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Towards a new Future of Mobility – understanding key trends

06 August 2018

Last month, the Governement launched the first stages of its Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, declaring that the UK is on the cusp of 'a profound change in how we move people, goods and services around our towns, cities and countryside...driven by extraordinary innovation in engineering, technology and business models'. These changes will be a key focus for Smarter Travel LIVE! In 2018

The Government's Industrial Strategy, launched in June 2018, set out a series of Grand Challenges to ensure that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, with the first four Challenges focused on the global trends transforming our future:

  • Artificial Intelligence and data
  • ageing society
  • clean growth
  • future of mobility

The first stages of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge involve calls for evidence on Last Mile solutions and the Future of Mobility, responses to which which will inform the Future of Urban Mobility Strategy, to be published by the end of 2018. 

Following the Future of Mobility launch, the Government also published its 'Road to Zero' zero emission road transport strategy (see below), which sets out in more detail the government approach to the transition to zero emission road transport.

The Future of Mobility Challenge report refers to 'radical changes' in the transport sector, and notes that 'these will not occur in a vacuum'. More gradual underlying trends can help inform an understanding of what the future of mobility might look like, it says, adding that 'previous trends may not predict future behaviour'. Identified key trends include: ?

  • On average, people are travelling and driving less
  • There has been an increase in travel by train and the London Underground, but mode share of trips has not changed very much in the last 20 years
  • Commuting journeys have decreased due to flexible working, part-time and self-employment and more workers working from home or at multiple sites
  • Van traffic has risen rapidly over the last 20 years, making up around 15% of total road traffic in 2016 compared to 9% in 1986
  • Trends in travel choices show important differences by age. While people aged 70+ have been driving more than previous generations, young people are less likely to learn to drive, and, if they do get their licences, are likely to drive less
  • From 1992-4 to 2014, the proportion of 17-20 year olds with driving licences fell from 48% to 29%.8 
  • Looking to the future, a growing, ageing population is likely to increase transport demand and influence the design of mobility solutions. The number of people living in predominantly urban areas of England is projected to increase by 18% between 2014 and 2039, with the highest growth rate expected in the 70+ cohort

The report reminds us that it's important to note what is unlikely to change. For example: 

  • The existing layouts of many of our cities will not change fundamentally
  • Land use planning will remain crucial to determining travel demand
  • The vast majority of urban trips will continue to be short 
  • The size, occupancy and propulsion system of vehicles using limited road space will continue to be major determinants of congestion levels and wider wellbeing

Understanding travel demand is cemtral to positive planning for fiuture mobility, and will be a key issue at Smarter Travel LIVE! The above trends outlined in the Future of Mobility report ecently align broadly with recently published research outlined in All Change, a report from the Commisison on Travel Demand, and Young People's Travel behaviour: What's changed and why, from The Centre for Transport & Society, UWE Bristol & Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.

However this month's DfT National Travel Survey statistics for 2017, and Road Traffic Estimates, Great Britain 2017, reveal a complex picture. The National Travel Survey key fact is that: 'following a trend of steady decreases in trip rates and miles travelled since the late-1990s, there was an increase in the average number of trips and the average miles travelled per person in the two years from 2015 to 2017'. Road Traffic Estimates, Great Britain 2017, states that '327.1 billion miles were driven on Great Britain’s roads in 2017, a 1.3% increase from the previous year'.

As Glenn Lyons, Mott MacDonaold Professor of Future Mobility and a keynote speaker on this theme for Smarter Travel LIVE! noted in LTT 752: 'The variability of change across different modes, road types and locations points to multiple dynamics and to the risks inherent in any attempt to generalise. There is an understandably strong wish to know why, over time, changes are taking place...but making sense of cause and effect is far from straightforward.'

For instance, the last three years have seen a resumption of traffic growth but this is also a period that saw 'a marked fall in fuel retail prices'. Population growth is an important explanatory factor for road traffic, notes Lyons. A complex picture indeed, and one that looks set to inform a key discussion session at Smarter Travel LIVE!.

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