The future of transport is here and it could solve SA’s road carnage

Electric, driverless taxis would replace vehicles such as these pictured at the Bree Taxi Rank. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi
Electric, driverless taxis would replace vehicles such as these pictured at the Bree Taxi Rank. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

For a long time cars were a symbol of freedom, wealth and success but things are changing in the face of sustainable mobility

With close to 15 000 lives lost every year on South Africa’s roads at a cost of R140 billion, the future of transport – both public and private – cannot arrive fast enough.

And that future is driverless vehicles.

So says Steven Kiefer, global purchasing and supply chain management vice president at General Motors in Detroit, US.

Kiefer was among more than 5 000 delegates at the Movin’On Summit in Montreal, Canada, to discuss sustainable mobility across the globe.

He says driverless cars are closer than we think, and will be mass produced by the middle of the next decade.

“We have developed four different generations of autonomous vehicles that are committed to autonomous and person-free driving. About 94% of all crashes around the world are due to driver error. We believe autonomous vehicles will essentially eliminate crashes in the future,” he says.

“We now have a fleet of more than 200 autonomous vehicles running all over San Francisco which we consider the most challenging city environment in the US.”

Electric cars

Not only will future cars be driverless, they will be electric too, says Kiefer, adding that General Motors’ global vision is to create zero crashes, emissions and congestion.

The Veemo is an enclosed electrically assisted three wheeled bicycle which is ridden using handlebars, pedals and handbrakes. It uses human, battery, and solar power and might a game changer. Picture: Sipho Masondo/City Press

“We are committed to an all-electric car future. In the middle of the next decade, we will have a full fleet of electric vehicles, including fast cars, SUVs and full-sized pick-up vehicles,” he says.

But the electric car has its problems, including a range of not more than 200km, and a four hour charging time.

Not good for an Easter weekend roadtrip from Joburg to Durban.

To address this, Symbio, a joint venture between French tyre-maker Michelin and vehicle supply company Faurecia, has come up with hydrogen cell batteries for electric cars. The engine takes five minutes to charge and provides a 600km range.

Trains, bikes and cars

Another hot topic – besides reducing carbon emissions and using artificial intelligence – was the use of electric and autonomous multimodal public transport systems to reduce the number of cars entering big cities.

The Navya shuttle, a 15-seater electric, driverless shuttle which is already in use in Geneva and Michigan. Picture: Sipho Masondo/City Press

City vehicles of the future are driverless, from shuttles to freight carriers and even rubbish removal trucks.

Alex Dayon, president and chief strategy officer at San Francisco firm Salesforce, said: “The future of cars is not selling more cars; they will be selling rides and trips.

“Young people have zero interest in buying and owning a car. There will be a lot of multimodal mobility usage,” he said, explaining that such a system would connect the booking and riding of a train, bus, bicycle, ride-share, ride-hailing and scooters all on one app.

“The next big wave of mobility discussion that we are starting to have is the connected city. In urban mobility right now most of our services are one mode. I take the bus, bike or Uber.

“You pick one, you don’t combine them, because right now there is no operating system to link you up with those transport modes seamlessly,” he said.

But operating systems to link them are the future.

Driverless taxi a big hit

Electric, autonomous and completely driverless, the Navya on-demand shuttle was one of many futuristic public transport models on display at the Movin’On Summit in Canada this week.

The 15-passenger minibus, which has neither a steering wheel nor a single pedal, uses sensing technology and cameras to navigate and avoid collisions. Passengers use an on-board preprogrammed computer system to feed instructions to the shuttle.

Navya’s Khaled Osman said the company has been testing it at the US’s University of Michigan for the past two years.

“We are the official shuttle service for them and students now understand what this technology is about. There is a list of 12 stations, they choose one of them. We haven’t had a single accident, and we are now operating in 20 cities around the world,” he says.

Osman says they are educating the public about how to deal with this kind of technology.

“They don’t know what this is and they don’t know that if they come too close this thing will sense them and it will simply stop. People will eventually get to understand that they have to move away when they see an autonomous shuttle, just like they give way to the bicycle or the scooter,” he says.

But, says Osman, the Navya is not ideal for freeways and major arterial routes.

“It is good for the city centre to ferry people from trains and buses into their offices. The city of Geneva, Switzerland, has already integrated this into their public transport systems,” he says.

“It is also ideal for ferrying people and goods from one site to another in large construction and other projects.”

How this might work in Gauteng is that a commuter travelling from Pretoria to Soweto could jump on to the Gautrain in Hatfield, and use car-sharing from Johannesburg’s Park Station to Soweto’s Maponya Mall.

From there they could hire a motorbike or electric bicycle which they would drop off at a central point close to the neighbourhood they are visiting.

They would be booking all these modes on one app, said Dayon, who is in discussion with 20 global cities to incorporate multimodal transport systems into their existing public transport.

Car-free cities

Another big theme at the conference was the concept of car-free cities to ease congestion.

Transport specialist Greg Clark said for a long time cars were a symbol of freedom, wealth and success and the concept of car-free cities was total madness. However things are changing.

Michelin’s new air-free tyre

“We have had a lot of reports about ill-health associated with sitting in a car for longer periods of time,” he said.

“Car-free might eventually mean no cars in cities, but not at the moment,” he said.

Airless tyres

Michelin has announced a puncture-free and airless tyre which will also save petrol, developed after 10 years of work.

The company’s research and development chief Eric Vinesse says motorists will no longer have to replace their tyres regularly.

It is estimated that more than 200 million tyres are replaced every year. “That is over a billion tons of raw material,” he says. But the tyres of the future could be used for years just by having them retreaded.

The tyre is made out of a new type of fibreglass which is resistant to damage. It will also have the right pressure all the time, reducing fuel consumption and will still work with minor damage said Cyrille Roget.

It could mean certain zones where cars are banned, or areas earmarked for pedestrians only, or like some cities in Asia where you cannot park in the city centre.

“If you are in Singapore, there are certain types of vehicles that you can only take into the city every other day of the week,” Clark said.

“These are just different ways in which they are reducing the number of cars that go into the city centre.”

Nicolas Beaumont, sustainable development and mobility chief at Michelin, said companies were moving from ambition to action.

“In the end, we want to see innovative ways of moving people around. We want public transport that is accessible, safe and cheap.”


The future of motoring is driverless. How to you feel about driverless cars? Do you trust them?

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