong disincentives for zero-occupant trips. Bicycle and e-bike sharing systems also need to be encouraged along with transit system innovations.

Other Report Highlights

Compared to a business as usual case in 2050, a shared, electric and driverless transportation system could:

  • Reduce the amount of vehicles and carbon dioxide emissions by 50% or greater worldwide.
  • Cut global energy use from urban passenger transportation by more than 70%.
  • Cut the costs of vehicles, infrastructure and transportation system operations by more than 40%.

Electrified automation without widespread vehicle sharing could save significant energy and emissions, mostly after 2030, but only if the world’s electricity production is decarbonized by 2050, the researchers note.  This is in contrast to the RethinkX report released around the same time.


Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.