Wednesday, 3 August 2016

"Gimmicks" - or transport innovations at they're known outside West Yorkshire

Tomorrow's driverless taxi?

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is going out to consultation on its transport strategy. This is a strategy and plan intended to set the direction for transport in West Yorkshire up to 2036. In doing this, the WYCA is acting quite properly - transport schemes are expensive, slow to develop and take a long time to implement so a twenty year planning horizon is sensible. You can contribute to the consultation through the page on WYCA's website.

At the recent WYCA full meeting - where the leaders of West Yorkshire's five councils plus a couple of others tagged on for good measure (like me, for example), we discussed this transport strategy. Not in much detail - these meetings are never big on detail - but enough to get a feel for what it's proposing. And it's not very good.

The strategy is linear seeing challenges such as congestion, air quality and connectivity as solvable only with existing technology - trains, buses - and new infrastructure (roads, bike lanes and so forth) within the existing spatial circumstances. Thus we are keen on HS2 and HS3 (or Northern Powerhouse Rail - NPR - as afficionados will now call it) as transformational schemes and we bemoan the lack of foresight at the Department for Transport in not allowing us to build our exiciting and innovative new 'bus-on-a-string'. As if the 19th century technology of the trolley bus is somehow a solution to 21st century transport challenges.

In setting objectives, the strategy focuses on modal shift, getting journeys shifted from nasty bad cars onto lovely buses, trains and bicycles. The strangest thing about this policy is that it is essentially backwards looking in seeking to move people from a 20th century transport system (the car) onto 19th century systems (rail, bus, bike). And while this is all fine it represents another triumph for anti-invention green strategies.

In our discussions, I mentioned emerging transport technologies - autonomous vehicles, drones, zero-emission vehicles - and wondered why, given the strategy runs to 2036, none of these emerging transport systems was considered worthy of even consideration in our planning? The chairman of the WYCA's Transport Board and the Leader of Kirklees Council dismissed this suggestion. The former thought the 'holy grail' would be to have an integrated ticketing syste across rail and bus by 2036. For Londoners, this is us taking 20 years to introduce the Oytster card system you guys already have.

For the latter, Cllr David Sheard, these new technologies are "gimmicks" and we should focus on "real-time data" (which we already have through the Metro phone app) and "smart ticketing" (those Oyster cards again). The extent of West Yorkshire's transport innovation will be to introduce a system London already has and to improve another system already available in West Yorkshire. And we want to be some sort of powerhouse? With this sort of thinking we'll be lucky to keep up with Manchester let alone close the gap with London.

So, for the benefit of my colleagues on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, here are some of those gimmicks being introduced elsewhere in the world.

Singapore is gearing up to become the world's first "smart nation", with another deal to bring self-drive taxis to the city.

The city authorities signed a deal with start-up nuTonomy to test autonomous vehicles in March.

Now Delphi Automotive will also offer a small fleet of automated taxis to carry passengers around a business park.

The driverless cabs could reduce an average $3-a-mile ride to 90 cents, the firm said.

Initially, the cars will have drivers, ready to take over if the system fails but the plan is to gradually phase the human out in 2019.

And - even more creative:

A drone that can transport humans has been given the go ahead to carry out trials in the US.

The Ehang 184, which was first unveiled at CES 2016, is a small, personal helicopter that can transport a single passenger. Rather than one large rotor above the body, the "taxi drone" has four rotors underneath the body, resembling a remote control drone.

Ehang will start running tests in Las Vegas later this year in the hope that it could eventually be used as part of the state's transport system, according to a local publication.

Buses might not be so dull:

A driverless electric bus is set to be trialled in Perth in a test run for the use of autonomous vehicles on West Australian roads.

The staged trial is being conducted and funded by WA's RAC later this year using a French-made electric shuttle bus.

With no driver, it will use three-dimensional sensing technology to carry 15 passengers at speeds up to 45 kilometres per hour.

And there's autonomous delivery systems:

"Whilst driverless vehicles once sounded like science fiction, it's now within our grasp," said Domino’s Pizza UK marketing director Simon Wallis. "Harnessing this innovation for pizza delivery opens up a new world of opportunities for us."

The vehicles navigate via GPS technology and feature an onboard Pizza Interface (PI) that calculates the fastest route to the customer.

Plus drone delivery of course:

Amazon will step up its drone tests in UK airspace after winning approval from the Government to lift strict flying restrictions in a major boost to its plans for unmanned delivery aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted the internet retailer special permission to test its aerial vehicles without several of the rules that typically bind drone pilots.

The agreement will see Amazon move a step close to Jeff Bezos’s dream of fleets of drones delivering small packages directly to shoppers within 30 minutes.

Or, on a bigger scale, semi-autonomous freight trains:

Six convoys of semi-automated “smart” trucks arrived in Rotterdam’s harbour on Wednesday after an experiment its organisers say will revolutionise future road transport on Europe’s busy highways.

More than a dozen self-driving trucks made by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers arrived in the port in so-called “truck platoons” around midday, said Eric Jonnaert, president of the umbrella body representing DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.

And the landing of drones in drone ports:

Foster + Partners has unveiled the first full-scale prototype of its Droneport concept at the Arsenale, which is designed to transport medical supplies to remote regions in Africa using unmanned flying vehicles (+ slideshow).

The structure is the inaugural project from the Norman Foster Foundation, set up by the British architect to anticipate technological advances in the field, respond to humanitarian needs and encourage a more "holistic" view of architecture.

All this is before we've got to a world where autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles begin to replace the car as the dominant form of personal transport. This requires us to think about ownership, to look at the way in which we licence taxis, road safety and pedestrianisation. Instead we're going to fuss about installing better bus stops and holding interminable meetings to discuss ticketing arrangements between trains and buses. And instead of infrastructure investment paving the way for autonomous vehicles, drones and other innovations, we'll spend it on trying to shift one-in-thirty journeys from the car to some other form of transport.

With the collapse of the tram and trolley bus proposals for Leeds, there's the opportunity to step over our obsession with trains and buses and to plan for the future that emerging technology is taking us to. Sadly, the leaders of West Yorkshire think that's just "gimmicks". Seems to me we need some new ones - leaders that is, not buses and trains.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No amount of smart train-ticketing, fancy bus-shelters or even free travel will replace the 'car' - it's not about the hardware, it's about what it delivers, and that's personal mobility freedom. You are not dependent on anyone else's schedules, plans, availability, reliability, incompetence or strikes: you just get in and go where and when you want. The genie of personal mobility is out of the bottle and, outside Central London, it won't go back in.

By 2036, it may not be the 'car' as we currently know it, but the preferred device certainly won't be a 70-seater+ public utility vehicle, on tyres, tracks or wires, but it will offer the user personal/family transport from chosen point to chosen point at the day and time chosen by the user.

And if 'driverless' offers such a fantastic future, why not do it on trains first ? They operate in a rigidly controlled framework of tracks and stations, thus massively easier to control by software than the unstructured world of roads. Speak to ASLEF for details.

And just imagine how different the congested roads around your own city would have been if only those faether-brained idiots who stopped the proposed Aire Valley motorway (and its links) back in the 1970s had failed in their backward-looking campaign - all that through-traffic taken away from the urban roads, businesses attracted by the feasibility of goods transport, peaceful suburbs not choked with traffic, people and businesses able to plan local journeys with confidence. But on the plus side, at least its cancellation helped Leeds to succeed.