Fundamental questions about technology will determine the future of how we travelby Lilian Greenwood / March 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
How can technology make it easier for us to travel from A to B? That’s the question at the heart of any discussion about intelligent mobility, and therefore central to the work of the House of Commons transport committee. The Department for Transport has been rightly criticised for recent failings but it is fundamental questions like these which will determine the future of how we travel.
New technology has been central to improving the experience for car drivers and we’re beginning to rely on apps that help us organise travel on buses and trains, and to show how we can make short journeys by bike or on foot.
Our committee recently concluded an inquiry into Mobility as a Service (MaaS): new digital platforms that can help us plan, book and pay for travel in one place. Integrated platforms which help us organise our journeys across public and private transport are only a few steps beyond the individual apps we now use routinely.
There is huge potential for an all-in-one information portal to change how we travel—if harnessed in the right way. It could deliver considerable benefits to us as individuals: reduced road congestion, improved air quality and healthier travel choices. It could also improve efficiency across our transport networks and allow more effective management of transport demand. The transport committee believes the time is right for the government to start actively supporting and shaping how transport information technology -develops in the UK. I was disappointed that the government’s response to that report was not more enthusiastic.
In our current inquiry into the Health of the Bus Market, we’ve been hearing how bus companies can make it easier and more attractive for passengers if they provide accurate, timely information about their services. Bus passengers in London access timetables and real-time information through Transport for London, Citymapper or Google Maps, but for many people outside the capital, this isn’t available.
Buses are the most commonly used form of public transport. In 2017, buses accounted for six per cent of all UK journeys compared with three per cent for trains. But with the number of passengers dropping, bus operators can—and must—harness technology to improve their services and encourage people to use them.
It is increasingly clear that we are only just beginning to grasp the opportunities afforded by intelligent mobility. We have recently launched a brand new inquiry where technology could take centre-stage. We’re asking the public whether there’s a role for technology in improving road safety. Despite a reduction of more than 40 per cent in the number of fatal road traffic collisions from 2007-12, there has been no reduction in the last five years, even with the roll-out of new technologies which should be making our cars and roads safer. We are concerned that progress has levelled off, and will investigate which changes would be most effective at reducing the number and severity of traffic collisions.
I sound one note of caution. In our quest for the improved cost, comfort, speed and convenience which intelligent mobility can deliver, people must not get left behind. These benefits should not just be felt by the best-off, or those who live in cities. Many people don’t use the smartphones we take for granted for access to new travel apps, or can’t afford a brand new car with the latest technology, or to purchase tickets for train services when prices increase year on year.
Disabled passengers must be able to use transport services. As we pointed out in our recent report on the May 2018 timetable chaos, effective policies must be in place and enforced, to assist disabled passengers when things go wrong, not just when all runs well. We should make a commitment to bring all groups in society with us. Technological developments in transport should be available across our country.
Intelligent mobility can bring enormous benefits. The government must be proactive in identifying and harnessing the right technology, in the right way. This is one area where real improvements could be made to how we travel and the quality of that experience. This is a generational opportunity—one that we must seize.
Read our transport and technology report