The transport revolution is already upon us

Flying cars are almost here, but other innovations, especially on our roads, are even more significant

Electric vehicles are charged at Dewa’s headquarters in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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Are you ready for the UAE’s transport revolution? This was the question we posed to our readers over the weekend as we reported on the future of cars, taxis and mass transportation in this country. In relatively short order, our crystal ball predicted a landscape populated with flying taxis, self-driving cars and a high-speed transport service that could shuttle you from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in around 12 minutes.

There will be plenty of people who think the scenario laid out above is nothing but a flight of fantasy. And they may be right to inject some degree of cynicism. After all, commentators have been confidently predicting a future full of flying cars since the 1950s, Thirty years ago, the second instalment of the popular Back to the Future trilogy of movies also imagined that by 2015 our skies would be graced by an airborne DeLorean (other brands were available in the same film). Neither prediction, nor many others besides, have looked likely to come to fruition - until now.

But, a revolution in cars, car makers and transportation is underway.

In Europe, the French government announced earlier this month that it planned to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2040. Last week, Tesla opened its first showroom in the region, bringing the possibility of mass-market electric vehicles to the Middle East. Although Tesla has sold very few cars in its short history, its market valuation of $50.74bn puts it just behind GM, one of the largest and oldest car producers in the world. While sentiment may drive some of this enormous valuation, it is clear that analysts believe that electric vehicles are set to gain a larger and probably dominant market share, possibly in not very long. It also helps that Tesla cars feature proven and tested autopilot technology, bringing about the possibility of a relaxing commute between, say, Abu Dhabi and Dubai some time soon.

Transportation systems too are rapidly changing. While high-speed solutions like Hyperloop here and Maglev trains in China grab headlines and stir the senses of people all around the world, other innovations have and will continue to have a big impact. Witness the worldwide phenomenon of Uber and other ride-sharing companies. Uber’s booking and payment technology has come to represent the definition of “disruption”, unsettling and unseating the position of traditional taxi businesses around the world. Flying taxis and autonomous vehicles will disrupt the traditional transport solutions still further and are expected to be commonplace within years.

The future is much closer than we could previously imagined. The types of cars that manufacturers build, that governments allow, that consumers want to buy is changing rapidly. So too our transportation systems. In other words, the revolution has arrived.