Walking the promenade in Spain last week I noticed a lot of electric vehicles. Monocycles, Segways (and clones), and electric bikes. Renault Twizzys and small electric trucks. I realised that while all the attention has been on electric cars, its quite possible we may be missing a more immediate change to our travel behaviours.
In Spain most of the devices I saw were tourist attractions and city services rather than part of people’s daily travel plans. But it’s possible to see these devices becoming much more common in dense urban areas where people often have a compound commute.
Take Manchester, for example. If you live to the south of the city, the chances are your train comes in to Piccadilly station. Manchester has a pretty compact urban centre but from there to the major business district of Spinningfields is a 22 minute walk according to Google. That’s a 1.1 mile walk so Google is assuming an average walking speed of 3mph.*
A SoloWheel electric monocycle (or a good clone thereof) can hit about 10mph. It’s unlikely to be doing that for the whole journey, but 6mph seems a reasonable guess. Given that there’s no parking time needed (you just pick a monowheel up like a briefcase), this could halve your commute saving you 22 minutes per day, or almost two hours per week.
You might be a little doughier around the middle but that is valuable time. And wouldn’t it be an incredibly Jetsons-like vision of the future: lines of commuters speeding silently across the city on their clean little electric wheels?
Of course there are lots of dependencies that would have to be met to make this happen. Though the barriers are falling. While first generation monowheels and similar cost in the thousands, cheap Chinese clones are now coming in at just a few hundred. Cities have woken up to the need for more cycle lanes and pedestrianisation and while the progress is (very) slow, it’s clear there is pressure building. Electric devices could be truly mass market in time to take advantage.
Downsides? Well we all do too little exercise as it is. You’re more likely to do yourself an injury on a monowheel than walking, and ruin that nice suit. And frankly the world could do without the carbon cost of another few million consumer devices. But you never know: in five years our cities could look a lot like a Jetsons scene. Just without the flying.
*Did you know Google Maps takes terrain into account when calculating this? Amazing!