THE right to travel when and where we please will be eroded over the next 50 years as the shortage of cheap oil and environmental concerns force us to lead more local lives, according to a government report.
Every journey will have to be justified and face-to-face contact with colleagues, friends and relatives will increasingly become a luxury, with most meetings taking place via three-dimensional “telepresencing”.
Foresight, the Government’s science think-tank, consulted 300 transport experts when drawing up its vision of how travel will have changed by 2055. Its report concludes that the growing demand for greater personal mobility is unsustainable and based on false assumptions.
Congestion should be tackled by making more intelligent use of existing capacity rather than by building roads and other transport links.
It states: “We cannot presume that we will have cheap oil for the next 50 years, [or that] we can respond to increasing demand by building more capacity, [or that] we will continue to have the right to move as and when we please.”
It proposes that people should be forced to pay the true cost of their journeys, including compensating for the environmental damage they cause. Charging for trips by the mile or selling “slots” for journeys “would make people aware of the real costs of travel”.
Foresight also calls for debate on the more radical option of giving each individual a carbon allowance “which would apply to all their activities, not just travel”.
It gives warning that people will find the shift to a less mobile society painful, adding: “Travel is embedded within long-established patterns of life and this can make change difficult.”
The report offers four scenarios for 2055, with the world’s willingness to adapt and ability to find technological solutions dictating which comes true.
In the bleakest scenario, an acute oil shortage and lack of affordable alternative energy source trigger a global depression. Economies collapse as businesses can no longer afford to move goods and people. People survive in increasingly isolated communities that have to learn to become self-sufficient, with most journeys made by bicycle or horse.
The most optimistic scenario envisages that a cleaner alternative to oil is available in abundance, allowing the present trend towards greater globalisation to continue apace.
Introducing the report yesterday, Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, was cautious about finding a cheap replacement for oil.
“I think it is very likely that as we move forward, the implications of energy provision mean we are going to see less demand for transport,” he said. People could not count on being able to travel in 2055 as much as they did today and would have “to find other ways to have satisfactory lifestyles”.
Stephen Ladyman, the Transport Minister, is chairing a group that will assess progress towards resolving the issues raised by the report. “We have two choices,” he said. “We can stumble into the future in the hope it turns out right, or we can try to shape it.”