The potential for technology to truly transform the way we move in and around our towns and cities is absolutely huge and the customer is now truly at the heart of everything. The uptake and constant developments in smartphone apps and technologies are just part of the story.
In-car apps and software to make life easier for the driver are already the norm and as we look to improve air quality in our towns and cities, electric vehicles will become more and more commonplace.
The development of autonomous vehicles has also received significant encouragement from national governments. Indeed, many experts are now saying that within the next decade a car will be able to drive itself fully from door to door without a driver needing to touch the wheel. That’s not a distant pipe-dream – it’s very near to being a reality.
In all of this, the focus is squarely on customer experience and community benefits – less pollution, more sustainable, more convenient, easier, safer and faster.
Such progress is being driven by society and made possible by new generation and emerging technologies. And, significantly, the enthusiasm for smarter more connected urban environments that support and improve the quality of life has the support of politicians and public authorities right across the globe. So the clamour for transformation is coming from all directions.
There are five factors that I believe will have the greatest influence (positive and negative) on this relentless pursuit for better community outcomes and better lives for individuals in our increasingly congested towns and cities.
There are over 30 million cars in Britain today spending, on average, 95% of their time parked. That takes up a lot of space - a very valuable commodity that we have to pay a premium to use in all urban environments.
The way we live, work, relax and interrelate with each other has changed beyond all recognition over the past few decades. As our access to information and ability to do things quicker and more efficiently than ever before, so the expectations and lifestyle demands of an increasingly experience-led and connected society continue to rise.
Today, we are awash with data and with every new piece of technology there comes more data. Today, the sheer quantity and depth of data – ‘intelligence’ if you like - is hard to comprehend. However, its value is unquestionable – not least when it is used for improving community outcomes.
Our towns and cities are big places and they continue to get bigger. As their structural waistlines expand, their agility and responsiveness diminish and their energy consumption and waste output increase exponentially. So the issues of sustainability, behavioural change and community wellbeing inevitably come to the fore.
And finally, but by no means least, there’s Legacy.
As well as the physical fabric of the built environment and the processes that keep a city’s heart beating, we shouldn’t overlook other legacy factors such as responsibilities, ethical values and the legislative landscape. Without the right conditions, positive change and progression will be stifled.
All of these factors will determine how and when new technologies will deliver the improved social outcomes and better, fairer and easier ways of living that people understandably expect.
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) provide a glimpse into the future. However, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is an emerging and exciting proposition that goes one step further by sharing data openly between service providers.
This enables a journey to be planned and paid for at the touch of a button and with amendments made to the journey in real time. This shows that we’re moving towards a much more holistic, collaborative and integrated approach to urban mobility - where data sharing is a prerequisite for improving the experience of individuals.
Of course, with so many disparate organisations and operations involved – from central Government and multi-national developers and investors, to local government and other public service providers as well as private contractors and product manufacturers – collaboration and true integration are not easy targets.
When it comes to making the most of emerging technologies, however, the real fly in the ointment is ‘legacy’. Just because technology promises to deliver better experiences for the consumer or improved social outcomes doesn’t automatically mean we will be able to deploy the technology to achieve such improvements.
If there are limitations or barriers that prevent the technology being used in the first place, then such improvements will remain as elusive as ever.
In every scenario, we’re not starting with a clean slate. The physical limitations posed by medieval streets and buildings in so many city centres are all too visible. But there’s also the scale and financial complexity of the existing transport infrastructure and public services to consider, not to mention the multitude of service providers that help to keep our towns and cities alive in an increasingly digital world.
But perhaps the biggest legacy barrier is not a physical or monetary one. It’s a recurring, stubborn and insurmountable paper one. Unless written legislation keeps up with the increasing pace of progress, consumer expectations and the demands for effective data security, even the most beneficial advances will never leave the virtual drawing board. A truly smart environment that harnesses the real value of data sharing, collaboration and connectivity will only be possible if legislation keeps pace with technological advances.
The fact that most authorities are using traffic management legislation that was developed well over a decade ago illustrates the scale of the current shortfall – that was a time before apps, before artificial intelligence and before many technologies we now take for granted.
It is just a matter of time. But, as a result of the ever-increasing expectations of consumers, the imagination of technologists and the determination of urban authorities to address so many pinch points within the transport infrastructure, ‘the will’ exists. And, as we all know, where there’s a will, there will always be a way!
Ashley Bijster is managing director of Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions
Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions is supporting Transport Network's new conference: Delivering Successful Local Communities. To find out more and to book please go to: https://communities.tn-events.co.uk/