On-demand food, taxis: Its hints for public mobility

I was visiting Cork lately. It seemed, at least, that the majority of cyclists in the city during the evening were people working as on-demand food deliveries. They had big food boxes on their backs, waiting at restaurants, and heading to clients’ homes.

When my friend visits Limerick, he’s surprisingly mobile. He’ll reach for his phone, and is watching his taxi arrive, before I realise he’s leaving.

City planner Brent Toderian pointed to the old model that “car equals freedom“; that millenials don’t buy into that en-mass, and that they believe that “connection equals freedom“.

He goes on to say that they see technology (their phones) as the “vehicle” of that connection.

He says that the definition of “success” is being rewritten. Sitting in your car, in heavy traffic, doesn’t feel like success to anybody. However, walking or cycling past these drivers into town gives a new definitition of success. I absolutely know that feeling: cycling in to the city past people sitting in their cars gives an undeniable feeling of satisfaction of “I must be doing something right”.

I’ll hypothesise here that the people who tend to order food and taxis on their phones will tend to be younger than older.

The same people will probably quite happily walk around the city, to a restaurant, and maybe onto a bar. In the mornings, they might grab a coffee at a café or Centra, and sit outside sipping it.

To pay for that coffee, they’ll easily pay for it with the touchless payments on their phone, or at least through a debit card. Cash may not be so big in their lives.

If they could afford it, they would rent an inner-city apartment at a comfortable development. The only real reason they might want a car is to drive to visit Mum at the weekend.

They’ll consider renting a car from a car sharing company for a fixed number of hours. The car opens through the interface on their phone.

There also seems to be a rising trend in technology-connected public mobility. With dockless scooters and bikes, you just check your phone for the nearest location of a free scooter or bike.

If I’m to interpret Brent’s assertion of “connectivity as success”, part of that feeling of success is “I’m free to do what I want, when I want, to meet the people that I want.”

Back to car driving in 2019 for daily life, you may currently feel it’s a necessity (depending on how you’ve decided to design your life, or not). However, the level of daily traffic in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Derry and Limerick leave dwindling space for feeling like sitting in your car is giving you the sense of “winning”.

Forgetting about technology, walking is the most “on demand” form of transport thankfully available to many of us.

As this rising generation continues to interact with and affect their city, they’ll ask more and more, “What’s this city for? Is it for those people still driving? And why can’t I walk across my city on-demand?”.

Dare I say that many of these people don’t remember the time when smoking in pubs was the norm. It’s been said that “reducing cars is like the smoking ban, people won’t want the traffic back”. Dare I say, we already don’t want the traffic.

In 2019, Limerick’s city planners probably tend to call oh-six-one three-one-three-one-three-one rather than open a car sharing app. There is an increasing tension between those designing our public spaces, and those looking for those public spaces to be best put to use.

The area where I live was built in the early 1950s, and the street layout has remained unchanged every since, despite revolutionary changes through gradual improvements in our society, if you compare then and now.

We need to make a ruckus, to wake them up from the idea that driving their car to work defines their success as a roads engineer, councillor, or parliamentary politician. We must remind them of their responsibility of designing our public spaces in the best interests of the public, and not rest with the status quo.