We are changing from an economy where we own things – like cars or bicycles – to a shared economy.
What are the challenges for cities when it comes to creating a connected traffic environment?
We have big challenges around legislation. For example, cities are interested in intermodal fleets, say of cars and e-scooters. But they also don’t want anarchy. A city does not want 10 competing e-scooter sharing companies. They want these companies to follow certain rules, so that the public space is used in a meaningful manner.
A lot of cities around the world simply don’t have suitable laws in place; for example, they don’t have a way of prohibiting e-scooter users from obstructing pedestrian areas. And it’s a slow process to get that legal framework in place.
What do cities have to gain from new mobility initiatives?
Whereas once cities saw their primary responsibility as simply putting the basic infrastructure in place, that’s no longer acceptable. Now that urban populations – and, as a consequence, congestion – are increasing, cities see the need to redefine their role to include more proactive management of their road networks.
However, this is something that cities handle very differently. London wants to be the first city to manage its road network as if it were a factory. Hamburg really wants to test self-driving minibuses, and include bike lanes in the network, steering everything from an overarching platform owned by the city. All the mobility companies who want to do business in Hamburg have to be connected to that platform, and the platform would make sure that they played according to the city’s rules.
The companies receive certain advantages from being on the platform, such as advance information about forthcoming maintenance work, so they can prepare their customers, organize alternate routes, and so on. It’s a win-win situation.
Other cities tell us that they just don’t want to get involved in all this. They say they do not have a mandate to run such a platform. Then we ask them, “Whose job is it?” And the response is, “We don’t know, but not ours.”
What are the overall trends driving road mobility?
I see four plus one trends. One is that we are changing from an economy, or a society, that owns things – like cars or bicycles – to a shared economy. This is impacting road traffic. Then, we have the question of how vehicles should be powered.
The third trend is connecting infrastructure and vehicles to improve traffic flow. How do we create a feedback loop? As a driver, you react to a traffic signal but there is no communication between the traffic signal and the car. But what if, at 1am, your car could let a traffic signal know it was approaching, and the signal could ensure it was green? This kind of interaction is technically possible today. And the fourth trend is about autonomous vehicles. Soon, your car will drive on its own.
I said four plus one because I think there’s one more that’s becoming increasingly important: the environment and the climate crisis. How will extreme weather conditions impact cities and traffic? You have unusual snowfall in the middle of June. No one is prepared for this and the traffic just goes crazy. The traffic management system also needs to find a way to deal with the unexpected.
What’s the timeline for these trends? What needs to be in place to make them happen?
As regards the first three trends, I think we’re going to see a huge movement in the next three to five years. We’re going to share, we’re going to drive electric vehicles, and everything is going to be connected. There are already commercial projects on the market and we also bid for them; they are beyond the status of proof of concept projects. The protocols are there, the standards are available.
So, it’s a question of whether a community, a city wants to invest in the necessary infrastructure. In addition, the car manufacturers need to start implementing the communication technology in their vehicles. It will take some time before the new vehicles get out in the market and the fleet reaches a critical mass.
Autonomous vehicles will take a little longer, maybe five to 10 years…maybe even longer. No one really knows.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Yunex Traffic.