Out-Law News 4 min. read

Future of mobility: infrastructure and tech at heart of UK strategy

The need to prepare the UK's infrastructure and modernise existing law to support new transport technologies has been identified in a new government strategy on how people will move around UK towns and cities in future.

In its 'future of mobility: urban strategy' (78-page / 3.82MB PDF), the government highlighted changes in transport technology, changes in demand for transport and changes in business models, and set out its "approach to maximising the benefits from transport innovation in cities and towns".

Infrastructure expert Anne-Marie Friel of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The publication of this strategy is a really important step in the UK’s journey to deal with the impact of digital transformation on the transport infrastructure network. Operators of transport infrastructure and the supply chains that work across them should be looking at how they are proactively planning for the future of mobility services. The legal and commercial impacts of these changes are likely to be far reaching and there is potential for material disruption to current business models."

"An effective strategy for future success is likely to require very different ways of thinking about data and collaboration than has previously been required. There will undoubtedly be new risks but there will also be new opportunities. The winners will be those organisations who are able to think differently about how to best unlock mobility benefits for customers," she said.

Nine principles have been set out by the government to shape its work under the strategy, including those that focus on promoting safety-by-design, reduced congestion, walking, cycling and other forms of "active travel", as well as openness to innovation, the integration of public and private transport systems and data sharing.

Central to the new strategy is a "flexible regulatory framework", and the government announced that it will carry out a regulatory review focused on four areas – micromobility vehicles, and how to trial them; mobility as a service; transport data; and modernising bus, taxis and private hire vehicles legislation. The new areas of focus complements existing work already being carried out to support, among other things, new innovative 'greener' modes of transport and the use of autonomous vehicles.

On transport data, the government said it will consider whether regulation or other incentives are needed to push private sector transport providers to make "good quality, meaningful data" available for others to use "in a way that is fair to both innovators and transport authorities, and protects individual privacy". New licensing models could be developed to support data sharing, and new standards and formats for collating and sharing transport data, as well as a new data sharing framework for transport companies, could be developed, it said.

"[The review] will consider the extent to which incentive regimes could support healthy competition, empower consumers and support local and national authorities in transport planning," it said.

Natalie Trainor, a specialist in technology contracts at Pinsent Masons, said: "The government is clearly looking to new business models and services being developed to help integrate existing and new modes of transport, and rightly recognises that technology and data will be critical enablers for this. Exploring how regulation, standards and platforms can support this will be vital to make this a reality and guard against some of the risks identified such as market dominance. Data trusts and data sharing and exchange frameworks should certainly be explored as part of this."

"One interesting observation is that the focus seems to be on the sharing of data from 'new' mobility services, and not existing services, providers, or government, local authorities or service procurers. As recognised by the report, some of the best success stories come from opening up data across a wider ecosystem," she said.

The review of bus, taxi and private hire vehicle legislation will look specifically into maximising the potential of "dynamic demand responsive bus services" and at whether new measures would be needed to ensure "passenger transport vehicles" could operate safely and in an accessible way if in self-driving mode in future.

The government further confirmed that work will be carried out to prepare "the urban environment" for the transport technologies of tomorrow.

"We will continue to recognise the two-way relationship between urban space and transport to help ensure that new modes and mobility models lead to improved outcomes," the government said. "This will involve considering how urban infrastructure may need to adapt in the coming decades, from the better management of a potentially contested kerb space to the creation of landing pads to enable new aerial modes. This will build on significant work already under way to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure to support more immediate changes in mobility, including measures to support the development of the electric vehicle chargepoint network."

"[The Department for Transport] will also work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that changes to the planning practice guidance help to meet transport objectives, including through alignment with the principles for shaping the future of urban mobility." it said.

The government said it will also select up to four new 'future mobility zones' in the UK within which new mobility technologies and services will be able to be tested. The scheme will benefit from £90 million of public funding.

The trials "will help to prove the commercial case for investors, identify and respond to any regulatory or other challenges and enable the rollout of successful projects on a larger scale", the government said.

The government's new strategy comes less than six months after industry body techUK published a report that identified the need for a "strategic approach" to realise the future of mobility services. Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, contributed to the paper.

According to paper, there are opportunities for businesses to use cloud computing, 5G, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to change the way transport infrastructure and services are currently used. It called for a more joined up approach between different transport providers, more data sharing, longer term thinking on policy and regulation, and a move to more innovative procurement and contracting models.

The government said it intends to publish a separate strategy for the future of mobility in rural areas.

"We have an extraordinary opportunity here – to put this country at the heart of the next mobility revolution, and deliver a cleaner, greener, more productive and more inclusive country for future generations," said Jesse Norman, minister for transport in England.

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