Transport has never been such as hot topic. From self-driving cars to e-scooters, the way we get from A to B has never faced such a diverse range of possible routes.
Each new technology is heralded in its own unique way, attracting vast sums in venture capital and public interest. But who decides which direction we all travel in? How is it decided? How do we know it is the best?
I was invited to attend a government-led think tank about the future of transport in the UK. At the start of the meeting, we were shown a diagram of the other government think-tanks that consider health, education, housing etc. We then proceeded to spend the next three hours discussing various ways in which we can make our transport system ‘better’. Most of the ways revolved around being either quicker, or more comfortable. If memory serves, the word ‘integrated’ seemed to pop up on a regular basis.
It did occur to me that the initial diagram did not really serve much purpose, save to put what we were doing into some sort of context. I pondered and realised that we had just been talking about how to fine tune the various transport timetables. The ‘integration’ was purely within the context of the existing transport system, nothing else.
Pondering yet more I asked myself, perhaps if we change the question from how we get from A to B, to why we need to go from A to B. Perhaps there is a C that might be better than B, or even, might just staying at A be the best alternative for everyone?
Do we need to change our health care system to be more localised to mirror the population? Should we reverse the Beeching cuts of the 1960s that saw thousands of miles of rail tracks and stations closed?
By this time everyone was tucking into nibbles. Being a rampant introvert with no intension to expose myself to the horrors of small-talk, I went home.
On my delayed train back to my small-ish, semi-suburban, semi-typical London flat, I pondered yet more:
Transport needs to both follow and lead at the same time.
Fear not dear reader, I will explain.
When the London Underground train system was extended into suburbia in the 1950s, the new stations were built at road junctions. There were often very few houses, shops etc in their vicinity. It was thought that the train system should supplement the existing road network. If a location warranted a road junction, then it should also warrant a station. However, due to people being people, they saw an opportunity. The developers moved in and started building houses around the new stations. Whole communities sprang up as a result of the new transport infrastructure.
Fast-forward to today. People are still people, and we can often see opportunities where the government think-tanks can only see timetables. We have taken to e-scooters like the proverbial ducks to water. We (by in large) love the little critters. They are cheap, convenient, and oh-so much fun!
The e-scooter revolution has taken a child’s toy, jiggled it around a bit, and produced a viable solution to our ever-increasing transport dilemma.
Are e-scooters perfect?
Of course not. According to leading industry experts (invented my me) there are exactly 1.6 gazillion problems with e-scooters. Still, at least they are cheap and fun.
The new wave of microbility is bridging gaps in our transport system we never even thought existed. It is sounding the death knell of the once much hyped driverless car revolution, which relied on the existence of those pesky city-snarling, planet-pooping automobiles that keep knocking me off my bike.
The hurdles we face as a society are massive, but not unsurmountable. We are building a diverse range of transport alternatives that are being tested and tweaked.
We need to consider how we want to live our lives. The pandemic, in all its horrors, has pressed society’s big red reset button. Our Jurassic-era bosses who thought that ‘working from home’ was akin to skiving, are on their own road to extinction. In their place are the new breed of industry leaders who understand that their diligent and motivated workforce can be more productive at home. The improvement in the speed, reach and reliability of internet connectivity cannot be underestimated.
Our daily commute is instant.
We have a newfound freedom that needs to be fed – yum!