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Plotting the route to smarter transportation

Smart Cities World’s Road to Liveable Cities event brought together technology and transport experts, as well as start-ups, to discuss and envision the shape of future mobility.

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Panel discussions discussed a range of topics that are crucial to future mobility
Panel discussions discussed a range of topics that are crucial to future mobility

This article is in association with the Ferrovial Services Centre of Excellence for Cities/Amey.

 

If new and emerging modes of transportation and technologies are to hold the key to tackling some of cities’ most pressing challenges, their introduction must be accompanied by a clear vision.

 

This was the key conclusion at Smart Cities World’s recent Road to More Liveable Cities event, held in association with Amey and Ferrovial Services’ Centre of Excellence for Cities at Level 39, Canary Wharf in London.

 

“Just because something is clever, it doesn’t mean it’s useful,” warned panel member Steven Norris, Consultant, Norris McDonough, and a former Minister for Transport. “We need to ask: What is the problem we want to crack?”

 

The event set out to understand how cities can find their way through the complexity of growing pressures and shifting trends such as mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV), electrification and shared mobility.

 

Speakers, panel members and attendees came from both the public and private sectors and included a number of representatives from local authorities. As well as keynote speeches and panel discussions, the event featured roundtables on new modes of transport, electrification and cutting congestion.

 

The need for fresh thinking

 

Throughout the discussion, a shared belief emerged that smart mobility options need to be seen in the context of the bigger picture for cities and part of a wider discussion if they are to truly make cities more liveable for citizens.

 

“That’s why when experts with 30 years’ experience and start-ups who don’t have those barriers to thinking listen to each other, great things can happen”

 

Integrating the various strands of a city’s future mobility strategy into one coherent vision throws up huge challenges. As well as technical, regulatory and financial issues, it also means bringing about societal change and behavioural shifts.

 

There is no doubt that all of this requires fresh thinking and Gary Raccuja, Senior Strategic Consultant, Amey Consulting, urged everyone ­– attendees, transport and technology experts and start-ups – to collaborate and work together to shape the future of transportation. He warned against letting past experience and even expertise discourage or influence thinking based on what “didn’t work in the past”.

 

“That’s why when experts with 30 years’ experience and start-ups who don’t have those barriers to thinking listen to each other, great things can happen,” he said.

 

With this in mind, eight start-ups from the Intelligent Mobility (IM) Accelerator, a partnership between Transport Systems Catapult and Telefónica’s Wayra UK, were invited to present a three-minute pitch to the audience. (Read the results here).

 

Building an autonomous future

 

Decisions being made today will have a far-reaching impact in the future. With the built environment lifecycle ranging between 50-100 years, Paul Copping, Chief Innovation Officer, Digital Greenwich, summed up the scale of the challenge by saying we now are designing the environment that will need to sustain mobility systems that span four-, five- or six-year cycles of replacement technologies in the future.

 

“So that cycle of matching is a bit of a punt as to what we now do in order to design thoroughfares, parking, how we consider the issues of airspace, if at all, and what our overall mobility plan looks like over that time-scale,” said Copping.

 

He continued: “What we are looking at is a 50-year investment package that is all about grid reinforcement, garages, storage, wash-shops and all the infrastructure that goes with a future autonomous mobility system. It is not just about buying a few autonomous cars and running them in parallel with traditional cars.”

 

"We now are designing the environment that will need to sustain mobility systems that span four-, five- or six-year cycles of replacement technologies in the future"

 

Having witnessed the evolution of autonomous vehicles through projects such as GATEway, in which a driverless pods shuttle service served the Greenwich Peninsula, he believes as long as cities choose carefully, the vehicles are “good to go” but that we have “not cracked” how to finance the long-term infrastructure for future mobility. He put forward the idea of exploring a bond or coin offering mechanism or some form of tokenisation.

 

“Tokenisation could be an interesting one: would cities be willing to forward sell millions of journeys on a token basis which could be redeemed by users?” he asked. “It is this area where we need some enterprise.”

 

Technology: a doubled edged sword?

 

While potentially solving problems for some people, it seems that technology can also create issues for others. For example, congestion-busting pilots can simply shift problems to other areas.

 

Dockless bike-share is another example, introducing the problem of bike-littering in some cities. The solution could come in some form of regulation as long as it doesn’t stifle innovation, stressed Marcel Pooke, Team Leader, Technical Capability Team, Transport Systems Catapult.

 

“There are some cost-effective and efficient systems like hiring bikes that we shouldn’t stop entering the market but they somehow have to be regulated,” he said.

 

Cambridge implemented a code of conduct alongside its bike-share schemes and worked with providers to set the ground rules. With one of the providers having since retrenched its service though, Daniel Clarke, Strategy and Partnerships Manager, Smart Cambridge Programme, Cambridgeshire County Council, highlighted another potential issue: the problem of citizens becoming disillusioned by relying on a new form of transport only to see it disappear.

 

“New mobility models can be dangerous until they are well-established,” he said.

 

“New mobility models can be dangerous until they are well-established."

 

Norris doesn’t believe that regulation has to be the enemy of innovation. He suggests that a framework that retains the flexibility of dockless bikes but also ensures they don’t become a social and environmental problem for cities and an economic one for programme operators is the answer.

