Analysis: The wheels of change


A tuc-tuc chugs its way through the traffic of China’s fourth largest city, Chengdu. Surrounded by veering buses, cars and motorbikes, the vehicle represents a locally made decision on mobility – among a range of other options, residents are choosing to travel this way for a leg of their journey because of its open air security and low cost.

While the humble three-wheeler isn’t likely to be widely adopted in the UK any time soon, it displays the natural human instinct to choose the route that is easiest and most enjoyable.

As international transport leaders converged at Michelin’s Challenge Bibendum global summit in Chendgu, the message was clear: supportive technology is crucial if citizens are to improve these travel habits and help their cities become more sustainable.

Over the next 35 years, it is predicted the world’s urban population will increase by at least 2.5bn people. This figure not only indicates the strain existing travel networks could come under, but also the need to deliver infrastructure that helps communities naturally make decisions that relieve such pressure.

‘Even if we have driverless cars, or electric cars, there won’t be enough space. So we need to change,’ warns Guillermo Penalosa, executive director of mobility campaigners 8-80 Cities. ‘When mobility is based on the private car, actually it gets much worse.’

Indeed Michelin’s latest green paper predicts that cities can slash pollution and improve local safety if they provide support for bike sharing and car pooling, make travel information available on web platforms and develop transport transit sites closely linked to key urban areas.

But this approach shouldn’t lead to urban areas entirely excluding single person vehicles, as Florent Menegaux, Michelin’s president of passenger car and light truck product line, says.

‘Cities need to shift from “exclusive” to “inclusive” thinking,’ he tells Surveyor Transport Network. ‘Instead of trying to say cars against bus, it will be cars and bus; it will be cars and bicycles.

‘With the growth in mobility demands that we see in front of us, if we just fulfil it with cars the world will become a giant parking lot. It’s not possible,’ he adds. ‘We need to have good cohabitation between different means of transport that are well co-ordinated.’

Mobile technology is undoubtedly crucial in supporting this co-ordination between different modes of transport. The availability of real time information for passengers can link services across a city, opening up a one-stop shop for ticket sales that allows a journey to adapt as it progresses. Making a journey simple and comfortable in this way is crucial if passengers are to permanently change their habits for the better.

Miller Crockart, vice president global sales and marketing traffic software at PTV, emphasises that a network of synchronized modes of transport can be made to work if ‘courageous mayors’ take the decision to ‘plan and optimise it in real time’.

‘When people go on a trip, they want to know how they get from point A to point B and the most efficient ways of doing it. Young people are not interested in sitting in a car, they’re interested in using their smart phone or tablet and working out the quickest and most comfortable choice: if it includes a bike, a bus or a train. But we’ve got to get the whole thing seamless from point A to point B,’ Mr Crockart emphasises.

To provide this much desired ‘seamless’ journey, cities need to make information on all forms of local transport available in a single place that can be accessed while on the move. An example of where this can lead is Montreal’s ‘Merci’ app, which has helped raise public transport use by almost a quarter since its launch in 2013 by offering travel incentives from local businesses to passengers on the local transit system. Here, improvements to the end user experience have helped raise user numbers – something Mr Menegaux believes is vital if cities are to shift residents away from using their private cars in unsuitable situations.

‘Often, when you take public transport the experience is not as good as the personal car. That’s an issue because if I have a bad experience on public transport, I would prefer to take my own car,’ he says.

‘I love cars but when I travel in Singapore I take the metro – it’s great! I’m also very happy to take the metro in Tokyo. It’s more convenient so I don’t take the car. Cities need to work out how they can provide a safe environment on public transport and how they can provide the right information so consumers can make a choice.

‘When you leave the decision to the consumer you very often get the right choice. Sometimes it’s better on the weekend-or with your family-to take your car. Sometimes, when you’re busy and you have appointments in the city, taking your own car might not be good.’

A Tuc Tuc in China

Yet the recent surge in car-pooling is offering cities the opportunity to transform even private vehicle journeys. The number of car sharers in Europe has risen almost tenfold since 2006 and is expected to hit 15m by 2018, making clear the growing public interest behind this technology.

While not suitable for all cities, installing the relatively standardised infrastructure that helps residents drop off and pick up shared vehicles could help metropolitan areas slash the number of cars filling parking spots and the road. Patrice Reilhac, innovation and collaborative research director at Valeo, says that driverless technology is now making car-pooling even easier by allowing the vehicle to both ‘find its user’ and ‘the parking space’.

Yet Phil Gott, senior director of long range planning for IHS Automotive, adds that the growth in car sharing is only taking place in areas ‘where it’s deemed safe, where it’s done well and where the system offers advantages over ownership’. This once again places pressure on cities to create an environment where residents enjoy the benefits of a transport mode that ultimately represents a more sustainable choice for the environment.

The journey experience is also likely to be dramatically changed by driverless technology. The push towards autonomous vehicles recently saw £19m of UK Government funding allocated to develop driverless vehicles and infrastructure in four English cities. Public transport is beginning to seize on this momentum as well, in time potentially offering urban areas a new way of offering routine trips.

Ligier Group and Robosoft have joined forces to create a driverless 10-passenger vehicle, Easy Mile, which saw the unveiling of its first working vehicle at Challenge Bibendum. A driver pilots the electric vehicle on its first journey along the desired route using a detachable joystick. This course is recorded by Easy Mile, which can then navigate the route without assistance. Sensors on each corner create a international transport ‘virtual bumper’ around the bus, which ensures the vehicle adapts its speed to pedestrians or other vehicles in its vicinity.

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