UK urged to embrace tech revolution in transport

Out-Law News | 22 Oct 2018 | 4:53 pm | 3 min. read

New technology can help businesses deliver innovation in the transport sector, but the change that is needed to address the capacity crunch on the UK's road and rail networks can only be delivered alongside effective legal and regulatory change, according to a new report.

In a new report, industry body techUK said a "strategic approach" is needed to realise the future of mobility services. Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, contributed to the report. 

According to the 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 transport sector is going to see more change in the next five to 10 years than it has witnessed in the past 50 years and the main reason for this is new technology, which will support new modes of transport, new approaches to vehicle ownership and new business models from traditional providers and disruptive newcomers alike," said Ben Gardner, an expert in the digitisation of the transport sector at Pinsent Masons.

"The law is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in technology as legislation, often decades old, was never drafted with automated and electric vehicles, or other technology-enabled vehicle features, in mind. The uncertainties mean that, for businesses, it is not always clear whether their new service offerings and vehicle functionalities are legally permissible on the UK transport network," he said.

Gardner said, though, that many of these issues are well recognised by the UK government.

"This year, the Automated and Electric Vehicle Act came into force to underpin the shift towards having driverless and electric vehicles on UK roads," Gardner said. "In addition, the Law Commission is leading an in-depth review into the legislation needed to support a future of driverless cars on public roads, while the government has also established a special unit – the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) – to recommend a rolling programme of reforms to support the development, testing and commercialisation of driverless cars in the UK. Like other countries grappling with similar issues, there is a careful balancing act between enabling innovation, protecting public safety and preserving the ongoing functioning of the UK's transport network," Gardner said.

According to the techUK report, there is a commercial imperative to improving the way people and goods are moved around. Julian David, chief executive of techUK, said UK businesses could "miss out on capturing a share of the global market which is already worth over £34 billion for shared mobility alone" if steps are not taken now to prepare for future mobility services.

"We now need to ensure that our policy and regulatory environment supports and encourages implementation of these enablers," he said.

Among the changes that could be made, according to the report, is for the UK to follow the lead of Finland in promoting 'mobility-as-a-service' as an alternative to people using their own cars in cities.

"Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is a business model born in Finland for a holistic urban transportation system that handles every aspect of the user journey⁶ from travel planning and information, payments and the journey itself," the report said. "It brings public and private service providers together to deliver a multimodal network that covers origin to destination. The core aim of MaaS is to deliver a service that can provide a reasonable alternative to personal vehicle use within a city."

For more rural areas, 'demand responsive transport' (DRT) solutions could offer people services as and when they need them, the report said.

The report also said procurement approaches and contract models should be "revisited" to encourage greater sharing of data, but warned organisations involved in the delivery of mobility services must be cognisant of retaining the public's trust on data privacy and security. It further identified the need for more resilient communications networks, and for a more joined-up transport system, which it said is currently hindered by existing "commercial structures".

"Actors within the sector are strongly encouraged to compete against one another for service provision, with ticketing and timetabling being two customer facing casualties," the report said. "Inflexibility around ticketing is a contentious point for various modes, and significantly impacts the customer experience and impedes entry to market for disruptors."

"For example, rail fare flexibility is significantly hindered because it is set by central government. As a result, it is not possible for providers or ticket resellers to implement a more flexible and dynamic fare pricing system. Further to this, the reselling capacity on the rail network is poor. The various regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles mean that becoming a certified ticket reseller is a costly, time-consuming exercise. The legacy focus on “the ticket” rather than enabling an end-to-end journey covered by a single payment is stifling progress. The government needs to seek opportunities to introduce radically different pricing structures that will facilitate a multimodal network and the provision of end-to-end journeys," it said.

Natalie Trainor of Pinsent Masons, who chairs the SmarterUK Transport Steering Board at techUK which was behind the report, said: "By identifying expectations, enablers and barriers, and bringing together traditional and non-traditional actors in the mobility services sector, we can start to address the key challenges and unlock the potential opportunities. Industry clearly has a critical role here, but we also need key decision-makers and policy-makers to also  push this agenda forward."