Mike Batheram, director for local authorities at Atkins, discusses the role of Future Mobility Zones.
First things first: What are Future Mobility Zones?
Against a backdrop of rapidly evolving technology, FoMUS (The Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy) outlines the Government’s approach to maximising the benefits from transport innovation in urban areas across the UK.
It presents nine principles to guide our response to emerging transport technologies and business models to create a fertile environment for transport innovation, enabled by a flexible, responsive regulatory system that works with cities to give them the tools they need.
Backed through the Future Mobility Zones (FMZ) fund, 18 regional areas have all been invited to submit proposals to be one of three vying for a share of £70m funding. The fourth FMZ, the West Midlands, was allocated £20m funding last year to help develop the concept of FMZs.
The funds will support local leaders and industry to trial new mobility services, modes and models through the creation of globally significant demonstrators; improving mobility for consumers, attracting inward investment and creating new commercial opportunities.
Bringing technology to transport
The arrival of the steam engine in 1698, the combustion engine in 1859 and the motor car at the end of the 19th century – all revolutionised transport. Since then, however, the development of land-based transport has been at a relatively modest pace.
That all changed in the last 20 years when we started to see ‘rapid accelaration’: developments in data use, digital systems, drones, ticketing, high speed rail, ride hailing, car clubs and the dawn of self-driving pods and autonomous vehicles.
In the next 20 years, our focus will be on adapting our cities, urban areas and transport infrastructure to accommodate the ever growing demands of these new technologies. This will require us to take a long, hard look at how we develop smart places that can sustain the future needs of transport infrastructure and deliver the vision for FMZs.
The security and resilience of these technologies, and the vehicles, systems and data behind them, is a critical part of FMZs and the infrastructure that aims to enable them to develop and transform the way in which we travel in the future.
The vision and the challenges – the old and the new
The vision for FMZs – to create a society where the full benefits of modern developments and innovation are brought together for the benefit of all – is world-leading and revolutionary.
The nine core principles that the FoMUS sets out are fundamentally the right way to approach the delivery of FMZ. They establish how we support the delivery of better, more efficient, zero emission, integrated transport systems that combine private and public expertise and investment and facilitate innovation in urban mobility.
However, we will face challenges in terms of not only the speed of technological innovation, but also the transitional period. The full and anticipated benefits of FMZs will not be realised immediately; they cannot just be ‘turned on’. There will be a period where both old and emerging technologies need to co-exist.
During this period, how these modes of transport interact and share the same spaces will be a key consideration for transport planners and those who design, build, deliver and operate our transport infrastructure and the vehicles that use it.
The FMZ vision that all new modes of transport and new mobility services must be safe by design is absolutely, 100% correct; but the way they co-exist with traditional modes of transport represents an unpredictable outcome.
The unknown factor relates to human behaviour. Traditional vehicles and the behaviour of their drivers represent scenarios that autonomous vehicles may find difficult to deal with.
Equally, the vision to make the benefits of innovation in mobility available to all parts of the UK is also correct; but the supporting infrastructure required to enable that vision represents another challenge.
According to the April 2019 'Mobile Network Experience Report' published by Opensignal, EE has the most mobile coverage at 89% 4G coverage UK-wide. For connected, autonomous and other network reliant mobility solutions, such as drone deliveries, anything less than 100% UK coverage would create pockets where the vision is not achievable due to a lack of connectivity.
Finally, the longevity of infrastructure assets also needs to be considered. Modern roads, railways, bridges and tunnels are all designed and built to be long-term infrastructure assets with asset lives that span many years. As we know, the speed of technological innovation is rapid. Designing infrastructure that is ‘future-proofed’, where supporting technologies can be easily replaced or incorporated, will be key.
The benefits of getting it right
The vision outlined by FoMUS is an innovative attempt to embrace and reimagine the future of transport in the UK, with the potential to put the country at the forefront of innovation and the implementation of a modern, technology-enabled, inclusive transport network.
It can help us deliver smoother, safer journeys, boost the uptake of public transport, reduce emissions and noise pollution and ease congestion.
The outcomes are clear: improving productivity, attracting financial investment and creating jobs. Communities, businesses, the economy and the environment will all benefit if we get it right
To achieve this, we all need to come together to create new ideas and enable their implementation, from large consultancies such as Atkins to SMEs who lead the way in rapid innovation, to Government, local authorities and business and communities.
Only together can we deliver the vision for FMZs and create a better transport system that improves journeys and shapes the future of transport.