Why our transport infra­structure restricts growth in prosperity

Written by Andreas Thomann, Head of Editorial Office, Julius Baer

Roads, railways, and air transport are the lifelines of a prospering economy. In order to safeguard their role, the right decisions have to be taken. Professor Kay W. Axhausen from ETH Zurich and Norbert Rücker, an analyst with Julius Baer, explain in this video the challenges and decisions facing society.

Far too often, the essential elements that make our society work are not given the importance they deserve. The same applies to transportation. “The transport system provides the opportunity to participate in social activities within a reasonable period of time,” explains Kay W. Axhausen, Professor of Transport Planning at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Transport Planning and Systems. “Accessibility and productivity are interdependent prerequisites of society. Our economy only functions thanks to multiple business and social contacts.”

“If Switzerland’s prosperity continues to increase, traffic will increase as well.”

Greater mobility boosts a society’s productivity, which ultimately leads to more prosperity. Prosperity in turn raises the need for more mobility. And that’s where the dilemma lies: “If Switzerland’s prosperity continues to increase, traffic will increase as well – more vehicles, more strain,” Prof Axhausen points out. “Road users have to share the same space. This means that sooner or later we won’t be able to move as fast as we do now.” In other words, the existing transport infrastructure is reaching its breaking point. If we want prosperity to keep growing, we not only have to expand the transport infrastructure, we also have to re-think many of its aspects.

“Autonomous cars help to improve the traffic flow.”

One possibility to improve urban traffic flow is autonomous cars. “They augment the transport system’s capacity because more cars can move about – they move at lower speeds, which means that vehicles can move closer to each other,” says Norbert Rücker, Head of Macro & Commodities Research at Julius Baer. It’s a promising perspective, and one much discussed at present. “The focus is on how road space can be better utilised through automation,” Prof Axhausen adds.

What does the future hold?

That is not to say that we can rely on autonomous cars becoming the perfect solution for our strained transport system, as Norbert Rücker explains: “The past has shown us that so much can change so quickly – especially when it comes to technological preferences.”

It is up to ourselves whether we allow our transport system to grow beyond our limits. It is up to the decisions we take and the investments we make today. “What do we as a society want – to optimise the system or keep growing? Ultimately, it depends on the extent of speed and accessibility we opt for.”

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