Will the coming mobility revolution make urban traffic better, or worse?

The age of modern transit began in 1863, when the first underground railway began rolling in central London. The line was short and smoky, and nothing like it had ever been seen before. But it worked, and cities around the world began to follow London’s lead. Over time, city authorities came to see providing transportation as one of their core responsibilities; governments often owned and ran transit systems themselves. Despite governments’ best efforts, traffic is getting worse in many cities, and urban mobility has become increasingly complex . From 2010 to 2016, congestion rose in London by 14 percent, in Los Angeles by 36 percent, in New York by 30 percent, and in Beijing and Paris by 9 percent. Congestion carries health consequences, in the form of accidents and air pollution. Demographic trends—more people, and more in urban areas—will accentuate today’s strains, which aren’t solely about the movement of people. E-commerce is also growing fast, adding to the demand for urban commercial transport. Seamless mobility could be cleaner, more convenient, and more efficient than the status quo, accommodating up to 30 percent more traffic while cutting travel time by 10 percent.

The technological changes associated with mobility’s “second great inflection point” create myriad opportunities for cities to address these challenges. As ridesharing grows up, digital vehicle connectivity deepens, electric vehicles (EVs) become mainstream, and autonomous vehicles (AVs) take hold (see “The trends transforming mobility’s future,” forthcoming on McKinsey.com), it becomes possible to envision a future of “seamless mobility.” In such an environment, the boundaries among private, shared, and public transport would be blurred, and travelers would have a variety of clean, cheap, and flexible ways to get from point A to point B. Our analysis suggests that seamless […]