Britain’s place in European transport

With the current UK political scene dominated by discussion of Brexit and the implications that this will have on building a Britain fit for the future, it is easy to forget that in the transport sector, there are things that are working well, where UK influence is making a real difference not just now, but also potentially beyond 2019.

I regularly see the positive impact the UK is having overseas through my role as President of the European Metropolitan Transport Authorities (EMTA), a network of some 26 city and city region transport authorities across Europe; President of POLIS, a long standing coalition of 70 cities and local authorities across Europe and Canada and as a board member for UITP, a global organisation championing sustainable mobility, covering 96 countries and 1400 organisations including local transport authorities and industry operators.

Being asked to be a leader and advocate for these important organisations on the global stage, and drawing on my experience of running the second largest transport authority in the UK, is testament to the high regard our European and international partners have for UK input into shaping the transport agenda now and for the future.

Sometimes we can't find the answers within the UK, and perhaps we are not asking the right questions, so being able to draw on the experience of a wider pool of European and international authorities makes a lot of sense.

For example, benchmarking of performance is one such area, where a global view of network performance can prove invaluable in identifying where we excel in the UK, and where we need to improve. For larger metro and light rail systems, COMET and NOVA already provide answers. For many other modes and smaller networks, the EMTA Barometer provides some useful clues.

Collaboration between industry, authorities and academia can also provide some real insight in both identifying best practice in transport operations as well as looking more closely into research and development for emerging areas.

For example, UITP has taken a leading role around bus infrastructure, particularly related to new fuels and electric charging. Given the need for all cities and city regions to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, this is one area where there is a serious debate internationally on what technology warrants investment support, so that we can all avoid choosing the 'Betamax' solution to help remedy these problems.

POLIS, which focuses specifically on developing innovative technologies and policies for local transport, is actively involved in forming many coalitions around project delivery to tackle specific issues. Good examples of this include the PROSPERITY project that brings together European cities, regional and national governments and mobility experts in one of the most ambitious sustainable urban mobility planning projects in Europe. There are other projects focusing on key challenges faced by cities such as FREVUE which provides evidence on how innovative solutions using electric freight vehicles can help to achieve emission free city logistics or CREATE that addresses the task tackling urban road congestion, taking a long-term view of how this can be achieved.

For me, it is clear therefore that there are significant benefits from working cooperatively and collaboratively with local transport authorities and transport providers both in Europe and across the globe. I'm constantly impressed how different countries are applying innovation across their transport networks, whether that be 5G being used to operate autonomous buses between Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and the nearby town of Haarlem; or a movement away from gated public transport networks in Scandinavia to app based tracker systems, with minimal effects on fare evasion.

In the UK, we are all used to Local Transport Plans as a statutory requirement for authorities to produce, but for those of us who've taken the next step to develop these as Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, we've found that it really takes little extra effort to produce something that can become transformational.

As a finalist in the 2017 competition for the best SUMP in Europe (with Milan and Turda), TfGM showed it's possible for transport authorities in the UK to not just participate, but lead the way in Europe.

So in amongst the noise of the Brexit debate, I feel there is a firm place for the UK to participate in the broader European and global transport agenda. If we want to truly have a Global Britain, we can only gain from working with and learning from our partners, and trying to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and innovation into our transport networks.

At the end of the day, we're here to provide the best services we can for the travelling public; they travel around the world and see what it has to offer all the time – it is important for us to take the same global view.