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Smart transport: All together now – major players must collaborate

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The UK’s road transport system is in the midst of a revolution, with cars, taxis, cycles and buses either being – or set to be – joined by ride-sharing, mobility as a service (MaaS) and connected vehicles.

But the infrastructure – including legislation, regulation and organisational structures – which may have been designed decades ago may not be fit for purpose for the future.

Experts agree that collaboration between industry, government and academia is vital for this to change to ensure the smooth adoption of new transport modes.

But how can this be done? Here are five lessons Michael Hurwitz, director of transport innovation at Transport for London, has learned through collaboration with public and private sector organisations.


1. Be prepared to have difficult conversations

Bike sharing company Ofo came to the UK in 2017 and, at its peak, had around 6,000 bikes across London, Norwich, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge.

However, the business, which allowed people to hire bikes and leave them wherever they liked for the next user to take, ultimately failed in the UK.

“Ofo came and Ofo went because (bike sharing) is a volatile market,” says Hurwitz. 

“We created a space for something that went through the core of our strategy about healthy streets, making people active, and creating environmentally friendly ways of getting around.

“But we had to make sure it was done in the right way, so there had to be engagement with the operator and with the boroughs to write a code of practice.

“If (a mobility company) thinks it is coming to London, it should speak to us before it comes to market so if we find a centre ground we can find some space for it.

“Do not, whatever you do, put your head in the sand and avoid engaging in what might be difficult conversations.”

2. Understand the role of the city versus the operator

City authorities have to realise they may need to decide between being a transport operator and regulator, says Hurwitz.

“At TfL, we are big enough that if a (mobility) company wants to come to talk to us about regulation, they talk to the regulation team,” he adds.

“I need to create a sense of space where we can talk about what they are planning or what they are intending to do.

“I can’t give them a leg up because we have to treat the market equally, but we do need to really understand what the role of the city is versus the role of the operator, because the lines are getting blurred.”

3. Think beyond transport

TfL’s work to electrify taxis, buses and promoting electric vehicle (EV) rapid chargers has highlighted that not all mobility issues can be treated as a transport problem.

“Transport does not often make money,” says Hurwitz. “A really good example of this is the EV charging infrastructure.

“Costs may include reinforcing the grid, buying, installing and maintaining the kit, paying for the electricity itself and maybe a parking space.

“If you treat it as a transport service then your revenue is what is paid in parking, and that creates a huge disparity.

“However, you can combine it with other sources of income, so you can have a freight drop zone, ancillary services for vehicles, or shared usage between buses and freight vehicles, for example.

“In this situation, who is going to be the driving force? It could be the transport authority, but it is more likely to be the land owner or the energy companies because they are the ones that have the most obvious revenue.

“So to collaborate, get out of transport.”

4. Get your timeframe right

“A key thing is to learn what you need at the right time,” says Hurwitz. “In London, we are trying to work out what the communication requirements will be in a world which is increasingly connected and automated. 

“We need to be operationally ready for trials and then we will use that to learn about what the policies should be. 

“For example, we desperately do not want autonomous pods cruising around empty waiting for us – that would be a disaster. 

“Maybe if the pods are empty, we need to put that into congestion charging because we need to make sure things are done in the right order – get your timeframes right.”

5. Give SMEs a route to market

Any small organisation in the private sector who has tried to deal with the public sector knows that it can be really clunky, says Hurwitz.

“We’ve done a lot of hackathons which feel cool and you get a lot of energy in the room and come up with an app in the end, and that is where it ends,” he adds.

“However, you have to engage with SMEs if, and only if, you can give them a route to market.

“We are now taking an approach that we have taken with big data companies. 

“We are trying a way of partnering with people without financial exchange to see if we can prime the market in the right way that will evolve products that can help us all, not just commercial objectives, but city objectives.”


Collaboration from a private sector perspective

Global energy giant BP is keen to enter partnerships to help it realise its strategy of providing integrated mobility solutions for a future world.

“We realise that we are just one actor in a very broad value chain, so if we are to be successful we are going to have to work with partners,” says Jo Dally, global head of city partnerships for BP’s advanced mobility unit.

“We are far from the only company that has realised this and it is really exciting to see the range of partnerships that is now emerging across the mobility ecosystem, whether that is BMW and Daimler for their mobility joint venture, Ford and Volkswagen coming together for electric vehicles, or Toyota and Panasonic investing in battery technologies.

“Just like those corporates, partners are really important to us and are key to enabling us to deliver on our strategy.

“It is not just big players we work with, we are interested in working with partners of various shapes and sizes, whether that is start-ups, OEMs, mobility technology acceleratorsor cities.”


Bringing government, industry and academia together

The global connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) industry is forecast to be worth £907 billion by 2035, and collaboration is key to ensuring the UK is among the leaders in this sector.

Meridian Mobility UK brings together industry, government and academia in a collaborative partnership, to influence the partners through encouragement and funding (it has so far channelled around £160 million into projects) to develop new CAV solutions.

Daniel Ruiz, CEO of Meridian Mobility UK, says: “The mobility revolution is taking place and we have to be with it.

“The only way the UK can really benefit from it is collaboration, exploiting the fact that one of our USPs which we are known for is our ability to work together, to be smarter, to make a small country with limited resources punch above its weight.”



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