Transport, technology and the city of the future
Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
And while I cannot be with you in person, it seems rather apt for me to appear in virtual form, as your conference examines how evolving technologies might be harnessed to create a smarter city.
For me, this theme chimes very closely with an important element of the work I have been driving forward during my time in government: developing a transport system that creates growth and reduces carbon emissions by maximising the role technology plays in changing the way we work and live.
The growth of cities has historically been driven by industrial advancements – new engineering techniques, increased transport capability, global business expansion. As our cities sprawled, we responded by building more homes and expanding our transport networks to widen the geographical reach of our economic centres. Travel to work areas stretched, and it is now common for someone to live over an hour, or even two hours, from where they work. This comes with inevitable costs to the environment and employee wellbeing, not to mention the impact on congestion.
So we are now taking a step back. We’re looking at the shape of the world we’ve created, and we’re considering ‘what next’? What will be the next iteration of the ‘modern city’? And how can the UK remain at the forefront of that evolution? People cannot keep travelling further and further, and they most certainly cannot do so while confined by the working hours that tradition, and habit, so often dictate.
That is why the Department for Transport is looking for smart solutions to the traditional problems we’ve faced. Solutions that are low-cost and high-reward. Solutions that help us deliver what we need to, while also ensuring minimal negative impact on the end user.
Our biggest city has just shown us what is possible. During this great summer, it wasn’t just the sport that was a major achievement: our already busy transport network in London stood up to an influx of around one million extra daily visitors.
But it wasn’t just an increase in transport provision that made the Olympics and Paralympics a success. It was also behaviour change. People listened to our messages on the expected demand increase. They thought about how they usually travel. And they adopted changes to make their journeys more enjoyable.
For some people it may have been flexing the hours they worked, or changing their route to avoid the busiest places at the busiest times. For others, it was perhaps walking or cycling part or all of the way.
Still others embraced technology. They replaced face-to-face meetings with teleconferences and videoconferences. They worked from unaffected locations, such as an office hub or home.
This exemplifies the way technology is changing the way we live and work. And it is Expos like this that are at the forefront of the revolution. Telecommunications have become an inextricable part of our offices. Videoconferencing and teleconferencing are becoming commonplace, and working whilst on the move is now the norm.
So now we are left asking: why can’t every day be like it was during the Games? And the truth is: it can.
We’ve already seen some excellent thinking around the city of the future. A recent paper by Microsoft comes to mind, a white paper on the Anywhere Working City. It introduced the concept of a ‘third space’ – a space between the office and the home where people can connect via technology. Global Action Plan’s ‘Business in motion’ paper examined how technology could reduce our impact on the environment. And Business in the Community’s ways2work campaign connects business leaders with best practice on how businesses can reduce their impact on the transport network.
These kinds of sector-led initiatives will surely continue. But where does government fit in?
For us in the Department for Transport, the priority is integrated infrastructure.
That is why government is looking at door-to-door journeys. What does a person need to make their journey from door-to-door both seamless and convenient? What can we do to facilitate and enable that journey? Is it technology? Is it better transport facilities? We are working closely with industry and key stakeholders to develop a strategy that will set the scene for door-to-door journeys into the future. This will enable others to deliver a well-connected, smart and sustainable transport system that works for everyone.
The smart ticketing technology that we are investing in has the potential to transform the way that passengers think about and pay for travel on public transport. As part of our Rail Fares and Ticketing review, we are looking at how we can use smart ticketing to offer innovative and new ticket types that reflect modern working patterns.
It’s also why we’re supporting the transition to ultra-low emission vehicles. Yes, we are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels between 2023 to 2027. But we also recognise that people care about the climate.
So we offer a Plug-in Car Grant and a Plug-in Van Grant to stimulate the market, and help with the upfront costs for those motorists choosing to purchase these ultra-low emission vehicles. We have also committed up to £30 million of match-funding to the Plugged-In Places Programme, supporting the development of plug-in vehicle recharging infrastructure.
And we continue to look at the bigger picture. Through our £600 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund, we asked local authorities to look at sustainable transport within their communities, and consider what would be needed to help create growth and cut carbon.
Within central government, we will look at our own internal processes, and consider how we can work better. We will take the lessons we have learned throughout the Games, and identify opportunities for long-term change, to maximise efficiency, increase business resilience, and provide the best possible service to the taxpayer.
Because, ultimately, that is what a Smart City is. It’s a city that provides a high quality, integrated, and joined-up experience for those living within it. And I look forward to continuing to play a role in delivering that end goal.