Making The Transport Future A Reality: The Role We Must All Play

In recent weeks, the Government has made announcements about autonomous vehicles, the world's first self-driving bus and allowing hands-free driving for one type of car on motorways. There have a number on decarbonisation of transport and specific sectors.

Listen to these and the promise of a transformation in the transport experience seems not too far away. But the reality is that many of these announcements simply show how far there is to go.

This is borne out by the announcement scrapping smart motorways. Whilst the Government said it was down to financial pressures and a lack of driver confidence, others have suggested that it was down to the lack of investment in the associated infrastructure, such as being able to close lanes quickly enough.

How to achieve progress?

Governments have a habit of becoming obsessed by the next big thing which ironically prevents progress.

Incremental change tends to be the norm and is often what passengers most value. Just look as the warm welcome that Merseytravel's new customer-centric train fleet has received and the possibilities it opens up for the future.

As Passenger Focus research back in 2012 noted:

"Essentially, the fundamentals of public transport haven't changed much over time: someone transported from the 1950s to now would still instantly recognise the physical features of bus and rail travel".

Another decade plus on an that remains the case and will not change any time soon. The fundamentals of access, fares and information are the same but now with a heavier emphasis on the environment.

So how will we actually achieve the new bright new future?

Government challenges

In the first place, any Government needs to ask itself some fundamental questions.

It needs to be clear about what the role of the public sector is and then, as part of that conversation, what is for central government and what should rightly be under local control?

Governments have long talked of encouraging private sector innovation in transport and that has come about it in the personal mobility space. But those companies involved often hit a brick wall of regulatory compliance so the innovation is delivered by them pressing at the

boundaries of what they can achieve. Some of these the regulation represents sensible protections, others existing because government cannot keep up with technological change.

I have lost count of the number of times that governments want to encourage 'Amazon-style' or 'Uber-style' customer focuses in transport, not least where it comes to ticketing. That would mean government understanding the nature of risk, getting out of the way and not setting too many parameters, not least around finance. That is extremely difficult for them to do.

Promised legislation

This is part of what makes the promised 'future of transport' bill so potentially important. The Bill, promised in the Queen's Speech 2022, seeks to enable innovation in transport and that includes establishing Great British Railways.

But it will also introduce:

"new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points and enabling the licensing of London pedicabs".

But what does this involve? Primary legislation does not come around that often so we have to make the most of it. There is plenty of good work to draw on. There have been future of transport programmes and related consultations. The work of the Connected Places Catapult is doing the thinking needed to look at technology. These are all valuable sources for government.

But will make the difference is engagement. Government needs to hear from all those across transport, especially from those encountering problems as they innovate. We all need to help government remove obstacles and the barriers to entry. The promised new Bill can then truly open the possibility of a brighter, greener transport future.

Without engagement we cannot make the transport future a reality.