How is our relationship with transport systems changing?
By Tim Allen and Dan Griffiths
We are living in times of immense change. As technological advancement and the way we react to it begins to reshape our society we must examine and adapt to changes as they arrive. As a development and infrastructure consultancy with a strong transport offering, PBA, now part of Stantec, is particularly interested in how our relationship with transport systems is changing around us.
We’re keenly interested in how others perceive and approach this change and explored the topic “Re-imagining Movement” at one of our quarterly breakfast seminars in Birmingham. We presented some context, and some of our own interpretation to a room full of invited clients, local authorities and other stakeholders with a shared interest in the built environment. Afterwards, there was a lively debate to allow attendees to share their thoughts on our changing relationship with transport systems.
We started by suggesting that the market is hard-wired to innovate and respond to the demand it can see and touch and so the demand for transport is increasingly going to be about ‘Mobility as a Service (MaaS)’. Society wants reliability, inter-connectedness, seamless ease, more time and that may mean travel where the mode is no longer the determinant.
Providing information about the best way to move between two places at any given moment is likely to increasingly dictate how people travel. Users will come to expect interactive real-time management, and manufacturers will become vehicle operators. The whole network will be much more about a long-term relationship and less about generating occasional high-value sales.
This will mean that our traditional models for assessing impacts of movement must change. Forecasting by reference to choice of mode first and foremost won’t work in the future, because a free choice of mode may be less important than reliability or time re-allocation.
So how will we assess demand in this new world? How should we do it? Indeed, will we need to do it?
At the breakfast seminar, we gave some thought to these issues and attempted to provide some clarity about how we think transport evidence bases could be developed in the future to allow a proper understanding of the implications of growth. The key conclusion that we reached was that the transport assessment may start to shift away from considering vehicles to considering more individual people movements and demands, and, also, to an approach that was about managing the whole of the network to maximise the efficiency of movement.
We wondered whether, particularly in large cities and conurbations, there will be an acceptance that adding highway capacity rarely resolves queues and delays, and we may be better to consider how to get people to select more efficient modes for the journeys they need to make. Hence, this may become more about human behaviour and how to influence and incentivise it than more traditional methods of mitigation around adding capacity or services.
This could be a radical shift in both approach and assessment over time. Transport planning may become much more about the use of technology to maximise the efficiency of the network, the deployment of data and apps to allow people to make informed, real-time choices and the anthropological and societal understanding to model and manage the way that people will respond to them.
The skills that are needed may be quite different, as might the way that people are able to access transport. If sustainable growth is to continue in our most densely populated areas then people may have to accept that they will have less choice, or maybe no choice over which modes they can use.