It’s the start of a new year. It’s the beginning of a new decade. One hundred years ago, North Americans were in love with their automobiles. They dreamed of automotive progress and postulated about the “car of the future.” Many of their predictions have turned out to be prescient. We are only now beginning to see their implementation. For instance, in May 1919, the Ottawa Citizen suggested that electric cars would be the industry standard and proclaimed, “Who said the car of the future must have a gasoline engine?” The author added, “In the near future, the car with a steering wheel will be as obsolete as the car with a hand pump for gas.”
It seems fitting as we enter a decade with more technologically advanced automobiles than ever before that I take a stab at what’s to come. Our vehicles have developed, but our trepidation about driving and its effect on the environment is at an all-time high. And so, we look to the future, trembling. Here are Road Sage’s predictions for 2020.
1. Send not for whom the toll tolls
Highway tolls are ubiquitous everywhere there are cars – everywhere, that is, but Canada. For some reason, Canadians hate the idea of people who use the roads into our cities paying for them. That’s too bad, because toll roads are a good way to raise revenue that can be used to improve public transit and maintain infrastructure. Ontario’s private Highway 407 toll route, for instance, is now worth $30-billion. Toronto mayor John Tory tried to turn the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway into toll highways. Then-premier Kathleen Wynne, desperate to curry favour with suburban commuters, vetoed the move. As traffic congestion worsens, look for the possibility of toll roads to once again be on the table, in Toronto and elsewhere.
2. The self-driving job boom
Spurred on by research that shows the autonomous driving industry will be a $42-billion market and that there will be 20 million self-driving cars on the road by 2025, the University of Toronto now offers a certificate in “Self-Driving Car Specialization.” They want to meet the needs of the upcoming self-driving job boom. The program is helmed by associate professor Steve Waslander, an industry leader. The certificate promises to give students hands-on experience and an “understanding of state-of-the-art engineering practices used in the self-driving car industry.”
3. There will be flying cars – just not yet
There are companies working to fly you to work. Joby Aviation Inc. is the leader. The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based startup, founded 10 years ago by CEO JoeBen Bevirt, has done important aerodynamics work with NASA and others on projects such as the X-57 Maxwell and LEAPTech. According to Bloomberg, Joby Aviation “plans to mass-produce its air taxis for a ride-hailing service that it will operate. Bevirt’s vision includes a landing pad for every office and cul-de-sac.” Trips will cost as much as a trip on Uber or Lyft. The goal is to eliminate billions of wasted hours. Count me in.
4. You gotta fight for your right to drive
Serious drivers will look to the past for inspiration. Forget high-tech, they will crave pre-2000 automobiles. This trend is exemplified by the Human Driving Association (H.D.A.), a group that wants to protect the “right to drive.” H.D.A. wants a constitutional amendment that, according to its website, would guarantee a person’s “right to drive, within the limits of safety technologies that do not infringe upon our freedom of movement.” It also wants laws that require steering wheels in all vehicles. I support the Human Driving Association’s vision. Our new semi-autonomous vehicles are collecting data on our trips; essentially monitoring our every move. The freedom of the road seems to be slipping away. The year 2020 may be when I buy a 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit, just like the one I used to drive.
5. Finally, my one-hundred-per-cent-guaranteed prediction
People will complain about driving. People will continue driving. People will continue to complain about driving.