My night at NEF – CAVs, data, carbon and the future of transport

Took part in a Chatham House roundtable at the New Economics Foundation last night which, mostly ended up exploring the fault lines between a vision of the future of transport centered on moving as rapidly as possible to the vast majority of journeys being made by electric, shared and autonomous cars – and those who thought that vision was either unachievable or highly undesirable, or both.

It made me think this (or in some cases steal the thoughts of others)…

  1. There is a big gulf between those who see transport from a tech / venture capital perspective and those whose background is in wider urban and transport policy. Indeed they are very rarely in the same rooms together. The former look at transport from the outside and they see one vehicle dominates – the car. So that’s where the heroic engineering and renumerative opportunity lies for transforming transportation – and at a global scale. With that clear objective set then everyithing else is about cracking any problems that lie in the way to the goal of fixing the car (ie making it electric and autonomous). And given the amount of money at stake, their faith in technology and their own abilities – they are confident that all problems can, should and will be cracked. The people from a wider urban and transport policy perspective see cities and their transport network as complex systems of which the car is one element – an element which is problematic per se. So you don’t start with the car as the be all and the end all of transport policy because that clearly makes no sense. The global nature of the ambitions of the tech / venture capitalists also makes the gulf even wider as what might work on the empty straight roads of 1950s US suburbia might struggle with being the answer to the future of transport on the constricted road network of European cities with their roots in the 1500s. However is there somewhere within this zone of mutual incomprehension for a space for thinking about how tech could fit with where the reality of the transport needs of denser older major cities where space for any kind of road vehicle is becoming steadily more constrained and where there is a wider vision for healthier streets?
  2. Is the above a first world problem in that it would be easier to establish a whole new mobility system based on the tech / venture capitalists view that the future is about electric, shared, autonomous cars in newer, or even new, cities in developing countries – where city layout, politics and regulation could be more receptive?
  3. In the Eighties there was a brain drain into a deregulated financial sector which ultimately gave us the crash and the strange and frightening world we now live in. Is there now an equivalent brain drain into a tech sector which was never regulated in the first place? And are we living with the consequences of that right now from fake news, and election meddling to lack of control over our personal data and the rise of unregulated internet monopolies? If so what do we do about it? In Estonia the Government uses secure technology to hold citizen’s personal data for them in a way that makes public services easier to use and cheaper to provide. In London there’s talk of cities establishing something that sounds similar – city data trusts. Could these approaches be part of the answer? Or at least part of a more urgent debate?
  4. The carbon footprint of the energy sector is transforming for the better with amazing rapidity in the UK but the same is not true for transport. Will the pressure increase for this to change? At the same time (and there’s a lot of fog of war here) the shift to electric vehicles seems to be picking up pace dragging even the more reluctant elements of the automobile sector with it. Will that lead to panic by Government over loss of fuel duty revenues and could that lead them to react by seeking to slow the shift?
  5. One more on CAVs. One of the big emerging obstacles to full CAVs that the techies / venture capitalists will need to crack if their dream is to be realised is attitudinal. As in just because people could do something that technology allows them to do  – they might not actually want to do it. So, for example, if CAVs need to be shared (given that if everyone had their own nobody would be able to move very far in them without being stuck in a traffic jam) then how do you get round the fact that if there’s one thing that people hate its being in a small space (like a lift) with strangers (even if its only for a minute). Are people really going to want to make the beloved lift experience into their day to day travel experience?

Jonathan Bray





Three global transport trends that should reshape our cities

Here are three global transport trends that should be reshaping urban policy in Britain. They already are in the world’s most dynamic cities in developed countries. They are transport trends – but they are about far more than that.

Cities need to be smart to thrive. They need to be dynamic, enjoyable, attractive places where smart, creative people want to be and where things happen as a result.

Cities are also the future – as more of the world’s population becomes urban. As that population expands the challenge of climate change becomes more acute. Smart cities will be the places where the technologies and policies to tackle climate change will be found and put into practice.

And smart cities need smart transport policies.

1. Young people want to cycle – let them – it’s good for your city

Bike with flowers

A bike in Berlin – Creating the right environment for cycling is the next level of membership to the smart cities club.

