The Future of Mobility

New poll: The era of the ICE vehicle is ending. What comes next?

EVs are on the rise and trust in public transit is holding strong, our survey finds.

Long exposure on a Tokyo train

Protocol asked consumers how their attitudes are evolving toward electric vehicles, public transit, and micromobility.

Photo: wichianduangsri/Moment/Getty Images

This story is part of "The Future of Mobility," a Protocol special report. Read more here.

What would it take for you to give up your current car? In order to transition to the mobility of the future, consumers are going to have to choose to adapt, and so we partnered with Harris Poll to find out the answer. We asked consumers how their attitudes are evolving toward electric vehicles, public transit, and micromobility — some of the leading alternatives to the traditional internal combustion engine vehicle. Here’s what we found.

The scales are tipping toward electric vehicles: According to our polling, 51% of U.S. adults said they would like to buy an electric vehicle as their next car. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, were the most likely to agree, with 61% saying they want an EV.

The majority of respondents agreed that electric cars will rule the future market: 72% of those surveyed reported thinking that EVs will become more common than traditional gas-powered vehicles in their lifetime. This statistic offers some hope on the road to 2050, the current deadline for the U.S. economy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are going to meet these ambitious goals, we will need everyone on board. Converting the remaining 28% of doubters should be a top priority for business and policy leaders in the coming years.

We also surveyed consumers on their attitudes toward public transit as an alternative mode of transport. A quarter of all respondents reported regularly using public transportation, with the largest segment based in the Northeast — home to cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., that host comparatively robust transit systems. Unsurprisingly, the majority of frequent riders throughout the country skew younger, and belong to Gen Z.

The reputation of major public transit systems in America has suffered since the pandemic first hit. Riders have faced public health and safety concerns and a rise in transit violence across some of the country’s biggest transit hubs. Despite these factors, our polling reported that roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults view public transportation in the area where they live as trustworthy.

Still, there is evidence that the pandemic has had a negative impact on a decent swath of transit users, particularly in the Northeast. A total of 38% of U.S. adults said that they are less willing to use public transportation post-COVID, including 44% of Northeast residents. Nearly half (46%) of Gen Z respondents also reported being less willing to use public transit as a result of the pandemic.

Understanding Gen Z will be crucial to the success of the mobility sector in the next decade. This polling paints an interesting picture of the youngest adults, who are less interested in purchasing an EV than their millennial counterparts, and at the same time are the most wary of public transit post-COVID.

Moving drivers away from internal combustion vehicles and toward alternative transportation is essential to meeting our climate goals. Currently, U.S. adults are split on the likelihood of public transit taking over. Half of all respondents — 49% — agreed that using public transportation is more efficient than traveling by personal vehicle, and 48% agreed that using public transportation will become more common than traveling by personal vehicle in their lifetime. This leaves decision-makers pondering the question, how do you reach the other half of the population?

The solution is actually quite simple, though far easier said than done. Public transportation needs to be and to be seen as more convenient — safer, faster, and/or more efficient — than car travel.

Speaking to Protocol, Microsoft worldwide director of critical infrastructure Jeremy M. Goldberg underlined the competitive edge of convenience in the transit market: “People prize convenience over many things especially when it comes to transportation,” he said. “Cars have been the most convenient option for lots of people because they leave when you do, they go where you want them to go. If our transit systems are going to achieve their goals then they need to compete based on convenience.”

The last technology that we polled on was micromobility, which includes electric scooters, e-bikes, and smaller EVs. Popular in major cities, micromobility vehicles offer a sustainable alternative to vehicle travel and the potential to reduce traffic congestion. The results revealed that we are still in the early days of the micromobility revolution. Current use is low among U.S. adults, with less than two in 10 (16%) reporting regularly using them for transportation.

Understanding and dismantling the obstacles to micromobility use is key to converting more riders. According to our polling, the largest barrier (33%) is safety concerns. Educating potential riders on safe maneuvering and investing in dedicated infrastructure for small transport could help bring down these numbers. Following that, the most frequently cited obstacles were lack of access (31%), transportation needs exceeding micromobility (28%), and micromobility vehicles not fitting into one’s lifestyle (27%).

It’s true that micromobility vehicles are unlikely to become the go-to for sustainable, cross-country transit, but our survey showed that the majority of consumers expect to be using them much more frequently for local trips in the future. In fact, 57% of respondents reported thinking that micromobility vehicles will become more common than personal vehicles for local transportation in their lifetime.