More communication, less travel

Communications has changed radically via the Internet and smart phones. Has this and will this have a significant effect on how much people travel?

In his ODT column today Colin James writes:

If all cars are electric by 2030 and relatively cheap to maintain and run, might not there be more demand for roads, not less? Rail is nearly two centuries old. What will “public” transport be in 2025?

The Ministry of Transport (MoT) has been grappling with these sorts of questions, looking out 10 to 30 years. It has found the future is unlikely to be a projection from the past through the present.

When MoT looked at future demand for personal mobility, it found vehicle kilometres travelled flattened in the mid-2000s at around 40 billion kilometres a year and only recently have picked up again (perhaps reflecting record net immigration?).

Young people are far less likely to get a driving licence or buy a car than their elders. They have other, digital, ways of linking with friends or getting entertained.

I hadn’t thought of that. Back when I was young the Internet didn’t exist and phones were used far less than now.

We used to find friends and socialise by travelling, and many of us did this by car. I booked for my drivers license as soon as I turned 15 and had my license 2 weeks later. I owned my first car when I was 16, and travelled to communicate and socialise.

We used to cruise to find fun.

From what I hear many young people don’t bother getting licenses let alone cars now. They can save travel by organising what they are doing in advance.

It may be that a lot of socialising has moved from in person to electronic, cutting the necessity to travel.

We can see the sights of the country and the world (and the solar system and universe) from the comfort of our homes. While this may encourage some people to get out and travel to see things for themselves it may also reduce the need for others.

I can now communicate with family who are overseas by video phone so the pressure and need to travel to see them is reduced.

In the early days of working in Information Technology (I’ve worked in IT since before it was called that) I had to travel to customers to work.

Now much of that travel is unnecessary because I can work remotely -from a desk in an office in Dunedin I can be working in Auckland, Sydney and New York virtually at the same time (and have to be careful which client window I do things in).

I think it’s impossible to predict how travel will be affected in 10 or 20 years, it’s a complex issue. But the necessity to travel is certainly reducing in some ways.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  7th June 2016

    Dunno. When I was young my family of four had one car (and two bikes – very practical in flat Chch). Now three of us have four cars (including the farm ute). Living in the country means there is little practicable public transport. I can see Uber and self-driving cars reducing the number of vehicles we own but not our road usage.

  2. Gezza

     /  7th June 2016

    Kids of tomorrow won’t need to drive. They can just experience everything anywhere in virtual reality. And when they want to drive at the kind of speeds Al & Lewis Hamilton do they can just put on a VR set & go for it without having to worry about the actual risks.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  7th June 2016

      Dunno about that either. The fun thing about reality is that no-one had to imagine and design it first. Until that applies to virtual reality it won’t present the same excitement and challenges.

      • Gezza

         /  7th June 2016

        True Alan, still, even I’d far rather be experiencing a car crash or a hurricane in VR than reality, must admit.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  7th June 2016

          I’d rather see a concert in reality than on a screen, although I do appreciate being able to see famous singers, actors and actresses on a cinema screen, it’s better than not seeing them at all.

          Virtual anything will never take over.

          I was sorry to see all the parents out with their children, eyes fixed on their phones, on the news last night. It’s a sad sight in reality-so is seeing them with headphones on. What a message to send to a child-my phone or music is much more important than you are, even though the chances of your having an accident or near miss are so much greater. I wonder if these parents would change if junior was squashed by a car because they were so absorbed in their phone. Probably not.

  3. Brown

     /  7th June 2016

    I travel mainly because I like it – work isn’t the main reason (not now at least since I quite and recovered my sanity).

    I’ve done a couple of flights in fast aircraft and ride fast motorcycles. The G force and danger are appealing. VR can’t duplicate that reality and will always be a poor second cousin to reality for those that appreciate history and excitement. Likewise chasing a beautiful woman, seducing and marrying her. Hmmmm….


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