Transport is travelling towards challenging times

The transport industry is facing unprecedented challenges. Notably, technology is having an impact on consumer and industrial travel, from the development of autonomous vehicles to the planned Hyperloop with people and goods travelling at high speed in pods propelled inside tubes.

To understand how this will play out, it’s important to look not at the elements of transportation, but at the trends and challenges transportation faces overall.

Professor Nick Reed, academy director at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), says: “With existing transport systems under pressure to meet growing demand and to achieve targets for air quality, accessibility and inclusion, we see the emergence of four key megatrends driving change and growth in the transport industry: electrification, automation, connectivity and shared mobility.”

Electric and automated vehicles

As Lesley Slater, operations and business development director at LeasePlan UK, says: “One of the biggest concerns is that the infrastructure for electric vehicles hasn’t been reliable enough. But as of February 2016, nearly 4,000 UK locations have installed public charging points.”

Electric vehicles are now a viable option for consumers, fleets and city-based deliveries. Professor Reed adds: “Electric road systems will also be considered, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles on highways.”

We see the emergence of four key megatrends driving change and growth in the transport industry: electrification, automation, connectivity and shared mobility

A range of trials examining public trust and acceptance of automated vehicles for the movement of people, goods and services are planned in the UK, such as the GATEway project, which is led by the TRL.

“Vehicle manufacturers, technology providers, research groups and transport operators are working towards increasingly sophisticated automated vehicles,” says Professor Reed.

The increase in automation highlights one of the biggest challenges to deployment, which is standards and regulation. News of the recent crash between a municipal bus and Google’s self-driving Lexus RX 450h in California demonstrates that we still have numerous hurdles to overcome. The autonomous car raises the issue that not only do we lack agreed standards, but there is also no agreed way of validating systems.

John Cusano, senior managing director of global insurance at Accenture, says: “Even now, in the current early stages of automation, liability becomes cloudy if you consider a situation where a driver still controls the vehicle, but the automated braking system fails: does the liability lie at the feet of the manufacturer or the driver?”

Data and analytics for growth

It is the combination of automation with a massive increase in data access and analytics that creates the potential for the growth of connectivity and shared mobility. Nic Farhi, partner at OC&C strategy consultants, says: “Mass transit will change enormously. Currently travellers have to fit preordained train and bus timetables; in the future driverless buses will be able to plan routes in response to real-time journey requests, like UberPOP [ride-sharing] is starting to do today. Supply will fit demand, as opposed to demand having to fit supply.”

Everything from fleet management, logistics, rail, shipping and air will be affected. As John Davies, retail director at Trainline, points out, rail passenger numbers have reached an all-time high, with more than 1.65 billion journeys being made annually. “We can expect new forms of rail to emerge, such as Hyperloop, dramatically shortening travel times and providing cheaper, faster and safer alternatives to high-speed rail and air for long-distance travel,” says Mr Davies.

Gordon Wakeford, managing director at Siemens Mobility, says the digitisation of areas such as signalling or ticketing will undoubtedly increase capacity and frequency across rail networks.

Hyperloop 2

Hyperloop will dramatically shorten travel times and provide cheaper, faster and safer alternatives to high-speed rail

“However, it is the change in the ways in which we incorporate data and communication in transport that will be revolutionary, and is what the industry should be focusing on. We are already seeing the increasing use of smart data in apps, which prioritises the needs of the customer. The innovative use of data will be central to the improvement of customer mobility, be it by train, bus, tram or even bike,” he says.

The challenges faced by the transportation industry, such as data management and analysis, automation, connectivity, cyber security and consumer security, are only likely to be exacerbated by Brexit. While Chris Jackson, head of the transport sector group at Burges Salmon, says most UK transport is “unlikely to be substantially affected by changes to direct funding from Europe”, he warns that the indirect impact may be a freeze on the time and resources available for UK projects, including HS2, Crossrail 2 and south-east airport expansion.

He adds: “Increased connections between road and vehicles, influence in developing the technical and cyber-security standards will be key. Many of those standards will be developed at an EU and global level, so the UK will need to work very hard not to be sidelined in this critical phase. There is also a concern that loss of access to the EU Single European Sky means that UK operators may no longer be sure of obtaining equal access to capacity and frequency.”

The necessary skills required to address the infrastructure and technological needs of the transport sector are also a concern post-Brexit. Mr Wakeford says an estimated 4,000 engineers will be needed over the next five years in the rail industry alone.