Future of Urban Mobility Strategy sets out goal for flexible regulatory framework that can boost innovation in last mile deliveries, e-mobility, and integrated transport
The government will today announce plans for "the biggest review in a generation" of UK transport laws, as it unveils sweeping proposals to build a greener urban mobility system in preparation for an expected surge in electric, shared, autonomous, and digitally-connected transport technologies in the coming years.
Publishing its Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy today, the Department for Transport (DfT) said the major review would look at removing regulatory barriers to new low emission technologies in order to help make everyday city journeys and last mile deliveries more efficient and less polluting.
The wide-ranging review will look at regulations covering new types of vehicles - including electric scooters and e-cargo bike trailers - as well as the sharing of travel data with private firms to help boost innovation in journey planning and traffic management, DfT said.
It said the review would additionally consider modernising laws on buses, taxis, and private hire vehicles that are "providing a barrier to innovation", as well as exploring how to support 'mobility as a service' by more closely integrating different transport modes for passengers in cities.
It comes on top of previously-announced DfT reviews of regulations for zero emission vehicles, self-driving cars, drones, and autonomous shipping, all of which also form part of today's new Strategy.
Moreover, the government said it was launching a £90m funding competition to create up to four 'Future Mobility Zones' around the UK to test new technologies, such as those enabling smoother payment systems, up-to-date travel information, and use of innovative transport modes.
A package of measures to support the uptake of e-cargo bikes and electric vans is also expected today, following DfT's call for evidence on last mile deliveries last year, while a complimentary Strategy exploring the future of rural transport is set to be published later in 2019.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman said Britain was "on the verge of a transport revolution", and that careful planning was needed to prepare the UK for the rapid, unprecedented deployment of e-mobility technologies.
He warned that if rapidly developing transport technologies were not effectively supported and managed, they could have undesirable effects, potentially even increasing congestion and air pollution impacts. Experts have also warned that a poorly managed roll out of EVs and related infrastructure could exacerbate social inequality and leave poorer neighbourhoods facing high levels of air pollution for longer.
However, Norman also argued how an effective roll out of clean transport technologies and mobility services could yet deliver significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.
"We are at a potentially pivotal moment for the future of transport, with revolutionary technologies creating huge opportunities for cleaner, cheaper, safer and more reliable journeys," he said. "Through this strategy the government aims to take advantage of these innovations; connecting more people and bringing big benefits we hope for both the economy and the environment."
The Strategy has been built around nine key principles the government said would guide its future urban transport decision making, such as ensuring walking, cycling, and active travel remain the best options for short urban journeys, and that mobility services "must lead the transition to zero emissions".
Other principles include ensuring mass transit remains "fundamental" to the transport system, and that innovation must help to reduce congestion through more efficient use of limited road space "for example through sharing rides, increasing occupancy or consolidating freight".
Proponents argue advanced electric automated vehicles could help support shared car services, cut private car ownership, and free-up parking space, as ride-hailing and car club services could become cheaper and more convenient than buying and operating a car.
The government also recently promised to bring in clearer guidance for trialling autonomous vehicles, ahead of its aim to test the first self-driving cars on UK roads by as soon as 2021.
However, today's Strategy warns that unless there is a wider cultural shift away from private car ownership towards ride sharing and other mobility services, the additional influx of automated vehicles on the road could in fact lead to a surge in traffic, which under some projected scenarios could grow by 71 per cent by 2050. If properly managed, however, it estimates ride sharing and automated vehicles could stem traffic increases to just five per cent by 2050.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of auto sector trade body SMMT, said it was working closely with the government on today's Strategy, which he said provided "important guidance" to industry on the objectives and principles underpinning the future of mobility in towns and cities, as well as giving scope to invest and innovate.
"The automotive industry is responding to perhaps the most significant change since the invention of the car," he said. "Mobility as we know it is evolving, improving people's day-to-day lives with implications for all of society. We look forward to working closely with government and local authorities to shape the Strategy's implementation, helping to position the UK as a global leader in future mobility."
In the short term, however, the industry faces major challenges. The transport sector is now the UK's single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases having failed to make progress on emissions reduction in recent years, despite the UK's overall emissions falling. The car industry in particular has come under increasing pressure to decarbonise, with road transport alone accounting for 91 per cent of UK transport sector emissions, although this does not include aviation.
Meanwhile, UK demand for transport is also growing, albeit at a slower rate of growth than urban populations, with individuals now taking fewer journey's per person than in the recent past, according to the government.
The Strategy therefore provides a boost to long-standing hopes a rapid shift towards EVs, public transport, active travel and shared mobility in cities can help slash emissions, air pollution and congestion.
However, a lot rests on the specific reforms, funding programmes, and R&D progress that results from the strategy. Auto manufacturers are investing billions of dollars in EVs and mobility services, but significant barriers remain in the form of insufficient and disjointed charging infrastructure, regulatory challenges, and uncertainty over the future balance of incentives and taxes for EVs and conventional cars.
Campaigners and green businesses have repeatedly urged the government to set an earlier phase-out date for fossil fuel cars to help cut pollution and CO2 emissions, arguing its aim for all new cars to be "effectively zero emission" by 2040 - as set out in last year's Road to Zero Strategy - is not ambitious enough. Calls have also come for a greater focus on ensuring wider andmore seamless access to public charging infrastructure to encourage greater uptake of EVs. Meanwhile, fleet managers have consistently called for clearer tax incentives for them to switch to EVs.
Nevertheless today's Strategy reasserts the government's existing ambitions, standing by the 2040 phase out target date, while pointing to an interim goal for at least 50 per cent, and as many as 70 per cent, of new car sales to be ultra low emission by 2030. It said it wanted to see new cars and vans "delivering as many zero emission miles as possible as fast as possible", and highlighted its £400m Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, which it intends to launch this year.
DfT insisted its plans would "improve the air we breathe, help ensure we meet our future carbon budgets and build a new market for zero emission vehicle technologies in the UK".
Aside from the regulatory reviews, there is little in the way of new concrete measures in today's Strategy, with most of the government's green transport policies having already been outlined in last year's Road to Zero plan, over which Committee on Climate Change has already raised its concerns.
But urban transport is undoubtedly on the cusp of profound, disruptive transformation, and by setting out broad principles for future development - with decarbonisation at its heart - the government is laying down a welcome marker to ensure industry stays ahead of the major transition risks ahead, and invests accordingly.
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