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the road ahead

When it comes to transportation tech, tomorrow’s hope sometimes ends up as yesterday’s hype. In 2001, Segway inventor Dean Kamen told Time magazine that his two-wheeled scooter, “would be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.”

That hasn’t happened, and since then, there have been plenty of predicted game-changers. More recently, tech companies have promised transportation revolutions that could ease congestion, save lives and help curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

So how has mobility tech fared over the last year? Let’s look at a few notable examples.

Self-driving’s self-own

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A Cruise self-driving car sits outside the General Motors headquarters in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 2018.Heather Somerville/Reuters

A few years back, there were plenty of predictions that we’d have driverless cars, and even driverless taxi services, running on roads by 2019. Well, we don’t have them yet, and experts think robot cars could be at least five years, or even decades, away.

Cars simply aren’t ready to safely drive themselves without human help in real traffic. We did see tests of slow-moving self-driving shuttles, which typically run in areas closed to other traffic, in Canada this year. But while self-driving cars have been tested with traffic, they haven’t been allowed to run without a driver for backup. And even then, there’s been one death so far – a woman was killed in Arizona while jaywalking in 2018 by a self-driving Uber. A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board probe into the death found that the car sensed the woman nearly six seconds before the crash, but it didn’t stop because it wasn’t programmed to look for pedestrians outside of crosswalks.


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A Car2Go vehicle sits parked in Vancouver on Dec. 18, 2019.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Automakers hoped that alternatives to car ownership, such as car-sharing services, might drive a boost in profits. But Car2Go, a service launched by Daimler in 2008 that merged with BMW’s Share Now earlier this year, announced this week that it will pull its cars out of North American cities, including Vancouver and Montreal, on February 29. It pulled out of Toronto in 2018 and Calgary in October. It is keeping cars in Europe. GM’s Maven, a car-sharing service that launched in 2016, pulled out of eight North American cities in May, although it stayed in Toronto.

Scooter surge

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Philip Milley, right, and Gwenyth Stadig, ride e-scooters in Calgary on Sept. 13, 2019.Jeff McIntosh

Shared e-scooters appeared in Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal this past summer, and Ontario will allow pilots on public roads in 2020. In Calgary’s pilot, 166,000 users took 750,000 e-scooter trips in the first four months, averaging about 1.8 kilometres per trip. Calgary also had shared e-bikes for a full year – from October, 2018, to October, 2019 – they weren’t as popular as the scooters. Over that period, 40,000 users took 168,000 shared e-bike trips, averaging about 1.2 km per trip. Were the scooters actually used for transportation or just for joyrides? In a survey of 9,000 users, only about 26 per cent said they used the scooters for sightseeing or exercising. The rest said they’d used them for commuting, shopping and errands.

The rise of the (hybrid) machines

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The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hybrid on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 28, 2018.Chris Carlson/The Associated Press

Unlike in recent years, this year there were no pure electric vehicles nominated for Green Car Journal’s green car of the year. Instead the nominees – and the winners – were all mainstream cars, most with hybrid options. The winners? The 2020 Toyota Corolla and the 2020 Honda CR-V. Battery-electric cars aren’t going away, and we’ll see more, and we’ll see more and more of them, but those awards demonstrate how many automakers are back to adding hybrids to their existing line-ups.

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