Two minute read on five thoughts from Cov on CAVs

Our smart futures strategy group met at the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick yesterday to find out more about Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). Here’s five things I learned.

  1. The UK does joined up industrial strategy when it wants to. There’s some serious money going into CAV development and problem solving (including a big expansion of the CAV facility at the Uni of Warwick).There’s also a serious ambition to make the UK a world leader (headquartered in the West Midlands) based on a less silo’d and more cooperative approach than other nations which embraces testing, law and ethics, software and hardware. This is not a drill.
  2. There is no shortage of problems to crack and there’s no guarantees that enough of them are soluable any time soon. There’s lots of obvious ones about speed and safety but there’s plenty of less obvious ones too. For example, say the phrase autonomous vehicles and the associated image is often of someone reading a book in what used to be the driving seat. Yet I’m not the only one who can’t read a book as a passenger in a car, for more than thirty seconds without getting motion sickness. Good luck with sorting that conundrum out.
  3. The number one obsession on CAVs is safety. Compare and contrast with the relative apathy that exists around tackling the carnage currently taking place on the roads. Yet existing road vehicles are already becoming incrementally more connected and intelligent. And life saving technology like speed limiters is already available. Could some of the focus on safety which applies to future CAVs not filter through to present day connected vehicles? Or does the conventional car’s role in wider culture wars make that too hard? But for how much longer given how cars are changing and the scale of the suffering that car crashes cause?
  4. There’s a nagging feeling that for many politicians at least CAVs are about taking the current format for cars on the current format for roads – and making the cars autonomous. And that’s it – job done. But that doesn’t fit with the way streets are changing. In particular the way in which, in city centres, at least space for vehicles is being reduced in favour of space for people. Or initiatives like healthy streets which London is now seeking to make part of the DNA of transport planning in the capital. In fact there’s no real interaction at all between the thinking around the healthy streets / better places agenda and the CAVs agenda. Indeed if you want CAVs quick and you don’t want the accidents then bringing back pedestrian guardrails and criminalising jaywalking could help. But that’s not the kind of spaces between buildings that people want anymore. On the other hand you could see electric CAVs for logistics deliveries and street cleaning that could fit with the healthy streets / better places agenda…as well as being easier to achieve than a go anywhere autonomous saloon car.
  5. More widely does the CAV debate need some re-framing around what is the problem that CAVs are trying to fix, in what circumstances and on what kind of time frame? For example you could envisage CAVs platooning on motorways or shuttling in urban areas on fixed routes for particular purposes (such as hospitals, universities), or to cleaning the surface of a pedestrianised area than you could see the benefits of remaking an entire city’s streets around the need to make the considerable difficulties of go anywhere CAV saloon cars a little easier.

All food for thought for a project we will be initiating soon on issues and options for cities on CAVs. Where we will focus not on the tech per se but on what are the implications for the places that cities want to be of CAVs, what are the options, and how are cities in the UK and the wider world responding so far.

Taxi! – Issues and Options for City Region Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Policy

I have now been at UTG for 18 months and over that time I have been getting to grips and grappling with the complicated picture around taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs). And it is COMPLICATED! Our new report goes into much of the detail around the legislative and policy framework and makes the case for city regions to take a more strategic approach to this area. But I’ll break down some of the key points here.

Firstly, there are taxis, legislatively known as hackney carriages, which may or may not be the black cab style. These can be hailed in the street or picked up at ranks, as well as booked. Then there are PHVs, sometimes known as minicabs, which must be booked, and cannot use ranks or be hailed on street. More recently, a series of app-based operators have emerged, sometimes referred to as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), and these operate under PHV legislation. There has been huge growth in PHV numbers, associated with TNCs, with a 45% increase in PHV licences in the West Midlands over the last two years and there is now one PHV for every 100 people in London.

So there are taxis, PHVs, TNCS which are kind of PHVs… Following?

Then there is the question of who licenses these? In England, outside London, local authorities license taxis, PHVs, their drivers and operators. However, in our city regions, combined authorities often take strategic transport decisions. Therefore, within a combined authority region you can end up with different prices and policies in neighbouring authorities as the illustration below demonstrates. And these vehicles can operate wherever they like. This is further complicated by the fact that licensing officers are only able to conduct enforcement activities on vehicles licensed in their own area.

GM

In London, TfL are the licensing authority and the strategic transport body, which means that there are common standards across the city region. In addition, this means that the licensing regime can be used to help achieve wider policy goals, such as improving air quality by imposing emission standards on licensed taxis and PHVs.

And the taxi and PH sectors can contribute to a number of public policy goals including:

  • Social inclusion – taxis and PHVs are a vital lifeline to those with additional mobility requirements and often low income groups working shifts rely on taxi or PH when other public transport options are not available
  • Air quality and carbon emissions – the taxi and PH fleet contribute to emissions but policy measures can be used to reduce their impact
  • Congestion – large numbers of taxis and PHVs can contribute to traffic, but also reduce the need to own and use private cars, which could help reduce congestion
  • Public safety – taxis and PH can help people get home at night when other public transport options might not be available, and this also supports the night time economy
  • Employment – the taxi and PH sectors provide employment opportunities, with 367,000 people employed as drivers in England and Wales.

However, it’s not all rosy. New TNC models have been questioned over the ethics of their approaches, particularly with regards to workers’ rights. And rapid growth in PHV numbers has led to challenges for policy and decision makers. The legislation that governs the licensing of the taxi and PH sectors in England is from 1847 and 1976 respectively. This legislation needs updating to meet the current challenges in the sector. And city region transport authorities have the opportunity to take a more strategic approach to the taxi and PH sectors in order to allow them to contribute to wider public policy goals. Our new report sets out the case for this and you can find it here.

We are also supporting the UITP Taxi Conference in London on 7th and 8th December, find out more and register here.