27 October 2017 Courier Weekly

Cars and the City

PLUS: TfL’s tiffs – Car ownership – Autonomous driving – Batteries

All change for the car​.

The role of the car in dense urban areas was under examination at our latest Courier Talks session on Tuesday evening. It was a lively conversation with Uber rival Taxify and car share scheme Drive Now.

You can read an edited extract of the conversation in our next issue. We covered attitudes to ownership, electric cars, Uber, TfL and self-driving vehicles.

Here are some of the highlights.

TfL’s stand-off with taxi startups.

Taxify is an Estonian startup trying to out-muscle Uber by offering drivers better commissions and customers cheaper fares.

Asked whether this could ever be profitable, Taxify’s expansion manager (and ex-Uber employee) Matej Benuska said Uber is hugely profitable in cities like London, where it’s estimated to be pulling in £6m per week on two million rides with its 30% commission. The average fare is £9.

TfL withdrew Uber’s license to operate taxis five weeks ago, citing safety and its obligation to demonstrate itself as a ‘fit and proper’ operator. A spokesperson for Uber told Courier on Tuesday: ‘The appeal has been lodged and may take a few months. We’re meeting with TfL and hope to resolve their concerns so we can continue to operate.’

Taxify’s launch in London started rather embarrassingly. It launched on 5 September, but had to suspend the service just three days later after TfL took issue with Taxify operating through a licence from a company it had acquired. Taxify’s founder Markus Villig described TfL as ‘the most hostile regulatory body we have ever encountered’.

The end is nigh for car ownership.

A straw poll on the night showed just a quarter of the audience owned a car, while three quarters were regular Uber users. Unsurprising perhaps given the cost of owning a car compared to hailing a taxi on a regular basis. It is nevertheless a significant sign of a shift.

There were two reports this week on declining car ownership. This analysis in The Guardian highlights the sharp decline in young people with driving licences. The Evening Standard looked at changing attitudes to ownership following the demise of one of the UK’s biggest car dealers.

At the talk, Drive Now’s Stephen Bee envisioned a future for cars closer to planes, where people would think of the entire experience of using a car through a ‘car operator’ rather than the performance of the engine from a ‘car maker’.

Self-driving, congestion and parking.

By removing the cost of a driver, it will be much more affordable to use a taxi. The downside is, it’s likely to add more cars to already-congested city roads.

However, one of the many ‘second-order consequences’ of self-driving cars is the removal of the need to find a parking space close to where you need to be. The car would simply drive off somewhere further away, or be put to use again for another rider.

A considerable amount of road traffic is people looking for parking. In the German city Freiburg, it was found that 74% of traffic was ‘people on the prowl’. This could all change with self-driving cars.

What’s powering electric vehicles?

One of the biggest innovations (and most expensive components) in the much-anticipated electric car revolution is the battery. As the literal force behind electric vehicles, a lot is riding on getting costs down and battery life up.

There is a wealth of clever ideas, new products and services and even simple opportunism in this area.

Hedge funds have stockpiled £210m worth of cobalt, reflecting demand for battery-making materials.

Companies like Pod Point are gearing up charging networks across the UK ahead of expectations that over a million charge points will be needed in just three years time.

The UK government has attempted to accelerate the change by stating it will ban sales of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Petrol and diesel cars will even be fully banned from some streets around Oxford by 2020, a precursor to a broader ban in the city tabled for 2035.

The two panellists talked about the challenge for the car industry and its seven-year development cycle for new cars.