City Car: One-Way Urban Transit

The maturing of the car-sharing industry was illustrated by ZipCar and Flexcar announcing a merger, this week. Perhaps the market is ready for an even more sustainable approach developed by researchers at MIT: the City Car, a personal, stackable, electric, goldfish bowl-esque mode of transport, meant to be picked up in one location — and left for the next user at another one.

City Car cropped

City Car is being developed by the Smart Cities group at the MIT Media Lab; a prototype of is scheduled to be released next year. An electric vehicle with four independent, fully integrated in-wheel electric motors and suspension systems called “wheel robots,” the car is designed to stack (video embedded below) when parked and charging; six City Cars can be squeezed into a single traditional parking spot. Stacks of cars would be left throughout the city at strategic destinations, notably ones that converge with public transportation.

“The City car is NOT a replacement for personal vehicles, taxis, buses, or trucks; it is a NEW vehicle type that promotes a socially responsible and more effective means of urban mobility,” the project’s web site says.

MIT’s Smart City is debuting a prototype of their foldable electric scooter at the EICMA Motorcycle Show next week in Milan. The team has high hopes for the scooter. Developed with Taiwanese scooter manufacturer SYM, Smart City hopes that the scooter could be a boon for the numerous scooter-choked cities of the world such as Taipei, which has nearly as many scooters as people.

The notion of not having your car beholden to a single spot is liberating, and removing the need to return to your point of departure will surely cut down on unnecessary fuel consumption. But how do you prevent an inordinate number of cars from winding up parked at a few select locations? As the car-sharing industry continues to mature, equally as important as developing sustainable transportation will be a thorough understanding of urban travel behavior.