David Brown says online and digital companies have been changing citizens’ expectations of transport systems. Connected citizens and the flexible workforce are calling for more personalization and sustainability.
Increasingly, it is going to be about the first and the last mile of passengers’ journeys…
What is driving change in today’s transport system?
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends we have seen over the past few years. In very simple terms, Amazon, Netflix, Deliveroo, Uber are the big consumer trends impacting mobility. They are changing people's desires and needs to travel. People now expect different things from transport, and this is important for both rail and road at this moment in time.
People don't want to be part of the herd getting on a train or a bus in the morning to get to work. They want to have personalized experiences. Increasingly, as we come out of the pandemic, it is going to be about the first and the last mile of passengers’ journeys. Mobility providers need to create much more personalized journeys. There could be a notification when the customer gets on the train about the availability of their usual seat, or they could be encouraged to continue watching a film. Passengers want to know that they have a charging point on the bus and on the train, or that they have WiFi so they can watch a film while travelling. This would be a move away from the mass transit herd, but still within a mass transit system.
How is this trend impacting on cities?
Town centers are a good example. If consumers were to get all their purchases delivered to their homes, there would no longer be much travel to town centers by bus or train because the need for people to go there would cease to exist. That’s why, over time, town centers need to regenerate and reinvent themselves. They need to be entertainment hubs rather than retail centers to provide a unique and positive experience that can’t be ordered online and delivered to your door. The convenience of transport goes hand in hand with this.
Another factor impacting mobility is flexible working. While this has been a big factor for years for challenging transport, the rise of working from home has been made clear during the pandemic.
The upside is that peak traffic times can be broken up, which will reduce operational costs [for transport providers] and improve the overall travelling experience for customers. People are now travelling with greater flexibility.
On the other hand, transport providers are faced with the challenge of creating the right ticketing options and offering the right quantities of vehicles. This will be a challenge for people who are working three days in an office and two days at home, or work on weekends rather than Monday to Friday. This was already having an impact on traffic before the pandemic. On Fridays, for instance, people were increasingly replacing heavy rail trips into central London with local trips around their area. Ideally, people would use the bus for these trips, but more than likely they are using their cars.
Sustainability is a key concern for transport systems. In what way is Go-Ahead addressing this issue?
Sustainability and the impact of transport is everyone’s responsibility. For the benefit of the environment public transport takes more cars off the road with the option of mass transit. And mass transit is a better use of fossil fuel than anything else. At the same time, we are also trying to move away from fossil fuels and towards electric and zero-emissions buses as air quality is also going to become a much bigger issue in the future.
What are the biggest challenges when you try to implement sustainability initiatives?
We don't get anywhere without collaboration. For instance, to deploy emission-free vehicles, we require collaboration between manufacturers and the government, as well as between national governments and local authorities. Fully electric buses could need pantographs in the city centers in order to recharge [through contact with the overhead line], so there also needs to be cooperation between local authorities to enable this.
Mobility providers will need to collaborate with the network providers as well. The issue with providing electricity for buses is that it is entirely variable according to where the national grid substations are.
Finally, capital grants from the government are also needed for a big transition to electric vehicles. Some of these initiatives are already happening, but we need more of them.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Siemens Mobility.