GEARING UP FOR TRANSPORT'S NEXT REVOLUTION
By Alex Reid, Director of Engagement Scotland, Transport Systems Catapult
Returning home recently to my family home on the Isle of Arran, and just a few months into my new role as the Transport Systems Catapult’s Director of Engagement for Scotland, I couldn’t help but reflect on how little had changed transport-wise since my days growing up on the island. The ferry between Brodick Harbour and the mainland port of Ardrossan is still a lifeline service for the 5,000 or so residents of Arran and it still takes roughly as long to make the crossing as it did when I was a boy – and then about the same time to make the onward journey, whether by bus or car, to any of the island’s villages.
Things are slowly changing on Arran. A new terminal building opened in Brodick to much fanfare in 2018, with a new one also scheduled for Ardrossan in the next few years. The island will also soon be getting a dual-fuel ferry, designed to deliver cleaner journeys since it can operate using either diesel or liquified natural gas.
Scotland has a proud history, of course, when it comes to transport innovation. James Watt, John Boyd Dunlop, Thomas Telford, Frank Barnwell, John McAdam and John Rennie are just a few of the pioneers who revolutionised the ways in which people and goods are transported across land, sea and air. The infrastructural upgrades taking shape on Arran, and the island’s gradual switch to cleaner energy sources, are therefore part of a continuous narrative of progress and improvement.
The next transport revolution will not be based upon the tried and tested (but also expensive and often environmentally harmful) approach of simply throwing more infrastructure at the problem; nor will it be about simply doing the same things as before, but in a slightly better way. Rather, it will look to totally transform our approach to transport, as we start to embrace the concept of ‘Intelligent Mobility’ – basically, using new and emerging technologies (from big data and the Internet of Things to machine learning and fully automated vehicles) to help move people and goods around in a more efficient, more environmentally-friendly and more customer-focused manner.
As well as making good sense for travellers, Intelligent Mobility also makes great business sense. Joint research by the Transport Systems Catapult and Deloitte has found that by 2030 the global Intelligent Mobility industry could be worth around £1.3 trillion – with the UK well positioned to take full advantage, thanks to its world-class universities and significant clusters in aerospace, automotive powertrain, rail and marine.
Scotland was quickly identified as one such innovation hotbed by the Transport Systems Catapult, and in August last year we opened our office in Glasgow, sharing facilities with our sister organisation, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, which has its headquarters there.
Scotland well placed to capitalise
While it’s still early days for our operations in Glasgow, we have seen plenty of evidence that Scotland has the assets, aptitude and appetite to support the drive towards Intelligent Mobility. Scotland’s academic institutions and innovation centres have the right knowledge and skillsets to deliver world-class research for this fast-growing sector
There is also no shortage of great Scottish start-up companies and spin-outs who are working to commercialise exciting new technology applications related to Intelligent Mobility. In Glasgow, for example, there is Peddlesmart – whose electric-powered trikes can be rapidly configured to transport either passengers or goods – or HV Systems, who are pioneering the use of hydrogen fuel cells in HGVs and LGVs and preparing for a demonstration run later this year from Glasgow to London. Edinburgh has the likes of Urban Tide, who are developing a Big Data analytics platform that local authorities can use to help people and cities work better and smarter, while Continuum Industries – a spin-out from Edinburgh University – deploys big data, analytics and computer simulation to create “digital twins” of transport networks which can then be used to design better transport systems in the real world.
Achieving better transport systems and, ultimately, better communities, will need more than just the right technology, however. It also will require us to adopt another central tenet of Intelligent Mobility – namely, that future transport solutions should be centred on the individual needs of travellers rather than on the ‘one size fits all’ operator-focused approach that has tended to be dominate in the past. In Scotland, for example, this might mean striving to ensure that rural residents benefit as equally as urban residents, and that less deprived areas see as much transformation (and hopefully even more) than better off communities. Vast swathes of Scotland are still primarily rural and while rural Scotland accounts for only 17% of the Scottish population, it accounts for 98% of the landmass. As a result, rural dwellers need to travel further and spend more to access work and personal services.
Policy-makers will of course be pivotal in ensuring that the benefits promised by the new technology are enjoyed by as large a share of the population as possible. Commercial organisations will understandably want to target the ‘low-lying fruit’, which in transport terms usually means targeting customers with reasonable levels of disposable income who are living in areas that are already well-served by existing infrastructure. So it is imperative that we encourage government incentives (and disincentives), at both the national and regional level, in order to also improve the travel experiences of people who are based outside of such areas.
Taking Arran again as an example, the island has seen a significant increase in ferry usage and tourism numbers since the Scottish Government introduced its Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) scheme which links ferry fares to the (usually lower) cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road.
According to a study carried out by the European Transport Research and Innovation Monitoring System (TRIMIS), Arran’s residents consider RET to have been beneficial to the island not just in terms of the increased tourism numbers but also in how it has enhanced social, cultural and economic opportunities. However, the report also cited some less positive knock-on effects of the rise in visitor numbers – including congestion and capacity issues, negative environmental impacts and a perceived increase in anti-social behaviour incidents – all of which demonstrates (at a micro level) the extent to which new transport policies can have wide-ranging effects, both intended and unintended.
In short, technology will enable us to do lots of exciting new things, but policy will be essential for deciding how we apply that technology for the benefit of all. Collaboration between policy-making bodies, academia and the commercial sector will of course be essential and, with this in mind, the Transport Systems Catapult is already working closely with the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and organisational networks such as Mobility as a Service Scotland, The Scottish Cities Alliance and the CENSIS and Data Lab innovation centres.
Later this month, we will also be supporting the Annual Scottish Passenger and Public Transport Conference in Edinburgh and using the event to ensure even more awareness of the opportunities presented by Intelligent Mobility. Hopefully I will have the chance to meet some of you there, but in the meantime, if you would like to know more about Intelligent Mobility, please use the link to our website below.
By Alex Reid
Director of Engagement Scotland, Transport Systems Catapult
By Alex Reid, Director of Engagement Scotland, Transport Systems Catapult
RAIL REVIEW, BBC, PLANNING BILL, TRANSPORT IN EDINBURGH, AND MORE PLANNING
It’s here. After much hype, much anticipation, and much expenditure, the new BBC Scotland channel is now in its second month and the political bubble has been active in debating the good and bad, rights and wrongs, fair and unfair.
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