Anyone who commutes in London would be forgiven for thinking this is mere fantasy. But change is underway and, with the help of innovative technology and forward thinking government policy, we could see significant progress on achieving these goals.
An efficient transport system is vital for our economy and to maintain our way of life. Rising congestion makes our current modes of transport unsustainable. Congestion on UK roads last year is estimated to have cost the economy a whopping £8bn.
In March 2019, the government's Office for Science published a report on the Future of Mobility – Urban Strategy, outlining the government's vision of the future and a range of approaches to regulatory reform. The report identifies a number of key principles which form the basis of government policy, which include:
It is worth looking at these principles in context of today's transportation solutions and those earmarked as a priority for development.
As with most major cities around the world, London and other UK towns have seen a number of app enabled ride-hailing providers enter the market. While there remains some uncertainty as to the legal status of some aspects of their businesses (such as the employment status of drivers – see our article for more), these services have become a major component of our urban transport network and help to reduce car ownership.
As well as providing an affordable alternative to public transport, providers are increasingly differentiating themselves with value add aspects to their technology, such as enhanced passenger safety features available through the app. We are also beginning to some providers integrate their apps with public transport options, enabling users to book a journey using a bus and a taxi in a step towards the government's vision of a Mobility-as-a-Service solution.
Of course, ride-hailing providers have not been popular with traditional taxi operators and it's fair to say there have been teething problems for some providers in understanding their regulatory obligations (see our article).
The legislation in this area is outdated and a Law Commission report in 2014 recommended a package of reforms, including the harmonisation of quality and safety standards for all taxis across the country. As well as benefiting consumers, a clear national standard would greatly assist transportation providers in configuring their technology and processes to meet the regulatory requirements for a national launch. Providers will no doubt welcome the government's commitment to reform in this area.
A number of models for shared access to transport assets are emerging in the UK, from ride sharing through to shared access of bikes and cars. As with all disruptive models, the economic business case for some sharing schemes is still evolving. Where schemes require access to street facilities, such as car-pooling schemes, there is a case for greater co-ordination among local authorities.
Currently, if a provider wants to offer users a London-wide solution (ie the ability to take a car to any London destination), local parking restrictions mean that it would involve approvals from 33 different boroughs.
The government has identified the Future of Mobility as one of its 4 'Grand Challenges' to put the UK at the forefront of industries of the future. The Future Mobility Grand Challenge has the objective of ensuring that all new cars and vans will be effectively zero emission by 2040, with substantial government funding for R&D. New government powers have been introduced under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEVA), to require the provision of smart electric charging facilities.
The government is equally committed to the development of autonomous vehicles. Pilots and development centres have attracted significant government funding and some projects are due to launch services by 2021. The AEVA goes some way in providing a legal framework for autonomous vehicles by addressing the thorny issues of liability for accidents although it also leaves some questions unanswered (see our article for more).
Of course, autonomous vehicles depend upon a reliable and fast network connection. Nobody is going to ride in a car (let alone a drone) powered by a patchy 4G signal. There's been a lot of debate within the industry as to which technology is best suited, some car manufacturers favour WiFi while others side with the mobile industry in pushing the case for 5G.
Earlier this month, the EU Council rejected the Commission's move to mandate WiFi for autonomous cars, adopting a technology neutral approach instead. Given the importance of connectivity to these solutions, it must be right for regulators to allow the industry to explore the viability of all technologies and for the best in class to emerge as an industry standard.
Automation does not stop with vehicles and the government is also committed to exploring the potential of drones for commercial freight and passenger journeys (see our article for more).
Another dependency to future mobility solutions is open data access. Connected cars and modern transport technologies generate a huge amount of data which can enable innovation in areas such as traffic management, capacity forecasting, remote diagnostics and journey planning.
In London, for example, TfL's policy of making travel data openly available has enabled over 600 travel related apps and is said to contribute c£100m to the economy each year.
Much of this data will be personal data, the use of which is strictly regulated in the UK under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.
Electric scooters (e-bikes) and electrically assisted cycles (e-bikes) are increasingly being used in our cities, although it's currently illegal to use e-scooters anywhere other than on private land.
The government is undertaking a review of these laws but accidents, such as the recent fatal incident involving TV presenter Emily Hartridge, whose e-scooter collided with a truck in London, illustrate the challenge for lawmakers in providing a safe environment for these innovative transport solutions.
Fostering future mobility technologies is rightly at the heart of the government's industrial strategy. Commercial R&D is being supplemented by public funding, test labs and pilot schemes.
Further legislative reform is required to accommodate future mobility solutions and lawmakers should adopt a technology neutral approach wherever possible.
Our future transport needs will likely be fulfilled by a wide variety of technologies, from e-scooters to self-driving cars and drones. Progress on key enablers, such as a fit for purpose communications standard, open access to traffic data, and integration with city planning, could have a significant bearing on how quickly these future solutions become available.
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There has been increasing analysis of the employment rights of those working in the gig economy. The status of drivers on mobility and ride-hailing apps has been under the spotlight, as courts have examined how and whether their work differs from those who drive for traditional courier or minicab firms.
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Ride-hailing platforms have quickly become a popular part of the transport landscape for major UK cities including London.
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The UK government's stated ambition is for the UK to be at the forefront of the autonomous automotive industry. It expects fully-autonomous (Level 5) vehicles on UK roads by 2021 and anticipates the UK market for connected and autonomous vehicles will be worth £52 billion by 2035.
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