Anticipating and improving the future of mobility

Electric carBlog written by Mervyn Kohler, External Affairs Manager, Age UK.

One of the Grand Challenges facing society announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year is about the Future of Mobility, and the Department for Transport has now published a Call for Evidence.   The idea is that this and alongside other initiatives will help shape a Mobility Strategy which will emerge later in the year.

This new paper is a fairly readable 20 pages or so, incorporating 15 formal questions.   The Department is seeking responses by 10 September.   But the striking thing about the document is its commentary on the trends it has identified, and the changes we might see in the near future.   The language talks of being on the cusp of a profound change in how people, goods, and services move around the country, and of the next decade seeing more initiatives than the whole of the last century.

Large investments are being made in the electrification and automation of road vehicles and in the development of autonomous aerial devices.   What this means in plain English is that online shopping is driving a growth in the number of delivery vans (we have 4m on our roads so far), and sometime soon we shall have those goods arriving by drones instead – at least for the last mile of their journey.   Improving sensors and connectivity generally (between vehicles, and between vehicles and road signs, traffic lights, and other road furniture) should speed up traffic and cut down congestion and unnecessary emissions.  Collecting data from cars looking for a parking space and matching that with a vacant one opens the possibility that we won’t need so many parking spaces or to spend time hunting for one.   If more of us use autonomous vehicles for our journeys, the car will have a much more efficient pattern of use, and may never need to be parked at all.   And of course autonomous vehicles should bring down road casualties, since they do not get grumpy and cross, drunk, or doze off – human error is a factor in 85% of accidents.

The boundaries between buses and taxis are blurring, and new business models such as ‘demand responsive transport’ or ‘mobility as a service’ will change the way we get around.   Other sectors are using communications platforms to shift towards a sharing economy, and transport need not be an exception.   People aged 70 and above are driving more than previous generations, but young people are driving less – in the last 25 years, the proportion of 17-20 year olds holding a driving licence has fallen from 48% to 29%.   The vast majority of urban journeys are very short (72% are under five miles) and personally owned cars are a very inefficient way of enabling those.

Emissions, of course, are the top target.   Transport has overtaken power generation as the sector now contributing most to greenhouse gases.   The Government wants all new vehicles to be zero emission by 2040, but the National Infrastructure Commission wants to get there by 2030.   The ageing of the population is likely to increase the demand for mobility solutions, but we will need to meet those in an environmentally friendly way.   Drily, the paper notes that e-bikes are expected to increase by a third in the next five years or so.

Seldom do Government consultation documents read quite so much like a science fiction novel.  H.G. Wells might have been proud to author it but he probably would not have prioritised greenhouse gases and addressing air pollution, whilst promoting mobility.

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