UK government takes its first steps towards the Future of Mobility

Written on 16 Aug 2018

On Monday 30 July, the UK government published two papers, The Future of Mobility and The Last Mile, as it takes on its Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, aiming to make the UK a world leader in shaping the future of mobility.

What is The Future of Mobility Grand Challenge?

The Future of Mobility Grand Challenge is one of the four “Grand Challenges” set by the government in last year’s Industrial Strategy as being the key global trends in which the UK should aim to become world-leaders, alongside ‘artificial intelligence and data’, ‘ageing society’ and ‘clean growth’. The Grand Challenges aim to ensure that the UK maximises the opportunities presented by these trends and delivers meaningful improvements to everyday life and the UK’s productivity.

The Future of Mobility Grand Challenge focuses on promoting innovation across engineering, technology and business models to deliver key developments across the transport network, resulting in reductions in both congestion and carbon emissions. Central to this challenge is the government’s aim for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040. In support of this, the government has already committed to:

  • £1 billion of funding over 10 years for the development of low carbon powertrains;
  • £246 million of funding for the development of safe, cost-effective and high-performance electric vehicle batteries; and
  • investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen vehicle refuelling stations, including the new £400m “Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund” for which the government is seeking a fund manager this summer.

The Future of Mobility

The government’s Future of Mobility call for evidence seeks views in relation to two key issues:

  • improvements in urban mobility; and
  • the wider Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, including policy-making, the regulatory framework and data sharing.

A key issue is how to improve transport networks in increasingly crowded urban areas. The number of people living in urban environments is projected to increase by 18% over the next 20 years, yet certain factors, including difficulties in changing current urban layouts, could lead to significant transport issues if left unaddressed.

The Future of Mobility paper outlines seven trends that have the potential to transform how people and goods are transported across cities: cleaner transport (including factors such as electric motors and falling battery prices), automation, data and connectivity, new modes (such as use of drones and vertical take-off vehicles), shared mobility, changing consumer attitudes, and new business models (such as Mobility as a Service). The government is seeking views from key stakeholders as to how these, and other technologies and trends, can be utilised to affect urban mobility – and what changes to infrastructure are required in order to deliver tangible benefits.

Beyond the urban environment, the government has identified that the regulatory framework behind the UK’s transport networks needs to be fit for the 21st century. The government’s approach is to adopt ‘mission-orientated’ policy-making, with its first mission to put the UK at the forefront of design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles. In order to support the focus on harnessing the opportunities of emerging technologies, the government is also reviewing all primary and secondary legislation to limit the extent of any regulatory barriers to innovation. This has included a detailed review by the Law Commission focusing on automated vehicles, as well as the government’s recent work to pass the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act and bring forward new legislation to support the use of drones.

The Last Mile

As the name suggests, the Last Mile call for evidence focuses on the introduction of more sustainable modes of transport to help support the delivery of goods during the final mile of the supply chain, particularly in dense, urban environments. The government, via the consultation, aims to address the contribution to congestion, poor air quality and other environmental problems caused by the sharp rise in home deliveries driven by the boom in internet shopping.

The government has identified the use of e-cargo bikes, micro vehicles and e-vans as providing a genuine opportunity to tackle rising congestion, poor air quality and other environmental problems. The government is seeking views on the scale of this opportunity and other emerging transport technologies. In particular, it is seeking views on the current barriers to sustainable last mile delivery, appropriate incentives to encourage a wholesale shift to clean options and measures to improve logistical efficiency.

The Last Mile paper outlines various solutions under consideration by the government and marks an initial step towards complete zero emissions, with electric vehicles and other technologies at the forefront of the government’s strategy.

Next steps

Both calls for evidence remain open until 10 September 2018, and a summary of the responses received will be made available within three months of the call for evidence closing. The government intends for the Future of Mobility consultation to inform its wider work on the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, in particular, aiding in the development of The Future of Urban Mobility Strategy which is due to be published before the end of the year. Meanwhile, responses to The Last Mile should help to identify new possibilities and limitations to solutions, and will provide a platform for policy, resource and technological innovation.

The Osborne Clarke view

Osborne Clarke’s Amy Stray comments “Whilst the rollout of cleaner transport, such as electric vehicles (EVs), is a key component of both papers, the government has recognised that mobility is no longer just about transport. New technologies, services and consumer behaviours – including arising from the sharing economy, digital business and big data – are playing a significant role in how and why we use the transport network, as well as the wider development of the urban landscape.”

Core to the future of mobility – and the Grand Challenges in general – is that technologies (including connected, autonomous and electric vehicles) and new business models (including Mobility as a Service (MaaS)) are relevant, widely accessible and sustainable. The government has reiterated that any transition should meet the needs of an ageing society, capitalise on UK strengths in artificial intelligence and data, and support clean growth. The government has also recognised that the solution cannot be provided by a top-down approach. Expertise and investment from innovative technology and service businesses and cross-sector partnerships are needed in addition to public investment to maximise opportunities presented by the transformations in mobility.

Policy and regulatory review is also required to support innovation. The government considers that clear and specific goals, backed by a range of policy measures are needed to drive “innovation, business investment and positive social and environmental outcomes.” Reviews of primary and secondary legislation, and input from industry on which laws / regulations do not address needs, are intended to identify regulatory barriers to harnessing benefits and mitigating risks associated with new transport technologies and services.

This approach is already in practice in the energy sector. Ofgem’s Innovation Link – a ‘regulatory sandbox’ – supports new products, services and business models in the energy sector that cannot currently operate under the existing regulatory regime. This includes projects testing the application of digital technology (such as blockchain) to peer-to-peer trading solutions and community scale microgeneration and flexibility services to the retail space. And Elexon – whose systems ensure the smooth operation of the wholesale electricity market – has proposed amendments to the Balancing and Settlement Code (BSC) central services that would facilitate multiple suppliers to feed a single supply point. This would enable customers – including EV users – to buy (and sell) power from multiple suppliers, meaning that EV charging point supplier selection could soon be driven by real-time price comparison tools and other subscription-based models.

The government recognises that innovation in engineering, technology and business models presents opportunities to “improve people’s lives, increase the country’s productivity and put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future.” The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ remain the biggest questions to be answered.

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