In leading developed cities around the world – from Los Angeles to Berlin and from London to New York – young people are opting out of car ownership as the be-all and end-all of transportation. They have other status symbols. They are used to rental model (phones, flats) rather than owning depreciating assets – even if they could afford it. They want to be fit and healthy. They want to be independent. They want to cycle. Smart cities ‘get it’ that they should make it easier for them. Most big cities now have their cultural / creative quarters and a modern art gallery. The next level of membership of the smart cities club is to have a city centre where young people are cycling around, sitting at pavement cafes, on their smart devices, working from anywhere, making connections, creating a buzz. Cities that don’t get it are blowing the cash that could have transformed cycling provision in two years on a few miles of highway schemes that will take five years and have close to zero impact on a city’s overall fortunes. It’s the difference between cities still pursuing a shopping list of highway engineers’ schemes from the 1970s and cities which have a vision of where they want to be in the 2020s.

Santa Monica is part of Los Angeles – the car capital of the world. In the 1920s it had some the best public transport in the US, by the fifties Los Angeles had systematically trashed its urban transit network and built the densest network of freeways on the planet with the worst traffic congestion in the US. But even here the same trends on cycling are emerging. Young people want to cycle and Santa Monica is helping them. Streets for cars are being transformed into streets for people. Spending on road building has been slashed and cycle use is on the up. If smart politicians are making it happen in Los Angeles…

2. Smart grid plus smart transport = smart city

In the UK saving the planet through tackling climate change can now appear to be a distant priority behind the need for measures that will promote ‘growth’. Indeed action on climate change is increasingly seen as a potential impediment to growth because many of the measures that rightly or wrongly get to wear the growth promoting badge (such as building massive roads and slashing planning regulations) could be held up by concerns about what they mean for climate change.

In Berlin things look very different (see also this BBC article).  Renewables will make up half the electricity supply, and a third of total energy, including transport, by 2030. Brandenburg (which contains Berlin) is aiming to get to 20% in seven years’ time. On some days of the year it is already producing more solar and wind power than it needs. In short, Berlin will ultimately become one giant battery which can store or sell on energy when there’s an excess. Where individual buildings and electric vehicles will also act as smart batteries using, generating, storing and selling back energy on the basis of sophisticated IT that can factor in generation levels, electricity prices and weather forecasts to manage these complex interactions.

Electric car, Berlin

An electric car in Berlin

A smart grid meets smart transport because carbon-powered vehicles are on the way out. Vehicles powered in one way or another from the grid are the future. It’s not just cars that will go electric. There are buses running now that can recharge their battery wirelessly, as they go, from coils set in the road. Siemens will soon be trialing a system of powering lorries from overhead wires where lorries doing regular quarry or port shuttles can operate electrically, whilst still having a diesel engine for working away from the wires. There are a host of other technological options too for the electrification of transport – and it’s just too early to say which will be the ultimate winners. But the trend is clear.

In Berlin this all comes together on the EUREF campus. Based on a former gas works the site brings together academia with small and large companies working on both smart grid and electric transport technologies. The campus uses on-site solar and turbine power managed by sophisticated IT to power the electric vehicles that are being developed – or that are making the transition to mainstream. And electric rental cars are starting to go mainstream in Berlin. This is all good for Germany and Berlin because it’s German firms (large and small) that will benefit and Berlin as a city is where smart people will want to be to be at the centre of the fascinating, worthwhile and ultimately remunerative challenges involved in saving the world.

Smart cities will want to be looking very hard at what Berlin is doing.

3. Total mobility is nearly here – but who will be Amazon?

Who will be the Amazon of transport, delivering total mobility packages?

Who will be the Amazon of transport, delivering total mobility packages?

In the future your smart device will be the way you find the fastest way from A to B, and means of making that journey by any mode. It will unlock a hire bike, be the key for an electric rental car and your ticket to ride public transport. Who is in charge of the ‘total mobility’ offer will become more important than who provides the individual services. They will be the Amazon of transport.

That future is not too far off now in countries like Germany and Austria. It’s not here yet as making such a system pay is a challenge, and because the key players are still developing their strategies and jockeying for position. And there are a lot of players including mobile phone companies, automobile manufacturers, public sector transport authorities, private sector public transport providers, power companies and who knows – even internet giants like Google and Amazon.

