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Transport – Options and Possibilities

In each area of the transport sector, the choices available to us between now and 2020 vary considerably. Some have little freedom to change and others have the potential for major shifts.

Although the aviation industry attracts lots of attention, the real options for change available in the next decade are relatively limited: Rising demand from both low-cost and premium passengers keen to fly shows little sign of abating, airfreight traffic is forecast to double in the next ten years and both Boeing and Airbus have healthy future order books. Even if reduced travel occurs in European and US markets, given the competition between the three main alliances and the growth in Asian passenger and freight miles, a net global increase by 2020 is highly probable. Moreover, as the average plane is in service for around 30 years, the cycle time to change the fleet means that more fuel efficient planes, such as the Airbus 380 and the Boeing Dreamliner, will take a good while to have significant impact. Other than the possible introduction of bio-fuels into the aviation fuel mix, no major technological change will have impact in the next decade: While governments and media like to talk up the contribution of aviation to global warming, it is only responsible for 2% of carbon emissions and has no credible alternative energy platform available in the medium term. As more people desire to fly, despite the cost, for many in the sector, the next ten years will be more an opportunity for improved efficiency of the overall system while continuing to compete for customers on the experience.

The shipping industry is however a focus for potential change. Not only does it contribute more than 5% of global CO2 emissions, but inefficiency has been built into the system. Over the next few years we can therefore expect a convergence of existing GPS, loading and navigation technologies to enable more efficient routing and speed of transit of the world’s merchant fleet. However, although retrofit technologies such as high tech sails are much hyped, again, given the time to change the fleet, the likelihood of mass impact in the next decade is limited. Given continuing economic globalisation, demand for more not less shipping between sources of raw materials, production centres and primary markets, will steadily increase.

Urban public transport systems covering bus, rail, tram and taxi are all areas of government and industry focus: For example, the French government has recently announced a €20bn investment in the construction of the worlds’ largest automated rapid transit line circling Paris, scheduled for completion by 2020. Delhi has gained significant praise for switching its taxi fleet to LPG and Dubai is now promoting its newly opened urban transit system. As cities around the world seek to replicate the models of modern mobility efficiency such as the integrated urban transport systems found in Munich and Vienna, we can expect further announcements of similar investments in the cities which can afford it.

Turning to inter-urban transport, there is little doubt that China is the now pacesetter for change. Recognising both the challenge and the benefit in increasing the speed of travel across the country, China is investing over $1 trillion in expanding its rail network to 120,000km by 2020 – the second largest public works program in history. Like Japan, South Korea, France, Spain and Germany before, China is reshaping its landscape around train services by investing in a mix of both very high speed rail (350kph) and high speed rail (125-150kph) that will be the global benchmark for mass transit systems: Cargo transport and passenger transport is being separated, double track artery lines are being electrified and transport hubs are been built in 196 cities. The decisions have already been made and the ambition will be implemented. However, other countries, yet to take such bold steps forward, may not be able to deliver material change by 2020.

Given the above, by 2020, I see that further significant change can only really be achieved in the area of personal mobility. Although ten years is barely two design cycles in the automotive sector, with the right support and leadership, we have the opportunity to change the game in terms of both sustainability and aspiration.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Transport – Options and Possibilities”
  1. Pretty good stuff. This makes a good case that the way to really get traction with future transportation is to go at the car mode – everything else pales in comparison. I would expand that though to speak in terms of the “road” mode – which would include both cars and hauling freight via trucks. Also, the inclusion of the developing world and how that will affect personal travel, car sales, greenhouse gases etc is spot on. And how will we gas guzzling countries evolve – will we really move towards the mobility equivalent of Slow Foods? Its been prognosticated many times before and personal choice (for speed and convenience and security) has always trumped other factors. Will the Carbon Footprint issue – so hot now – turn out to be like recycling? Once it was the grand ambition that our society could actually shift from throw-away to recycling – and in the USA at least that shift has happened. But the landfill issues are still there, while maybe not as intense. So even if the consciousness fully embraces Carbon Footpring based decisions in car-buying and car-driving, will it make enough of a difference? A topic for debate.

