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October 28, 2013

What Mobility Might Look Like in the U.S. in 2030

Mobility — the ability to travel from one location to another — may look very different in the United States in the year 2030.

Recently, researchers from RAND used a six-step scenario development process to develop two thought-provoking examples of what that future might look like.

First, researchers selected influencing areas: demographics, economics, energy, transportation funding and supply, and technology. Next, using expert workshops, they elicited projections and then integrated those into scenario frameworks using two analysis methods and a computer-based tool. From there, they produced scenario narratives and created wild-card scenarios.

Three key drivers differentiate the resulting scenarios: the price of oil, the development of environmental regulations, and the amount of highway revenues and expenditures.

In the first scenario, “No Free Lunch,” oil prices for consumers and businesses increase because of greenhouse-gas-reduction legislation, and states and localities implement road pricing, which results in higher revenues. Mobility in this scenario is lower because of the higher costs of driving.

The second, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” assumes that oil prices remain steady, no major environmental legislation is passed, and highway revenues decline, which results in generally higher mobility, especially miles driven.

By making potential long-term mobility futures more vivid, the authors' aim is to help planners and policymakers at different levels of government and in the private sector better anticipate and prepare for change and, in the process, make better decisions now to affect the future of mobility in the United States.

Lisa Sodders