In the UK at present only TfL in London has the powers and resources to be the Amazon for London. Elsewhere in the UK the danger is we get a fragmented series of sub-standard total mobility offers as neither the public or private sector has the scale, position or resource to do the job. However if the nettle of TfL-style control of rail and bus was to be grasped then there’s no reason why the kind of total mobility offers that Vienna or Hamburg are moving towards couldn’t be led by UK public sector transport authorities forging strategic, dynamic alliances with the private sector on key areas like technology and car hire.


  • if you want your city to look, feel and be dynamic, you’ve got your modern art gallery and your creative/cultural quarter – now you need to throw everything at cycling for a few years
  • it may take a while but it has begun – transport is going electric and the grid is going smart and clean. There are big opportunities for both public and private sector in cities that grasp this and act accordingly
  • whatever you do, bear in mind that the long game is about providing total mobility packages. It is best these are rooted in where cities want to be in the 2020s rather than on the purely commercial objectives of some yet to be Amazon of mobility. Decisions now on ticketing, cycle hire schemes, rail franchising and Quality Contracts will echo down the years in terms of whether UK big cities are at the heart of total mobility – or a peripheral player.

Jonathan Bray

Freight in the City Regions: A Sustainable Vision for 2030

In this special guest post, Chris Rowland, Director at MDS Transmodal (MDST), outlines some of the key findings of MDST’s recent report for pteg, ‘Freight in the City Regions’. You can read the report, and find out more about freight in the city regions on our Freight Hub.

Freight containers being lifted

‘Sustainable distribution’ seeks a balance between economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. Picture: iStock Photo

The need for “sustainable distribution” in the City Regions

The freight and logistics industry is an essential feature of any economy as it allows manufacturers to receive their raw materials and components and to distribute their products to customers, while it also ensures that a wide range of goods are available in the shops. The industry is also a major employer, accounting for 9% of the country’s GDP and 7% of its total employment. At the same time, however, freight transport movements are a source of greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to congestion and generate noise; at a local level the diesel engines that power most road freight vehicles emit particulates that are damaging to human health.

For these reasons, local authorities and PTEs in the English City Regions have a growing interest in freight and are generally focusing on the policy objective of “sustainable distribution”, where a balance is found between economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. The needs and expectations of the freight industry and its customers (which are mainly commercial and economic) have to be balanced with those of City Regions’ residents and visitors through public sector intervention in the market. In economic terms, where the costs of private activities are not fully reflected in the user costs of the freight industry and their customers, there is market failure; the public sector therefore has a role in seeking to balance the needs of the private operators with the wider needs of society.

Through work it carried out for pteg in 2012-13, MDS Transmodal has produced a policy vision for freight and logistics in the English City Regions, along with a “policy toolkit” of practical measures that could be adopted by individual City Regions to move towards achieving this vision. Any initiatives by the City Regions would be addressing a relatively blank canvas. Central Government has made few positive initiatives in the freight sector, having generally been encouraged by the freight industry to leave matters to the market.

Policy vision for freight in the City Regions: the “last mile”

Person loading a box onto a lorry

Consolidation of orders could help reduce the need for freight movements. Picture: iStock Photo

So what, realistically, should the City Regions be seeking to achieve by (say) 2030?

In the context of freight transport and its environmental impacts, the European Environment Agency talks about the need to “shift”, “avoid” and “improve” freight transport and this can be applied to urban freight transport and logistics.

For economic and very practical operational reasons it is difficult for “last mile” deliveries between Regional Distribution Centres (RDCs) and city centre retail outlets to shift from road to non-road modes of transport, so the emphasis is likely to be on “avoiding” and “improving” freight transport in urban areas. The vision for “last mile” deliveries in the City Regions that we have proposed in a report for pteg focused on:

  • Consolidation of orders by receivers of goods and consolidation of road deliveries by freight transport operators, thereby reducing the number of freight movements required (“avoiding” freight transport);
  • Use of low emission vehicles for last mile deliveries and collections in urban areas (“improving”);
  • E-commerce deliveries to local collection and drop-off points (“improving” and “avoiding”);
  • Quiet night-time deliveries (“improving” and “avoiding”).

