Fleet News

Special feature: What future for Britain’s transport system?

ROAD charging, alternative fuels, duty of care – these are the big issues of today for fleet operators, but for how long?

The Government’s Intelligent Infrastructure Futures report hazards a guess at what Britain’s transport infrastructure will be like in the year 2055. It’s a fair way off, but those at the top think it would be a good idea to have at least a vague idea what could happen so that a debate about the future of transport can be started.

The Government think-tank Foresight has come up with four very different scenarios that could arise depending on how society develops. The report considered potential economic, social and environmental factors, and how these could change in the next 50 years.

As originally reported in Fleet NewsNet earlier this month, things are likely to change dramatically. So is it time for the fleet industry to start looking into the future? Here Phill Tromans looks at the report in greater detail. . .

Perpetual motion

THE first of the scenarios is labelled Perpetual Motion. It shows a world consumed by globalisation, technology and economic growth, with an ‘always-on’ society and a growing divide between rich and poor.

Clean energy has reduced day-to-day environmental damage, but the footprint of waste is still growing overall.

Technology – and consequently vehicles – are largely automated, which means safety is good, while systems are standardised to ensure robustness.

The predicted timeline of this outcome sees a national wireless network established in 2009 and renewed nuclear power construction beginning four years later. By 2020, real-time telepresencing – an ultra-realistic version of Virtual Reality communication – is perfected, eliminating much of the need to travel for face-to-face meetings. In 2028, a rapid train system connects the UK to mainland Europe and by 2053 auto-delivery systems are increasingly replacing humans in service jobs.

Where people still travel in vehicles, they are usually fully-automated, enabling the occupant to concentrate on work. An artist’s impression envisages meetings held on the move.

Fleet managers in this world need not worry about driver training or fuel consumption, but more about the cost of new hydrogen tablets to power the vehicles.

Communicating with staff and other fleet personnel should be simple, with everyone connected to a network 24 hours a day.

Urban colonies

SUPPOSE the environmental lobby keeps growing and becomes a dominant force? The Urban Colonies scenario has this as a foundation.

Its timeline sees nationwide road pricing by 2015 and the Government meeting revised Kyoto targets by 2022. By 2030, 14% of UK power will come from localised ‘microgrids’ and in 2036 the last UK council opts in to the ‘freecycle’ scheme.

The result is high-density ‘green’ cities with locally produced goods and efficient hydrogen-powered public transport. Private car ownership has declined, with walking and cycling the usual modes of transport.

Cross-country travel is notoriously unreliable thanks to earlier initiatives sanctioned for environmental reasons.

Such an eventuality would mean a drastic decline in company cars and long-distance travel. Fleets, if they still existed, would be more concentrated to the local area and comprise of clean but expensive electric vehicles.

Tribal trading

W ITH fuel protests fresh in the memory and oil prices as high as they have ever been, the prospect of a massive energy crisis doesn’t need a wild imagination.

The Tribal Trading scenario sees the world plunged back in time. Oil reached $200 a barrel in 2015 and power cuts and outages became commonplace. By 2026, the UK banking system had collapsed and within 20 years the UK population had fallen to 42 million. Commercial aircraft flights stopped shortly afterwards and a shortage of natural resources caused regional conflicts.

Consequently, lifestyles have been radically simplified. Power is no longer supplied through a national grid, but produced locally. Cities have emptied and communities are largely local.

Such a huge change in social circumstances would leave the job of the fleet manager unrecognisable. Long-distance travel has virtually disappeared and local transport is typically by bike and horse.

Most cargo journeys take place by train and, with armed gangs roaming the roads, any alternative travel is likely to be fraught with danger.

Possible fleet line-ups could include pedal-powered bike trailers, biodiesel vehicles that would be extremely expensive, or even a stable of horses.

Good intentions

CARBON consumption control dictates the world of 2055 in this final scenario.

Carbon has become the new currency, with carbon credit top-up machines as ubiquitous as ATMs.

Vehicles are ultra-efficient, connected to a traffic management system and largely powered by biodiesel. Cycling is a way of life, especially for those who have run out of credit and have to get to work. Many travel by biodiesel buses.

The environment is stretched to the limit and the skies are grey with pollution. A make-believe case study in the Government report focuses on the manager of a fleet of white hybrid vans, the efficiency of which provides considerable tax breaks.

For him, keeping ahead of the game by investing in the latest vehicle technology has proved vital.

Every vehicle in the country is monitored by satellite to avoid congestion, but with only limited success.

Motorists can buy priority passes to gain access to a freer-flowing road network, but at a high cost.

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