Understanding urban mobility challenges

17 March 2016  •  Author(s): Simon Spooner, Osborne Clarke

Simon Spooner, Partner at international law firm, Osborne Clarke, talks to Eurotransport about  research into transport innovation which is determining the rise of ‘smart cities’ and discusses barriers to widespread smart technology adoption.

Understanding urban mobility challenges

Change is exciting but it also presents challenges. At Osborne Clarke, we have been investigating and researching smart cities for some time now. We have produced a number of in depth reports, in conjunction with The Lawyer Research Service, looking at aspects of the future of these innovative urban landscapes, looking at the challenges and how they can be overcome. Our latest report, ‘The future of urban mobility’, uses case studies and interviews with eight market experts to explore which new technologies and business models are not only capable of fundamentally changing transport in cities, but also have a realistic chance of being implemented at scale. It also looks at why this isn’t happening currently and what barriers there are to the adoption of such smart technology.

The report identifies three key challenges to urban mobility: poor access to data, outdated regulatory frameworks and the reaction of the current big players.

  1. Data is at the heart of transport innovation

‘Big data’ is arguably one of the most important advances in technology in the 21st Century. Making better use of travel data in cities can have a huge impact on planning. Unfortunately, data is often too expensive for city planners to collect and analyse and/or private operators are unwilling to share. When these barriers are overcome, big things can happen. As well as facilitating a more efficient travel ecosystem, access to travel data streams can open up business opportunities. A good example is the London Datastore, a free and open data-sharing portal providing data relating to the capital, managed by the Greater London Authority in collaboration with Transport for London. Over five thousand developers have been reported to have already subscribed to the huge volumes of real-time data that has been opened up, with the most famous being Citymapper.

  1. Legal and regulatory issues are major obstacles to innovation

The rapid increase in technology in today’s society has been difficult for many lawmakers to keep up with. While there are some regulations that are enabling innovation, there are even more regulations across Europe that are simply out of date, stifling progression. Take autonomous vehicles as an example. Arguably, the technology exists to get autonomous vehicles on the road tomorrow, but the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, to which most European countries are signatories, means that every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles must have a driver and that every driver should be able to take the wheel at any time. Connected cars are another example. While the technology exists and, in many cases, is already being used, the EU Commission has yet to apply its sector-specific competition guidelines. Clarification across the board is required.

Alongside legal and regulatory issues, interviewees frequently mentioned a lack of finance and outdated legacy infrastructure as major barriers to the introduction of innovative transport technology and business models. A lack of finance limits the pace of innovation in many ways – at the stage where new transport technology is being developed and tested and also when it is being rolled out.

  1. The incumbent players – rising to the challenge?

Many of the innovative technologies that are appearing in cities are being brought in by start-up, private companies. Looking at how the established players, from large vehicle manufacturers to transport operators, are responding to them is interesting. Collaboration here is paramount as public and private sectors need to work together to progress. Rail and bus operators cannot continue to act as they are but instead need to innovate and start to offer a wider range of mobility solutions than at present.

To read ‘The future of urban mobility’ and learn more about the case studies that informed the report, visit: smartcities.osborneclarke.com.

Simon Spooner is a Partner at international law firm, Osborne Clarke.

Simon Spooner is a Partner at international law firm, Osborne Clarke.

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