Transport industry gearing up for connected future

Industry players gathered in Manchester last month for an event exploring the convergence of technology and infrastructure in cities 

Cities are at the beginning of a dramatic transformation – and nowhere is this more evident than in the transport sector. Most fundamental is the epochal shift in fuel sources, with the internal combustion engine gradually being replaced by electric batteries, and in the future, hydrogen and other clean gases.

But there is also a generational shift underway that paves the way for declining vehicle ownership. Even today in 2019, many people do not require cars – particularly the case in cities – and many more are becoming increasingly agnostic as to their chosen modes of transport. Convenience is overtaking the desire for physical ownership.

Against this backdrop, industry practitioners came together recently at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum – fittingly located on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station – for an event about infrastructure in future cities, organised by Place North West and the law firm CMS.

Private capital

While private vehicle ownership is projected to decline, vehicular transport – such as buses, taxis or car-sharing schemes – will still be in high demand.

James Kelly, Uber’s head of cities for the north of England, spoke about society’s “historical over-reliance” on cars and the fact that 62% of journeys in the UK are made by individuals. Moving to a place where vehicles are shared, rather than owned by individuals, would only require 10% of the number of vehicles on the road today, he added.

This trend may offer up opportunities for private investors. “We may see ownership and/or service provision being wholly or partly privately financed,” said Kristy Duane, partner at CMS, having kicked off the event by presenting findings from the firm’s Connected Future report, which was produced with inspiratia.

Duane added, “Railways are becoming increasingly digitised – both ticketing and signalling – and in order to ensure compatibility with connected and autonomous vehicles, most cities will need significant infrastructure investment and every road across the country will need upgrading. It is highly unlikely that the public sector will have the necessary funds available in the short to medium-term.”

Funding models

Octopus Investments is one investor developing propositions in the smart mobility space. Already one of the biggest investors in renewable energy in Europe, the group is now investing in both EVs and charging stations. Its pay-as-you-drive model is designed to help businesses with large vehicle fleets transition to zero-emission solutions.

“We’ve got to stop thinking about transport as we see it now; we’ve got to think about where it is in the next 20 years,” said investment director Dan Saunders.

Recent examples of the group’s activities include the funding of a fleet of Jaguar I-Pace EVs at Heathrow Airport. It has also worked with bus operators and taxi firms, and many of these organisations are driven to seek out zero-emission fleets because of increasing pressures to improve air quality.

“[Air quality] is local, it’s easily identifiable, we understand more and more about it every day, and obviously it affects both individuals but also large organisations,” said Saunders.

Giles Perkins, head of smart mobility at the consultancy WSP, agreed that the air quality conversation was important, and that smarter solutions also reduced accidents and improved reduced congestion.

He added that the air quality debate needs to be married with discussions around an individual’s experience of a city. “We’ve been too hung up on whether it is a bus, a taxi or a train; we need to move to actually how people access opportunities and the things that they want to do,” he said.

Data and 5G

A fundamental enabler in the future connectedness of cities is 5G – the next generation of wireless technology. Networks of physical objects will be connected via the Internet of Things, but this will inevitably require societal barriers to be overcome.

“We’re under the assumption that everybody travelling in our cities is connected and has a mobile phone with them. The reality is that’s not the case,” said Ben Haddock, transport associate at Arup.

Eleanor Lane, partner at CMS, added that the digital divide – the gulf between those who do and don’t have access to technology – was a “hugely important point that we shouldn’t lose sight of”.

Furthermore, 5G will be a crucial element in the transition towards connected and autonomous vehicles. These will generate “immense” amounts of data, according to Duane of CMS. “The way we collate it is going to throw up huge security concerns and requirements,” she added.

Lane added that it has historically been the public sector that has owned and managed data on people’s travel habits, but the increasing role of private companies – the likes of Uber – will bring about “all sorts of interesting questions around who actually owns that data and how is that data used”.

Smart cities

Ultimately, this ever-increasing connectivity will be a key characteristic of future cities and in particularly their transportation networks.

“This will permit smart traffic management, increasingly-connected and autonomous vehicles, and connected devices within homes and businesses,” Lane told inspiratia.

“The changing face of retail and transport services, the drive to reduce pollution, and the improvements in battery technology will all dramatically affect how we live and accordingly will influence how our cities look.” 


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