    The aging population is important – and may drive greater driver assist and/or automation systems to help make up for driver skills deficits and enable them to be mobile longer. This is already happening in a small way, with blind spot monitoring systems, for instance – older people are more likely to have stiff necks and have trouble checking the adjacent lane. The other end of the spectrum would be “automated chauffeurs” to take them from door to door.

    There are other areas to explore beyond cars. There is the CyberCar concept – in which small personal “pod” vehicles are available like instant rentals for maneuvering in dense urban areas or pedestrian zones – its gaining traction in a few places in Europe. See http://www.cybercars.org .

  2. Workshop Feedback says:

    Also there is no mention of the negative health aspects of cars in cities: We should think about the obvious health benefits of ‘human-power transport’, say walking or cycling for 30 minutes a day. Walking is not only low carbon and sustainable but it is also simply good for you!

  3. Workshop Feedback says:

    Cities should be for people not cars. Indeed the over use of cars as means of transport has destroyed the centres of many modern cities, creating congestion, pollution, noise and health issues. We need to find more appropriate solutions for personal mobility for all of us to use. A congestion charge may work in some places in developing public transport and encouraging people to use it, but its not the answer everywhere . In some cases, such charge exacerbates the difference between rich and poor, freeing up the road only for those who can afford to use it. Thus, in a curious way, if the roads are jammed, everyone, irrespective of income, will take a train. The solution for cities is to have a flexible toolbox of policies for road pricing and congestion charging – sometimes, such as in the case of Denmark, even when the national policies do not allow such flexibility. To achieve that, the EU should become involved in generating policies providing a framework within which cities have a choice.

  4. Workshop Feedback says:

    We have to disconnect economic growth from transport growth. The two do not have to go hand in hand. If we are to better balance the true status we may, for example, need to better internalise the external costs and make those who pollute our environment pay more. Why should all of us pay more for increasing transport when it is only a sub set of the population and companies that rely on transport to support economic growth: If new road investment is paid for by road taxes rather than from the central government tax pocket, this could help address the challenge.

  5. Workshop Feedback says:

    Over the next decade there will be a big shift in freight transport. We need to think about the different kinds of goods we may be transporting – and where they are being delivered. People may think that a digital world is more efficient but it is also one which drives more and more home deliveries of goods which ironically is making things worse. We need a coordinated solution for the last mile problem.

  6. Workshop Feedback says:

    The future of cities is about more efficient integrated urban transport systems and more high speed rail networks running between cities. This means that, as is happening in the Netherlands, we can focus more on a well connected network of cities rather than single metropolis. City design is fundamental – in the case of Hong Kong 5% of GDP is spent on transport and people typically spend between 30 and 60 minutes a day on public transport and then compare it to Houston where 15% of GDP is spent on transport and people spend up to three hours a day in their cars.

  7. Workshop Feedback says:

    Energy efficiency is also important. Electric mobility will have varied impact in different locations – Amsterdam, Vienna and Lisbon are leading the way at the moment. In France there is an ambition to develop a fully carbon free high speed train line where even the impacts of construction have been balanced out by 2022. The power source for this is from nuclear energy. However, we need to recognise that many countries still have a high dependency on fossil fuel use so electric mobility does not eliminate the carbon problem, but it does shift the challenge from within the cities where the greatest damage is done to defined energy supply locations where we can better mitigate the problem.

  8. Workshop Feedback says:

    We must not ignore the role of fiscal incentives in the transport problem. One thought would be for urban planners to involve companies more closely in the design of the city and its infrastructure. The location of large corporations can be hugely influential in city planning and the link between intra-urban and inter-urban transport, therefore big corporations should be incrementally integrated in policy making and made to think about where they locate their jobs. People can’t walk to work if they live in the suburbs and their office is in the centre of town. If people could afford to live near their work they would gladly walk or cycle to work but because they can’t many are forced into driving. Time is the critical issue and often drives the use of the car. We should encourage a re-evaluation of the company car system- why does our car have to get bigger as we are promoted? We should also think about the cost of travel. Transport is already too cheap. A cheaper car is not going to make it any more affordable.

  9. Workshop Feedback says:

    It is important to think more carefully about the new, evolving models of integrated transport systems including car sharing schemes and cycling hubs. Integrated transport systems require innovation not just at a technological level but also at a systemic level. Integrated transport requires integrated ICT control systems that provide the intelligence for more efficient transport with low cost investment.

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