How we travel matters. Some 64% of travel already take place in urban areas and, through rising global consumer middle class and ongoing urbanization, the demand for transport in towns and cities is likely to triple by 2050. Improving transport in cities is therefore a key priority for business and political leaders around the globe.

In the future, transport options will be increasingly dependent on a city's specific characteristics, including its level of car ownership, urban density, income per capita and infrastructure such as road and rail networks.

The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Future of Personal Mobility has made a series of recommendations in its Field Guide to the Future of Mobility. Essentially, there are three simple dimensions to keep in mind when talking about “better mobility”: the transportation of tomorrow should be safe, clean and accessible for all citizens.

1. Safety and security

Car accidents claim 1.25 million lives each year, and 50 million people are injured or disabled by road accidents. Mobility planners should consider the leading ways to reduce this toll, like increasing education and public awareness, strengthening law enforcement, improving motorways and roads, training medical responders in the proper handling of crash victims, and collecting and analysing data about the causes of accidents.

Moreover, our research on self-driving vehicles also shows that advanced driving assistance systems have a huge potential to improve road safety. City authorities expect vehicles with full autonomy to hit the road in the next 10 years, while McKinsey predicts up to 15 percent of new cars in 2030 will be fully autonomous.

However, the need to assure that the vehicles are truly safe and secure to operate on a large scale is vital for successful commercialization. Already today the average modern car has about 16 clear attack points - where hackers could target electronic systems, from brakes to locks. This trend is growing with the complexity of electronics and intelligence built into new vehicles.

2. Clean transport and the environment

Some 57 out of 140 cities (41%) surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit have seen declines in livability in the last five years. Transportation has been a major contributor due to congestion and air pollution. Man-made greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change are among the biggest global challenges and will shape the way we approach transportation in the future.

Luckily, technology, new business models and integration among different transport modes are helping to reduce the need for parking spaces and increase efficiency on the roads, reducing congestion and environmental impacts

Some cities (such as Bremen, Toronto, Munich, Anaheim and Amarillo) have already been investing in the development of the so-called multi-modal hubs, integrated transportation terminals where passengers and cargo are exchanged between different forms of transport like trains, subways, trams, buses, ferries, taxis, ride-, car and bike sharing as well as private cars. These network approaches acknowledge that, while technology has enabled and continues to fuel the paradigm shift from single forms of transport to connected and multifaceted systems, technology alone is not enough. The connectivity has to happen on a physical and virtual level, but the institutions responsible for each part also need to connect.

3. Accessibility and economic opportunity

The mobility sector is not only one of the biggest employers (providing over 8.9 million jobs in the US alone in automotive transport services), but has also been repeatedly characterized as one of the biggest factors in escaping poverty. It enables people to meet one another, provides access to jobs and makes it possible to send and receive goods and services. But mobility is not an end in itself.

There are at least three ways to make access more sustainable:

  • Avoiding moving altogether, for example by localizing services and access to jobs, or by telecommuting, tele-commerce, tele-medicine and tele-education.
  • Making the way we travel as individuals more efficient, for example moving from individual ownership of cars to shared, connected, IT-enabled mobility systems.
  • Making transport more efficient, for example by increasing occupancy rates, improving fuel efficiency, improvements in “drivetrains” - the system in a vehicle to produce and feed the power to the wheels - and applying more sustainable materials and design.

Collaboration between governments, businesses, civil society and academia is crucial to provide improve better access to transport without compromising quality of life in towns and cities. Leaders in public and private organizations will need to adapt to a culture of collaboration and experimentation and to focus their attention on agility, transparency and integration.