Road trip 2046: Journeys in Melbourne’s driverless electric car future

In its advice to government, Infrastructure Victoria has given its best guess for how the world might look in 2046 when driverless or electric cars are the norm.

The state’s lead infrastructure adviser came up with several scenarios, and believes some combination of these scenarios could play out in decades to come.

Here are some of their ideas.

The cars drive you

You’re typing away on your laptop while your autonomous green-energy car weaves through the city.

It has chosen the fastest route to work for you, deftly avoiding road works and traffic jams. You’ve never had an accident.

You admit, however, that traffic is worse than ever. Those who can afford it own their own vehicle, which has contributed to a spike in car trips.

Delays on the road are longer, but this doesn’t bother you anymore. Without petrol and diesel engines running, the roads are quieter and the air cleaner. You can just sit back and relax.

You’ve even moved to the country, because the commute to the city is no fuss.

You do feel a little sorry for the poor folk who have been priced out of the market and are now stuck in cattle class – public transport, that is.

You don’t do much walking anymore, with your car driving you wherever you need to go.

Often, when you let yourself out, the car drives itself to a wireless charging station, or joins the conga of empty vehicles driving down the freeways to their respective car spots.

Cars are electric, but not driverless

It would have been nice to drive an autonomous vehicle, but the technology never took off.

Today, electric cars are all the rage.

You – and almost everyone else – made the switch after electric cars reached cost parity, and car batteries proved they were reliable.

Petrol stations are a thing of the past. They’ve been converted into parks and schools.

Charging stations are scattered everywhere: at home, work, car parks, or even at some road intersections.

The air is cleaner and incidence of respiratory disease have dropped.

Victoria’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is looking likely.

But the energy involved in manufacturing, charging and disposing of the cars is still massively carbon-intensive.

The absence of any fuel excise is hurting the federal government’s bottom line and the states are starting to feel the pain.

No one owns a car

Only the motor-heads from yesteryear bother any more.

You order a safe and on-demand transport service – a driverless, electric car, bus, or even train, and tram.

You pay more to travel solo in a fancy sports car for a date, or pay less and hitch a ride with others to get to work.

You’re a city slicker, so waiting times are not too bad, but you know that it’s worse in the regions.

Surge pricing is a pain, but overall, you reckon travel is cheaper than it used to be.

But you have noticed a rise in transport monopolies. Businesses are not being properly regulated, so to maximise revenue they overlook areas where there is low demand.

Hydrogen highway

Until now, trucks have been the cause of your asthma, poor sleep and fear on the roads.

But the gas-guzzling industry has turned a new leaf. Instead of emitting toxic chemicals from the tailpipe, they now emit water.

The hydrogen-powered trucks are quiet and clean, so they can travel day and night.

They are connected using vehicle-to-vehicle communication and drive close together in platoons, much like a freight train.

Freight has driven up demand for hydrogen fuel cells and the technology is rapidly developing.

Hydrogen refuelling stations have now replaced petrol stations and buses soon made the switch, followed by cars.

Now everyone you know, no matter where they live, drives a hydrogen-powered car.

Dead end: the hype never happened

Despite the fanfare, a future of automated zero emissions transport never came.

In a test environment, driverless vehicles performed well but they failed in the real world.

The autonomous cars were unreliable and drivers could never safely give up full control.

Politicians failed to get their act together to make energy supply clean so the emissions involved in making electric cars were actually higher than the status quo.

A lot of public money was wasted on preparing for autonomous zero-emission vehicles, but now a better transport technology has been invented.

It reduces society’s reliance on road-based vehicles and utilises existing transport infrastructure.

Timna Jacks

Transport Reporter at The Age

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Nino Plevnik

I am an electric cars lover. I love our planet and want to leave it in good condition to our children. One of the good ways to do this is to reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere. As a technical person I worked on computers, hardware maintenance and programming. Otherwise I like advanced technologies, music, books, movies, life and nice weather.

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