Passenger might one day go the way of landline telephones. Everyone was dependent upon them until, somehow, mobile phones became ubiquitous and landlines began fading away. Maurie Cohen, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environment Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says the analogy is a good one.

"If we're 100 years into the automobile era, it seems pretty inconceivable that the car as we know it is going to be around for another 100 years," Cohen said in an interview with The Atlantic Cities. While automobiles remain embedded in communities around the world, they're likely to follow other icons in transportation history including the sailboat, steamship, canal system, carriage and streetcar. All of these technologies became pervasive and were gradually replaced by the next generation transportation modes – similar to what's happening with phones.

As for what's next, there won't any "cataclysmic moment," Cohen said. "Like any other technology that outlives its usefulness, it just sort of disappears into the background and we slowly forget about it," he said. That's what telephone communications are going through now – your grandmother might still use her landline, but for how long?

Transportation technology change does take a long time – perhaps longer than 100 years. Automobile history was preceded by steam-powered vehicles and the first internal combustion engine. Early car prototypes blew up, wreaking fear on the public. Cars had to become trustworthy and the infrastructure had to follow – roads, gas stations and repair shops – to allow cars to become widely accepted. We saw a video on this very subject just the other day.

There are several signs the era of cars is passing. New vehicle registrations have plateaued in the US even as the population grows. Twentysomethings are less likely to own cars because many just don't care about them, unlike Baby Boomers. So what's next for transportation? Autonomous cars, smart transportation systems, car sharing, and the growing popularity of biking and pedestrian traffic in urban environments are useful indicators to look at.

Cohen thinks it's wise to watch transportation trends in China. While cars were largely developed in the US to fit the American landscape of wide-open spaces and brand-new communities, China faces entirely different conditions. What works in one place might not work elsewhere, Cohen says, and we could see a replay of how the car never worked as well in Florence as it did in Detroit.


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  • 19 Comments
      • 2 Days Ago
      Epic Fail.Cars are just the current iteration of personal transportation. People have used animal drawn carts, wagons, buggies, coaches, and any number of personal transportation variants. To believe that cars will disappear in the future takes vast amounts of shortsightedness. People only love public transportation when they both live and work near those systems. Even those modern cities with the most up-to-date public transportation systems are clogged with cars. They may go by different names or be more autonomous, but cars will always be around. And, the bicycle alternative is another non-starter. Every take the fam over to grandmas on a rainy day? You won't being doing that on some futuristic bike. Too dumb to be real.
        Donny Hoover
        • 2 Days Ago
        Exactly. Public transportation works well in big cities (and cars are frankly a pain in the ass). Too bad we don't all live in big cities, or their prediction might be accurate.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 2 Days Ago
        Family hauling bikes already exist., look up a bike called a 'yuba mundo', then check out the electric kits designed for it, so you could actually go up a hill with the family on the back, lol. Smaller forms of transport like that can't fully replace a car 100% of the time, but they can do the job 80-90% of the time. I get >1000MPGe riding my electric bike as my primary form of transport. I'd say the 9 months out of the year that the bike gets ridden rather than the car i drive. It's not a pipe dream, small electric transport is here already. Hauling 100-600lbs of people in a 3,000lb steel box is a more absurd way forward than small, efficient transport!
      AnybodyM
      • 2 Days Ago
      The Hyperloop will make cars obsolete, obviously :-)
      harlanx6
      • 2 Days Ago
      You are dreaming. Apparently you have never been out West.
      • 2 Days Ago
      It will be nice to see bicycles making a comeback in the personal transport scene
        Reggie
        • 2 Days Ago
        They have comeback in Europe cycling is massive. We have 13 million cyclist in the UK and growing fast due to the austerity here. 2013 World cycle production has already passed 28 millions already and its only February, what planet do you live on? How many bicycles are there in the world? It is estimated that more than a billion bicycles are present in the world, with nearly half of them in China. http://www.worldometers.info/bicycles/
          Tysto
          • 2 Days Ago
          @Reggie
          I was amazed at the masses of bicycles at the train stations every day when I visited the Netherlands a couple of years ago. Nijmegen has a two-story parking garage for bikes, with top and bottom racks on each level, and it was packed every day!
        2 wheeled menace
        • 2 Days Ago
        The percentage of the population that commutes to work via bicycle is still 1% here in the USA, but i am seeing companies who design bicycles for commuting pop up / grow lately, and electric bikes become more popular. Still got a long way to go 'till we're China or Denmark though...!
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Days Ago
      Landlines are not yet obsolete. Many people still use them for DSL.
        Dave
        • 2 Days Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Not obsolete at all in the business world.
      • 2 Days Ago
      While an interesting concept, it seems that it was not well thought out.At least in my area the reason for a lack of registrations is obvious: Baby boomers retire and drive less (and own less cars), the stay-at-home mom is back in style allowing young families to live on one car, the economy has been poor, cash for clunkers has permanently skewed the used car market, students have less need of a car while in college. Bring back the economy and registrations will come back. As much as futurists seem to want people to live in more densely populated urban areas, technology always makes living further away from centralized population centers easier over time. Before cars you would need to live somewhere that you could walk to the store every day, where now food can come to you or you can purchase and store enough food that you do not need to do it daily (or even weekly). If you were interested in learning you use to need to live near a university or large public library, where now the internet is often an adequate replacement for that. If you wanted social entertainment you use to need to live near a mall, pub/bar, or theater, where now you can watch movies online, or play games online with your friends (and drink alone). While telecommuting will never be an option for the masses, it is normally taken up whenever it is available. If you want to live in the middle of nowhere you can now have solar cells capable of providing enough power for all of the creature comforts of life without having to bleed out of your pocket book for years and years (in fact, in some areas it is cheaper over time to go solar than to rely on public power options... it is just that initial purchase that hurts). Medical advancements make it so that most people have to go to the hospital less often, and receive in-home care more often (and like the solar cells, in-home visiting care can be cheaper). But most importantly, any time people can afford to not live in the same building as others (especially strangers) then they find a way out. All of this seems like it would be reasons for LESS transport, but it does not work that way. While it is less individual trips, it makes personal transport MORE important because less people live along major public transit lines, or have schedules that are compatible with public transit. Self driving cars, and cheap electric vehicles will only bring a renewed interest in personal transport, especially if EVs get as cheap as ICE cars and in-home generation becomes cheaply available. Transportation has always trended from large industrial application, to small personal application, and if anything we will see more and more 1-2 person vehicles in the future rather than the 4-5 person vehicles we have now. The only thing that will stop it is teleporter technology. Affordable instantaneous personal travel is the only thing that will kill the car, and its not coming.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 2 Days Ago
      Think self piloting hyper efficient velomobiles that never collide into others due to a heavy network of computerized sensors.. no need to steer or anything like that either, just type in your destination and it does all the work.. I'll probably be 80 by then, thinking about how cool it was to drive my own car 'back in the day'.
      car czar
      • 2 Days Ago
      Since most futurist believe 60 percent of the world will live in massive cities I can see the car becoming less of a option to travel but it's not going any where soon especially in the U.S our obese population is not getting on a bike, you cant drive threw McDonald's and get a supersized meal.
      Actionable Mango
      • 2 Days Ago
      "Passenger might one day go the way of landline telephones." So cars will drive around without passengers? Interesting.
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