 

He added that while dockless bikes are “a classic example” of new technology helping some people but creating a problem for others, it is not the biggest culprit in that respect.

 

“There are much bigger examples and the most obvious is the proliferation of app-based private hire vehicles. Travel times in central London are falling below Victorian levels and in Zone 1 that is partly because there are 15-20,000 extra private hire vehicles,” he explained, adding that the growing trend of having home goods delivered to workplaces is also compounding the problem by increasing the number of delivery vehicles.

 

“From the point of view of city management: I’m not averse to regulating, I’m not averse to codes of conduct but I’m also not averse to sometimes saying ‘you’re not helping, go away’. Once again it comes back to priorities.”

 

Getting citizens out of their cars

 

Cambridge has a clear vision of getting get one in four people out of their cars and also wants to address air quality issues and therefore encourage more electric vehicles on the road.

 

Clarke emphasised that none of the strands of a future mobility strategy should be explored in isolation and local authorities must take a holistic not a silo-based approach.

 

“For instance, some people outside of the city want bus lanes as they speed up journeys while others in the city don’t; if we are having more electric vehicles, what impact does this have on the grid and how do we reinforce it?; and if we want people to work at home how can we install better broadband in rural areas?,” he said.

 

Southwark is in the process of renewing its transport plan but has chosen to call it a “movement plan” and is similarly taking a more 360-degree approach by aligning its strategy with issues such as air quality and environmental health. Electric vehicles (EV) are an important part of the strategy and it is currently converting lampposts into EV chargers.

 

“In south-east London, most people don’t have a driveway so we are converting the lampposts but we then need technology behind this to let people know where they are,” said Councillor Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Environment Transport Management and Air Quality at the London Borough of Southwark.

 

"If we are having more electric vehicles, what impact does this have on the grid and how do we reinforce it?"

 

Alongside this, the council wants to help citizens make a modal and behavioural shift away from cars, which is a challenge given owning and driving a car feeds an aspirational as well as a practical need for many people. It comes down to making the alternatives sufficiently attractive. Southwark’s approach is to start by trying to reduce the number of short journeys made.

 

School trips are an example. “We’ve experimented with closing streets off outside of schools which also has huge safety benefits,” says Livingstone. “It’s about making it a little less easy to use the car and more pleasant not to use it.”

 

The challenges of using data

 

Data is making it easier for cities to better plan their transportation strategies and this year has seen a number of big names and start-ups join forces to share mobility data from a range of sources including mobile devices and roadway infrastructure.

 

Each agreement marks a positive step forward but, for local authorities, there are still fundamental barriers to making data truly meaningful for transport strategies.

 

Portsmouth City Council collects journey time data via Bluetooth sensors and the demands of GDPR mean this has to be encrypted at source. Paul Darlow, Traffic and Network Manager, Portsmouth City Council, explained the data would be far more useful if it could be combined with similar information collected by nearby cities and counties to build a master information source, but regulation prevents the sharing of this data.

 

“Raw data on its own is not that useful. You need to be able to put it into context, add some historical data and a predictive element it to turn it into useful information that can be consumed by an end user or a system,” Darlow said. “People will say they are compliant and the data is in this format or that format but trying to connect it all up and make it work on the ground is really difficult.”

 

Dan Hubert, CEO and Founder of smart parking app, AppyParking, echoed these sentiments and says the lack of data-sharing is a major factor impeding the implementation of parking-as-a-service.

 

“Every local authority has power over their own kerbside. In London there are 33 different interpretations of what they should be doing and none of this data is shared,” he noted. “It means we are about 97 per cent away from parking-as-a-service.”

 

Darlow said the appeal of a service like AppyParking is in it being an end-to-end solution which provides the sensors, the data and also gets the information out to the end users. This gets over some of interoperability as well as the procurement issues that potentially stand in the way of local authority projects.

 

"There needs to be a bit of a balance between commercialising data and commercialising information, otherwise we will miss out on opportunities”

 

“There are some great proof-of-concepts and great pilots out there. Have they reached full city roll-outs? Probably not,” Darlow said. “A lot of the groundwork has been done for some really exciting stuff and we’ve got to be careful we don’t trip ourselves up and prevent ourselves from making use of it.”

 

Jon Jarritt, Director, Strategic Consulting, Amey Consulting, believes the commercialisation of data is also stymying progress particularly when it comes to sim card metadata. “That is potentially a rich source of data that could massively improve transport planning and traffic flow models but because the telcos are switched on commercially the cost of entry runs into tens of thousands,” he said. “At which point the proof-of-concept isn’t worth it and doesn’t happen. So, I think there needs to be a bit of a balance between commercialising data and commercialising information. Otherwise, we will miss out on opportunities.”

 

More questions than answers

 

There are many conclusions that can be drawn from the keynotes, panel discussions and roundtables. It was a comment from one of the roundtable discussions that perhaps best sums up where we are today, which is to accept we will be in a period of great transition for some years yet.

 

In his opening address, Gary Raccuja, a self-confessed science fiction fan, said he found it “mind-blowing” that the creators of Star Trek were able to come up with the idea for hand-held devices at a time when television was only just becoming mainstream.

 

A similar level of visionary expertise may well be needed to ensure new and emerging technologies turn into the effective transport systems of tomorrow but whoever said inventing the future was easy?

 

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