Policy vision for freight in the City Regions: the wider picture

However, “last mile” deliveries to city centres should also be seen as part of longer distance distribution chains that link goods passing through RDCs with National Distribution Centres and ports and our vision therefore includes the development of a network of “Urban Distribution Centres” (UDCs) in the City Regions that provide the opportunity to transfer medium- to long-distance flows transported by rail and waterborne transport to low emission vehicles for the “last mile” deliveries into city centres.

To secure the maximum potential for the use of sustainable distribution services over medium to long distances, these UDCs need to co-locate intermodal terminals with RDCs (i.e. warehouses) and they need to be located within the range of low emission vehicles for city centre deliveries. These UDCs would be similar to Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges, but would often need to be closer to major urban areas, could also be located on major freight waterways (such as the Thames and the Manchester Ship Canal) and would need to have facilities specifically for low emission vehicles and to facilitate the consolidation of loads.

City Region “freight policy toolkit”

Given that the freight and logistics industry is owned and controlled by the private sector, how can the City Regions achieve this vision?

One thing is clear. This vision can only be achieved by the private sector freight and logistics industry operating in an environment that allows it to behave in a “virtuous” way so that more sustainable distribution can be secured, while also allowing it to compete on a level playing field, invest for the future and generate employment.

Multi-modal freight

There is an opportunity for the City Regions to redefine realistic objectives for the movement of freight that address both sustainability and efficiency. Picture: iStock Photo

The City Regions need to develop integrated and evidence-based freight strategies within the existing Local Transport Plan (LTP) and land use planning framework and in consultation with relevant stakeholders through Freight Quality Partnerships (FQPs), with tailored packages of policy measures that influence the behaviour of the freight industry to adopt sustainable distribution practices.

A non-harmonised, inconsistent regulatory regime that is not based on evidence of impacts and without consulting the freight and logistics industry could actually do more harm than good to both the local economy and environment, as well as unnecessarily disrupting freight transport and logistics activities. While the freight and logistics industry is concerned about ill-informed and uncoordinated public sector intervention, it is equally clear that the industry adapts rapidly and efficiently to new opportunities dictated by different land use policies or the re-emergence of the rail freight sector. In other European countries, road pricing for freight has been absorbed by the industry despite initial objections. It follows that there is an opportunity for the English City Regions to redefine realistic objectives for the movement of freight that address both sustainability and efficiency.

While road pricing for freight would make a considerable contribution to achieving more sustainable distribution, this is a policy that would need to be pursued by government at a national level. At a City Region level, the key instruments for PTEs and local authorities to achieve the objective of sustainable distribution are likely to be:

  • Defining suitable locations for new Urban Distribution Centres (UDCs) in and around the City Regions.
  • Providing indirect subsidies to favour certain vehicle types and delivery timings on the basis of nationally determined principles. These might include exemptions for low emission vehicles from time windows in city centres, allowing LEVs to use priority lanes and make quiet night-time deliveries.
  • Requiring major city centre developments to adopt Delivery Service Plans and promoting their use by other businesses based in city centre offices.
  • Requiring major city centre developments to plan for off-street loading and unloading bays and planning for a network of on-street bays (possibly provided on a user pays basis).
  • Working with Network Rail and other stakeholders to define future rail infrastructure requirements for freight in the City Regions (e.g. re-opening of freight lines and connections for UDCs).
  • Developing a network of pick up and drop off points for e-commerce parcels that are integrated with City Region public transport networks.
  • Working with major ‘industrial’ stakeholders such as ports and manufacturers to develop shared visions in those sectors (e.g. port centric distribution and UDCs) where the City Regions can play a supporting role in economic regeneration through freight and logistics activity.
  • Providing information on regulations and routing for freight through signing, freight maps, information portals and, in the medium to long term, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

The absence of nationally defined strategies for freight transport provides the opportunity for the City Regions to establish their own, using an evidenced-based and consultative approach that is already available via the LTP processes and working with existing FQPs.

Chris Rowland

Director – MDS Transmodal