Farewell, Penelope Pitstop

Helen Wylde, Chief Engagement Officer, Connected Places Catapult: Farewell, Penelope Pitstop

This year's Scottish Transport Summit will bring together key decision-makers, practitioners and thinkers to discuss and debate Scotland's transport needs and future strategy. Held by Transport Times in partnership with Transport Scotland, the Scottish Transport Summit is a must-attend event for anyone who wants to be up to speed with all the latest developments in the transport industry throughout Scotland.

Connected Places Catapult's Chief Engagement Officer Helen Wylde will be sitting on our final panel discussing what the future has in store for transport. Below she gets ready to bid a farewell to what will most likely be the last car she buys. 

To hear Helen speak alongside a host of speakers from Transport Scotland as well as key industry figures from across the Nation at the Scottish Transport Summit on 13th June - book your place here now. 

Farewell, Penelope Pitstop

In March, I went for it and splashed out on the bright red Mazda MX-5 RF which is now allowing me to finally unleash my inner Penelope Pitstop! The only thing tempering my delight with this new 'girl's toy' is a gnawing sense of poignancy that it is probably the last car I will ever buy.

The reason for this is that I usually get at least ten years out of a car, and I simply cannot believe that we'll all still be driving around in our own personal steel boxes a decade from now. The very real concerns of a looming environmental catastrophe and the equally real opportunities presented by connected and autonomous vehicles mean that we could all be saying goodbye to the private automobile much sooner than many people think.

As a self-confessed petrolhead – who put together my first car using the remnants of a mini that my father and I retrieved from a scrap-yard – I'm sure I will miss the personal freedom of the open road (when you can find one that's truly open), but I also think that the move towards more flexible, more shared and more on-demand mobility is inevitable. And, if done properly, it should also be strangely liberating, freeing us from the monotony, delays and pollution of our more workaday driving experiences.

In June, I will leave the car on the driveway and take the train to Glasgow when I travel up there for the Scottish Transport Summit. It's the more environmentally friendly option of course but, in truth, I'm more motivated by the greater comfort of the train over long distances, the ability to work on the way and the benefit of avoiding traffic jams.

The point here is that even those of us who love to drive will happily choose another form of transport when it better meets our needs. Currently, this is only possible when we are travelling on a popular route (primarily between major town or city centres), where frequent public transport services are available. On-demand, ride-hailing services are already starting to blur the lines between public and private transport, however, and the arrival of connected and autonomous vehicles could make those lines disappear altogether – as we simply use an app to effectively make the train come to us.

Scotland will certainly benefit from this new technology. While over half a billion passenger journeys are made there each year by public transport, this represents only 20% of total journeys across the country. With a significant rural population, which is traditionally underserved when it comes to public transport provision, there is a huge potential for on-demand transport that can free people from the expense and waste of needing their own car.

But as well as benefiting from the technology, I am convinced that Scotland can also help develop it – and profit from it. In October last year, we opened our office in Glasgow, after identifying Scotland as one of the UK's leading innovation hotbeds for the technology and services that will help us to better connect people and places in the future.

A fantastic heritage in traditional transport engineering is clearly a major part of Scotland's appeal, but it is also playing a leading role in a number of other fields that will prove essential to the transport of the future – from renewable energies to data sciences and machine learning.

One thing we have seen time and again, though, is that technology is rarely enough on its own. In fact, the main reason we have a Catapults programme in the UK is to ensure that the right technology is developed to meet society's needs and wishes, and in a way that can be fully commercialised to reap the maximum economic benefit for UK businesses.

Achieving this requires more than just good science. It requires an alignment of scientists, entrepreneurs, big business, regulators, policy-makers and the general public. Fortunately, Scotland is a great place for this type of collaboration, as we have seen from our initial discussions 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.

Scotland already has road sweepers and bin lorries running on hydrogen in Aberdeen and Fife, and world-leading data centres in Edinburgh. Last year, the Scottish Government set up a £2 million pound investment fund to support Mobility as a Service trials across the country, and we will soon see self-driving buses crossing the Forth Road Bridge.

At the Connected Places Catapult, we are convinced that this is just the beginning of a shake-up which will vastly improve how we all work, live and travel. When I make the journey up to Glasgow in June, I am looking forward to meeting even more of the people and organisations who can help turn this vision into reality. Exciting changes are on the way, but please let me break the news gently to my little red sports car...!