Future transport in the capital city – guest blog by Councillor Caro Wild
Cardiff is a really exciting place at the moment. We have a young and fast-growing city, with jobs being created, houses being built and a billion pounds worth of regional rail infrastructure on its way. There’s a real buzz about the capital city.
Yet this brings us face to face with the challenges of growth. Cities around the world have long grappled with congestion. We know this is a top priority for the people of Cardiff and there is now a growing realisation that motor vehicles are dangerously polluting the air we all breathe.
In Wales we now have, quite rightly, a legal as well as a moral obligation to make sure the decisions we take benefit future generations. So as we shape our city and Wales’ future we can learn much from the experiences of other countries and, importantly, where they are heading with regards to transport (or ‘mobility’ as it is now called across Europe).
It is why I recently went to Brussels to participate in an event on the Future of Transport, hosted by the Cities Today Network, whose purpose is to exchange best practice and innovative ideas in urban development. Here’s what I discovered:
Firstly, it was interesting what was not really discussed:-
The debate that still takes place in much of the UK about the benefits of cycling has clearly been won on the continent. When European cities design their transport networks, cycling is given priority. Plain and simple.
The popularity of cycling is now incredible. For those not so keen on the pedalling, there are some interesting innovations hitting the market. Electric bikes are on the up and there are also these hot new electric micro-scooters that the guys who brought us Uber are behind.
The other argument that appears to have been won in Europe at least, is that cars hold a city back. They are bad for our health, they congest our roads and they ruin the environment. Every city is now trying to get people out of their cars, just don’t expect every politician to admit it.
So what are the people leading the way on these issues across Europe talking about?
A mass transit public transport system to get people around the city is always the backbone of any transport network. Regardless of new ideas and shiny gadgets – getting the simple things right has to be the first step.
I’m really pleased that Transport for Wales looks like they are doing just that with the South Wales Metro; delivering a first class light rail network that gets lots of people from where they live to where they work, quickly and cleanly.
Where rail or tram isn’t possible cities use Bus Rapid Transit- quick buses that skip lots of stops- or more creative solutions like monorails and cable cars. Seriously, check them out. The only thing that could make Wales more beautiful is a bird’s eye view.
So what can we expect to see next?
On-demand first/last mile services (the terminology is still being ironed out!): Imagine this: a mini-bus picking you up at a metro station, which you book a place on via an app and that takes you to your front door, costing a few quid. Something in-between a taxi and a bus. Companies such as Uber and Mytaxi are already operating similar models. Cities are behind the game when it comes to developing and regulating this opportunity however, and it’s even trickier for cities who still have municipally-owned bus companies.
Car Share: You could argue it is one of the greatest follies of humankind that the norm (in developed countries at least) is to own our own car. When each car costs around £4,000 per year to own, when it sits idle for 95% of the time, and when it pollutes the air we breathe, you’ve got to hand it to the Mad Men of advertising in the mid-1900’s who made us think that our car is an extension of ourselves. Well, unfortunately for the Don Drapers of today, it does appear the game is up.
Not just because we’ve come to our senses, but because disruptive technology and savvy businesses have seen an opportunity to make money, big money, in one of the most profitable markets of all time by working out how we share cars. Cities can support this shift to cheaper and cleaner models of car ownership through policies that favour shared vehicles. For example, allowing them to use car parks for free, or even drive in bus lanes could be hugely appealing. The shared car can become the new supercar.
Both of these ideas could put a lot of the power (and profits) in the hands of the technology providers. It is why car companies are already buying and partnering with tech companies, and it is why cities must ensure that platforms are available to integrate transport modes together and share the data that these services thrive on.
What wasn’t really answered?
Driverless Cars – discussions around the future of transport innovation must include robot cars right? Not really. The general consensus was that automation is coming, and the cheaper running costs of not having to pay a driver make it appealing (not for the poor driver, obviously). The consensus at the meeting was that while automation may be a dominant talking point, it is in fact the last thing to consider when planning for sustainable future cities. Bad news Elon Musk.
Delivery of goods – despite the knowledge that home shopping and parcel delivery has been the future for forever, there doesn’t seem to be much understanding of quite how the stuff makes its way to your front door. Clearly no one wants the hard-won street space that’s been clawed back by excessive car ownership to be filled with delivery vans.
If you’re interested in this kind of stuff there’s lots of good reading about (I particularly like citylab.com). And if you’ve got anything to add, or you want to discuss anything you’ve read further, please get in touch via Twitter @carowild or drop me a line at Caro.Wild@cardiff.gov.uk.
Cllr Caro Wild is the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport for Cardiff Council, which is currently developing a Transport and Clean Air White Paper.