Series of reports and policy documents published by the Department for Transport this week seek to advance ‘future of transport’ programme and spur new wave of low carbon transport innovation
From e-bikes to drone deliveries and digital mapping, the government has this week launched a fresh effort to explore how it can leverage technological innovations to make transport systems in the UK’s villages, towns, and rural regions more efficient, inclusive, and climate friendly.
Stakeholders have until 16 February to tell the Department for Transport (DfT) how advances in electrification, connectivity, automation, and data collection could make countryside transport systems less heavily dependent on private cars and capable of delivering the emissions reductions crucial to reaching the UK’s net zero target.
“This call for evidence will give us a unique opportunity to harness the community spirit of rural areas to understand how innovation in transport can benefit the people and communities that need it most,” said transport minister Rachel Maclean. “Now more than ever, it is important that we use the power of transport to build back greener, and transform how people and goods move around the UK”
The consultation will explore how the increased popularity of e-bikes, alongside digital-mapping technology and apps, could encourage active travel in rural communities, the government said. It will also look into whether deliveries by drone are viable in rural or isolated places, and how micromobility solutions, such as e-cargo bikes, could be integrated into rural transport networks. The latter solutions provide low-carbon alternatives to transport by car that could cut down on delivery times and air pollution, it explained.
Interested parties have been asked to provide their views on the feasibility of fully automated and passenger services operating in rural areas and the potential for small electric aircraft passenger and cargo services, the DfT said.
Paul Tuohy, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, welcomed the government’s new line of inquiry, stressing that a “national package of measures” was required to improve rural public transport systems. “This must include a national bus strategy to improve services, a rural mobility strategy to ensure rural areas take advantage of technological developments in transport operation and planning, a rural transport fund and a capacity building programme for local authorities, allowing them to take control of their local transport networks,” he said.
The DfT’s rural transport consultation comes as ministers published the findings of a major review that explored how transport regulation could be updated and enhanced to drive innovation in the sector and meet the shifting needs of both transport users and innovators.
The findings, collected between March and July of this year, reveal widespread support for the recent legalisation of micromobility vehicles, in particular e-scooters, with respondents highlighting the vehicles’ environmental benefits and their potential to prevent people from using cars for short journeys.
The government, which kicked off year-long trials of rental e-scooters this summer, confirmed it would “continue to engage with stakeholders on regulatory proposals” for the zero emission vehicles.
The regulatory review highlights mixed views on the role of local leadership in transport regulation. While local authorities were, unsurprisingly, in favour of further devolution, transport operators were concerned about whether this approach would result in inconsistencies in different regions across the UK and questioned whether local authorities had the capability to manage new transport technologies and services.
Overall, participants agreed on the need to share best practices and knowledge between local authorities, and the government said it would explore “scope for alignment” in its upcoming Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper.
Respondents also largely concurred that a lack of flexibility in current regulations – for instance rules that ban “novel vehicles” outright – erected barriers to trials for new modes of green transport. In response, the government has committed to use findings and learnings from recent trials of new vehicles and services to explore how regulatory barriers can be eased.
Participants largely agreed that central government should play a leadership role in the development of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms, and take steps to improve the quality, accessibility and discoverability of transport data.
The overwhelming majority of respondents thought a dedicated code of practice would be useful in providing clarity on the roles and responsibilities of various actors in the MaaS ecosystem, in addition to allowing a consistency across different local solutions.
Also included in the DfT bumper document release yesterday was an update on the nation’s attitudes towards transport and technology.
Published in February 2020 but posted to the government’s website this week, the report compiled by Kantar reveals the public’s perception of electric vehicles (EVs) remained largely unchanged in the period between June 2019 and December 2019, with around 82 per cent of people stating that EVs had advantages, but four in 10 people citing battery life and recharging concerns as key disadvantages to the zero emission technology. Three out of 10 respondents, meanwhile, were concerned about the scarcity of charging infrastructure.
While the survey of 3,500 people revealed growing consumer appetite for EVs and hybrids, it confirms that petrol remains the UK public’s preferred fuel choice. Ten per cent of respondents said their next vehicle purchase would be an EV or hybrid vehicle, a dramatic rise from the five per cent recorded two years ago. But the lion’s share of respondents said they would purchase a petrol car or van, at 44 per cent, eclipsing the 29 per cent who said they would buy a hybrid or EV.
Suspension of in-person fieldwork during the pandemic meant that the most recent sixth month update in the DfT’s transport attitudes series – originally planned for June 2020 – was cancelled.