By Stephen Joseph, Smart Transport chair (pictured left).
“Smart” is an overused word in transport.
It is applied to everything from better traffic lights through ride-sharing to autonomous vehicles.
There are also many magazines and events focused on smart or “intelligent” mobility.
So it’s worth setting out what Smart Transport can bring to this frenetic world.
First, a bit about me.
I’ve come to this after 30 years as CEO of a small environmental charity, the Campaign for Better Transport, which promotes sustainable transport policies (my successor, Darren Shirley, is also involved in this project).
This has meant I’ve dealt with many different interests in and around transport and have seen the advent of new technologies being applied to the sector. I’ve also talked to policymakers at local and national level and have seen their preoccupations and priorities.
From this, I’ve observed that there are deep silos operating.
"Smart Transport can help bring such alliances about by identifying shared objectives."
There are policy statements from local and national government, and pressure on them from their voters and even from lawyers, but then you can hear presentations from technology or automotive people who seem to be ignorant of these pressures and are operating as if they didn’t exist.
On the other side in the policy world, there is a lot of misunderstanding about technology and the disruption it might bring, and an obsession with autonomous vehicles as the next big thing, with less focus on all the other opportunities and challenges that technology could bring to transport.
In both cases, there is a tendency to focus on specific pathways and projects – in the case of technology companies and the private sector, to develop new clever ideas for transport without considering their application in the real world.
Transport policy meanwhile can in some places be driven by old schemes revived, unaltered in any way, as the answer to local transport problems. This means that the wider questions – like “what kind of place do you want to live in?” – are passed over by both sides.
Cutting across these silos, and enabling collaboration, engagement and partnerships between them, will bring benefits for both sides.
Only an active and engaged public sector can make slogans like “Mobility as a Service” into a reality on the ground, in which people pay for transport services as a whole rather than for individual routes, operators or modes. And the technology world is brimming with ideas and projects which could create really great places and solve the problems facing policymakers.
And that’s what Smart Transport is about – promoting engagement between policymakers/advisers in the public sector and key players in the private sector and encouraging networking and knowledge transfer between key players in different parts of the private sector.
A good starting point is where cities and their administrations are.
They are facing a lot of pressures.
Air pollution is a huge problem; there is ever increasing medical evidence that pollutants from vehicles, especially diesel engines, harm human health in several ways, so cities are facing increasing public and political pressure, and legal challenges, to cut pollution.
Emerging responses include the Mayor of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone and proposal in other cities to charge vehicles entering highly polluted areas.
There are also increasing controls on where private vehicles, vans and trucks are allowed to go, with bus lanes, public realm improvements and cycle networks taking priority.
"...the Government (and many politicians at local level too) find these changes difficult to imagine or allow for, so rely on old projections based on past trends and travel patterns continuing."
Congestion and the domination of road traffic in public spaces is also a problem for cities – increasingly they are having to take decisions on prioritising road space between different users.
And they also face a challenge of social exclusion, of central areas that are commercially vibrant surrounded by low-income neighbourhoods where the priority is getting people to work and training opportunities in the central areas and elsewhere.
All of this can be summarised as a requirement to create attractive places where people want to and are able to live, work and invest.
The private sector players need to understand these pressures and work with cities to meet these requirements, and not operate in isolation from them.
In some cases, this might lead to new and unusual alliances – maybe cities could join with logistics providers to put pressure on van manufacturers to make left hand drive electric vehicles for UK cities, or to get new housing built with proper broadband.
Smart Transport can help bring such alliances about by identifying shared objectives.