In September 2017, we witnessed disruption of the disrupter as Uber was advised its private hire licence to operate in London would not be renewed, impacting on the 3.5 million Londoners who have come to rely on the ride-hailing app as well as its 40,000 drivers.
Taxi firm Uber’s set-back may well prove to be temporary – given how events have played out in other cities imposing a ban where concessions were speedily agreed.
But it shows the importance of innovators complying with regulation to remain successful. Even small changes to the landscape that new tech companies are trying to operate in can act to repurpose the technology itself. Perhaps Uber will need to find new kinds of offerings and markets to navigate this.
Above all, this development demonstrates the importance of brokering good relationships and shared values between transport providers and regulators if new projects are going to be sustainable. Passenger safety, driver’s pay and corporate reputation will trump most other issues.
The scale of opportunities around intelligent mobility is immense and city leaders are highly motivated to show they are open to new technology. Uber’s passionate army of London-based advocates have sprung up after only five years of operation.
Collaboration goes both ways. Government may need to work more closely with new players and their disruptive business models and reconsider existing rules while still retaining an oversight and custodian role. A new Department for Transport working group is to review existing regulations on passenger safety and drivers’ working conditions and make recommendations for future policy.
Bold new commercial models including ‘use don’t own’ trends, the role of private equity and the agility of car manufacturers to shift strategic direction are all key drivers. It’s about harnessing tech rather than the tech itself.
A diverse range of industry sectors – from big data and robotics to infrastructure and public sector procurement – are ripe for convergence in what is potentially the biggest mobility revolution since the world went from horse-and-cart to car.
Nathan Marsh, UK and Northern Europe Director, Intelligent Mobility, Atkins, leads team members drawn from technology, data management, transportation and even cyborg ethnography.
“When assessing the market, one of the biggest considerations,” says Marsh, “is that passengers want an end-to-end journey tailored specifically to their needs and this goes beyond car travel.
“Let’s say I book my ticket with a train company. Currently, that provider guarantees the part of my journey they sell directly but what about the first and last mile of my trip? There’s capacity for a third party to underwrite the risk of one or other of those journeys not happening.”
The industry term for this new commercial model is Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Atkins pioneered a two week trial of MaaS in Cambridge called Zume. Commuters began their journeys using on-demand car sharing and completed them via public transport and walking to their workplaces.
The trial revealed a growing willingness among people to change how they travel to work but suggested modal shift will only happen when appealing public transport alternatives are available.
Environmental factors are not always predictable. For example, data-driven taxis may have driven down personal car ownership but driven up how often cars are physically out on the road. Some studies suggest long term environmental impact will vary by country.
Meanwhile, there’s monumental change afoot at the big car-makers advocating the benefits of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and directing funding that way too. Tata’s British subsidiary, Jaguar Land Rover has announced it is seeking a 5,000-strong workforce to help enable its CAV delivery.
While infrastructure isn’t currently evolving at the same pace, imaginative funding models can help change this. Progress has been made with different sectors working together, even if a vast array of procurement systems and data standards still exist.
Trust is a key element to getting CAVs on the road. Customers need to know their details will be safe and be persuaded their travel experience is genuinely improved. Users need to be involved in trials to influence the solutions.
Atkins iM is to be project lead for the government-sponsored Flourish consortium – this three year trial investigates how CAVs can meet specific mobility needs, improving quality of life through enabling older adults to be active contributors to the economy and society. The project is a great example of how diverse organisations are working together to build understanding.
Nathan concludes: “Intelligent mobility has the potential to transform the way we plan, undertake, pay for and use the UK’s transport network and built environment, improving safety, pollution and congestion.
“We’re creating a brand-new sector that offers jobs, STEM skills and even poses solutions to emerging social issues like large scale loneliness of the ageing population and marginalized users.
“We need to encourage the innovators and disruptors. Developments with Uber present an opportunity to reflect on how we create an ecosystem that embraces new technology and offers more choice to users but can still integrate these disruptive models into existing mobility networks, regulatory frameworks and working relationships.
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