Could the prospects of driverless cars, cashless parking and intelligent mobility help improve access to our town centres? Can ‘smart travel’ tackle town traffic or ultimately will the prize for all this innovative thinking simply be busier roads?
In this extended blog I clarify some of the key trends in UK transport for the coming years. I also reflect on can ‘smart travel’ tackle town traffic and the likely consequences for our town and city centres in terms of congestion, convenience, cost and climate change.
Low Emission Vehicles: One of the most rapid changes in transport on UK roads that we are told to expect is the increasing use of Low Emission Vehicles. Across the UK there are now more than 11,000 charge points, including the largest network of rapid chargers in Europe and a growing number of publicly accessible hydrogen refuelling stations. Their use needs to grow rapidly though, if ambitious Government targets are to be met.
The UK Government’s recent consultation paper on proposals for boosting provision of Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) outlines a bold ambition for all cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2050. ULEV’s include battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Proposed measures in the paper address three challenges of the growing ULEV sector: the consumer experience of using the infrastructure; the interaction of charging infrastructure with the electricity system; and the future provision of infrastructure.
The further introduction of supportive new measures will be necessary though as currently progress is still limited and the Department for Transport forecasts that by 2020, the proportion of ULEV’s is likely to be only half-way to its own 9%.
The local impact of any such growth in ULEV’s is most likely to be in improved air quality and a global contribution to reducing the rate of climate change.
Smart Parking: This is the collective term used for innovations that can improve the customers’ experience and efficiency of parking in our towns and cities. Technology already exists and is used by different providers to offer direction to available spaces; vehicle recognition; fully automated and ‘invisible’ payment; ability to extend stay remotely; cashless collection of payments; remote enforcement; variable tariffs according to demand; and linked discounts from destination businesses. Over the next few years this technology will become easier to use and better integrated. The challenge will be to increase the use of such a seamless service in a way that offers the customer similar choices in different locations. In parallel it will still initially remain necessary to run more traditional payment systems for those who are reluctant or unable to change their habits.
The introduction of such smart parking solutions will happen widely over the next few years and, managed effectively, this could bring significant improvements to convenience and potentially the cost of parking whilst having localised impacts on reducing congestion.
Cycling and Walking: Though seemingly low-tech alternative solutions, these two options provide a realistic alternative for short journeys, either alone or linked to other forms of transport. For example, only 2% of people in the UK walk to work compared to 20% in Denmark. In its draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, the UK Government sets out its plans up to 2040 to make walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys such as the commute to school, college, work or leisure trips.
In a helpful diagram, the Government Strategy outlines practical ways to overcome real and perceived barriers to walking and cycling including better physical and promotional links to bus and train stations, more bike parking and public realm that is inviting to pedestrians. The report records that two-thirds of personal trips are less than 5 miles and projects that shopping footfall could be boosted 40% by well-planned walking improvements to the public realm.
Well-targeted improvements to pedestrian routes from key ‘gateway’ sites such as train/bus stations, residential areas, new developments and more peripheral car parks can increase convenience and reduce costs for customers as part of wider travel, access and town centre improvement strategies.
Shared Space: Shared Space is an approach to street design where all traffic control devices, markings, curbs and signage are removed. The philosophy is that absence of all of those features forces all users of the space -from pedestrians to drivers- to negotiate a passage through the space via eye contact and person to person negotiation. In doing so, it places responsibility for safety -especially amongst motorists- back to the individual.
Shared Space is often controversial and cannot be universally applied but instead needs to adapt to local circumstances. In the UK, the Royal National Institute for the Blind argues that the approach removes important visual clues for blind people and their guide dogs. Guidance currently being developed by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), the Institute of Highways Engineers, Department for Transport (DfT) and disability groups such as the National Federation of the Blind, recognises three levels of implementation. Between these levels, the so-called ‘courtesy rate’ -the rate at which drivers give way to pedestrians- varies between 97% & 12%
- Unstructured street: where there is no or little definition of where in the space a pedestrian, cyclist or motor vehicle might be expected to be
- Less managed street: where there are parts of the space, at junctions for instance, with generally clear areas for different types of user but the interaction between them is less managed than on a conventional street, so typically no traffic signals or priority crossings
- Enhanced street: Where traffic management is generally conventional in the way it operates.
Shared Space can bring benefits in terms of easing congestion and improving convenience for customers but schemes need to be designed as part of wider travel and town centre strategies to avoid unforeseen consequences.
Vehicle Sharing: The definition of vehicle sharing can be applied to different ways in which a car can be shared by a range of users to increase its cost-effectiveness as an asset, reduce travel costs and decrease the overall number of vehicles on the road or parked. For clarity it is helpful to distinguish three different ways of vehicle sharing:
- Lift sharing: Giving or receiving of a lift for a specific car journey that is most commonly promoted for journeys to work but can be used for a range of leisure, sporting and education based activities. There are a number of recognised barriers to setting-up car sharing schemes such as safety; the inflexibility of having a regular arrangement; concerns about insurance and payment. All of these barriers can , however, be readily overcome with adequate marketing and management.
- Car clubs: Joining a car club gives motorists access to a car or van when needed without any of the hassle or expense associated with ownership. Members can usually choose from a selection of vehicles parked around their local area; get in and drive off. Zipcar estimates that each one of its cars helps take 17 privately owned vehicles off the road in the UK.
