Imagine a future where autonomous vehicles and intelligent transport networks create not only stress-free commutes, but also quieter and greener cities

Imagine a city without pollution. A city without the background roar of engines. A city where no one gets killed or injured by a car, ever.

A city where you can go anywhere, anytime, without any need to work out a route, look up a timetable, buy a ticket or pay a fare. And you can do that whether you are eight years old or 88 years old. You can do that if you are blind or disabled in any way.  

The future is mobility freedom for everyone, everywhere. Give it 20 years and I’ll bet you a Tesla X that this will be reality, at least in cities that possess decent foresight and leadership, and across most of our towns, villages and rural areas too.

Forget political sparring over the merits of public versus private transport (buses good, cars bad) – future transport is a seamless ability to get from wherever you start to wherever you want to go. Most transport will be on demand, because younger generations recognise ownership as more liability than asset – unless, of course, you live in your own autonomous pod, or have an autonomous pod office. 

At St Pancras I join an autonomous on-demand bus whose routing pattern is automatically determined by the needs of those arriving

And while you may own your pod, you won’t be able to belt it at 75 miles per hour down rural roads. “Own-drive” will be banned except on the M1 on every third Sunday of the month, because “own-drivers” sometimes kill people and that is no longer acceptable. It seems odd that once it was. 

And you won’t be able to direct your pod into the middle of Birmingham at 9am on a weekday morning, because the city authority will have reserved access to the city centre between 8am and 11am, and similarly in the late afternoon, for shared-use transport, because that is the only feasible way to manage the limited capacity into what has become the new hub of the UK’s economy, courtesy of HS2. 

Meanwhile, the mega-rich cope by using autonomous drone taxis to whisk them to the docking stations in their offices. Many of us work from home, or from our pod, because 7G connectivity is so fast and ubiquitous that we can meet virtually with anyone in the world with just a word to Siri.

Our transport system now consists of fixed route high-capacity corridors accessed by autonomous vehicles and drones. Panamax ships berth at unmanned terminals 20 miles off the coast where robots shift the containers onto a hyperloop underground transit. Fifteen minutes later they emerge at the vast distribution hub near Derby, the only one left in the country, and robots automatically distribute the contents to autonomous trucks and drones while reloading the containers with exports. 

Our transport system now consists of fixed route high-capacity corridors accessed by autonomous vehicles and drones

Leaving my house in Yorkshire at 8am I step straight into my autonomous pod, which delivers me direct to the HS2 terminus at Leeds, precisely timed for the next service, which runs every 10 minutes. 

Most autonomous pods are run by fleet companies and, like most people, I now pay for my mobility in a monthly package. There are no barriers at the station because my route is pre-reserved and pre-paid, along with the coffee that is already at my seat, and my presence on the station and the train is known. At St Pancras I join an autonomous on-demand bus whose routing pattern is automatically determined by the needs of those arriving and their preferences in terms of cost and time trade-off as set in their mobility package.

We still need roads, built to the standards that would meet Thomas Telford’s approval. But we don’t need kerbs or barriers or road signs, and roads are narrower with the spare width dedicated to cycles. We still need the London Underground, Nottingham Express Transit Tram and other high-capacity fixed route systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, solar and wind farms, and a huge network of electric charging infrastructure. 

Thanks to planning foresight, our new stations and airports are designed without parking spaces but with maximum capacity for drop-off and pick-up. In towns and cities, converting car parks to green parks is big business. But the real financial winners are those responsible for building, maintaining and constantly upgrading the digital wireless mesh that connects the entire system – and those who fight daily to keep it safe from cyber-attack.

As our world has become “stress-free AV”, we have changed how we choose to live and work. Our cities have become greener, quieter and safer. But as a commute is no longer wasted time and digital connectivity no longer a constraint, many more choose to live in rural areas, taking pressure off city housing, but creating new frictions in once sleepy communities. 

Many of those communities are in France, because the Hyperloop corridor whisks you from Brittany to Canary Wharf in just 30 minutes. 

This is not just a transport revolution, it is a societal revolution.