- Taxi pool: Taxi companies such as Uber already arguably provide a form of vehicle sharing with a driver and this is being expanded through services like ‘UberPool’. This new service turns a standard taxi ride into a miniature bus service by matching riders travelling in the same direction. Passengers are still picked up from where they request and are dropped off at their individual destinations, but the driver will make slight detours to pick up and drop off other passengers.
Taxi pools and car clubs have the potential to grow in cities first because there will be the necessary number of ‘early adopters’ to make the services viable. The more widespread availability of all types of vehicle sharing has the potential to offer convenience, reduce congestion and spread costs for a growing number of customers who are either unable or unwilling to own their own vehicle. Take-up will be hugely influenced by cost relative to conventional travel as well as local incentives such as access to bus lanes.
Integrated Transport: An effective integrated transport system enables passengers to easily switch between modes of transport.
The UK Government’s 2013 ‘Door-to-Door’ Strategy for improving sustainable transport integration placed a particular emphasis on this approach by seeking solely to better link public transport with walking and cycling options. The strategy concludes that when planning to travel, people think about the cost, convenience and complexity of the entire door-to-door journey. In proposing solutions, it focuses on four core areas to help people be confident in choosing sustainable transport: accurate, accessible and reliable information about the different transport options; convenient and affordable tickets, for an entire journey; regular and straightforward connections at all stages of the journey and between different modes of transport; and safe, comfortable transport facilities.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in its 2016 paper on Integrated Transport is critical as what it perceives as a fixation of UK policy on the integration of public transport and it proposes that a new approach to an integrated transport policy is needed to challenge the public and private sectors to work together. Such an approach could focus on journey reductions, load spreading, low carbon alternatives and integrate private and public transport.
The potential growth of integrated journeys will be equally dependent on the availability of inter-connected travel options and investment in suitable, intelligent mobility software. Whilst more transport modes and journey frequency can offer more choice in cities, the distances involved in moving across smaller towns will perhaps be more manageable once customers have arrived at gateway sites such as train/bus stations or car parks. Integrated transport can offer convenient options to private car travel but levels of take-up will be dependent on local investment in ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ infrastructure as well as the comparative costs of journeys.
Intelligent Mobility: The hidden innovation that will be behind so many improvements to transport service in and between our towns and cities.
Intelligent mobility brings together digital industries, transport infrastructure, vehicles and users to provide integrated and innovative services connecting different modes of transport and traffic management. Or put another way, intelligent mobility is about developing travel as a joined-up service by focusing on the ‘software’ rather than simply the ‘hardware’ of cars, trains, buses and other modes of transport. The Government-backed technology and innovation centre for intelligent mobility, the Future of Transport Systems Catapult, estimates in their Traveller Needs Study that the Intelligent Mobility market will be worth up to £56bn per annum in future.
To give two examples of the potential impact of Intelligent Mobility highlighted in the Traveller Needs study, it is estimated that the provision of personalised journey information and the ability to reserve a parking space and be guided to it, could improve traveller satisfaction on an annual 11.6bn journeys in the UK.
Intelligent mobility is a broad area of development that will impact across the full range of transport modes and services. As such it has the ability to bring local benefits in terms of convenience, cost, congestion and contribute marginally to reducing the global rate of climate change. Major developments are likely to be led at a national and international level but it will be important that local initiatives such as smart parking or integrated transport are ‘plugged in to’ and grow with these.
Autonomous Vehicles: Most commentators do not expect vehicles capable of fully autonomous or ‘driverless’ operation on public roads in all circumstances to become available until at least the 2020s. Before the technology reaches this stage, vehicles will become available which can undertake increasingly large proportions of journeys autonomously while still requiring that a driver takes manual control some of the time.
In its summary report and action plan, the Pathway to Driverless Cars, the UK Government surmises that automation will make driving easier, allow people to be more productive and offer greater mobility to a wider range of people than ever before. They also suggest that automated vehicles will help improve road safety, reduce emissions, and ease congestion. As a result they could provide significant economic, environmental and social benefits, including improving social inclusion. Such added value would though seem dependent on the availability and affordability of the more advanced technology as discussed in a very informative podcast on the Future of the Car Industry for Radio 4’s the Bottom Line series. The programme suggests that the possibility of vehicles able to drive fully automated for short journeys, to say a customers’ place of work, will be achievable in the near future and that this could help vehicle sharing and contribute a reduction in overall vehicle numbers –or at least reduce growth.
So will ‘smart travel’ tackle town traffic and improve congestion, convenience, cost and climate change?
In short this review reveals that different ‘smart travel’ solutions will be phased-in at different rates over the next decade and the prospects could be positive for town centres. All the potential innovations offer the opportunity to improve the convenience of town centre travel; most could reduce or moderate costs relative to current car use; and at least half of the options might also reduce congestion.
Very often the timing and level of impact of these travel innovations will be determined by external factors such as global technological advancements or the relative of cost of conventional transport, i.e. the price of oil! For at least half of these smart travel trends, however, there is tremendous potential to increase impact through local initiative and investment. Local town centre and transport strategists need to keep talking and constantly reviewing the opportunities. In our work we will continue to try and bring these and other town centre interests together and be future facing. The future of ‘Smart Travel’ is just a short journey away!
Find out more:
The People & Places Partnership has joined forces with Park Consult Ltd. to provide a service to review ‘Smart Parking’ options for town centres as part of wider travel and town centre strategies. Find out more about this People, Places and Parking Process.
You can keep up-to-date with Smart Parking and Travel developments through our dedicated pages on LinkedIn.