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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 17-Apr-19 14:58:28

Guest post: “Transport is about to change massively”

Jesse Norman, Minister of State for Transport, talks about the future of transport.

Jesse Norman,

Minister of State for Transport

Posted on: Wed 17-Apr-19 14:58:28

(112 comments )

Lead photo

“No-one knows when, but at some point self-driving cars will become a reality”

The CEO of Volvo said something very interesting recently. He remarked that the potential for self-driving technologies to reduce road deaths was so great that it would be irresponsible for car makers to introduce them too quickly. A premature launch could lose public confidence and put at risk the social buy-in needed for the technology to become established.

Of course the famous Mandy Rice-Davies line applies here: "He would say that, wouldn't he?" The large car manufacturers are all highly concerned that tech insurgents may come in and take this new market before they are ready.

Still, one can understand his view - something like 85 per cent of road deaths are the result of human error. Reducing that total significantly would be an extraordinary achievement. Losing that opportunity would be a disaster.

But the key point is clear: transport is about to change massively. No-one knows when, but at some point self-driving cars will become a reality. Indeed, many parents who drive today are already seeing the early signs, with automatic lane and distance adjustment, and self-parking.

In their own way, these and other huge changes may be as much of a transport revolution as the coming of the railways or the first commercial flights. They have the potential to make the UK a greener, safer and more inclusive place, as fossil fuel-powered cars are replaced by those running on electricity or hydrogen, autonomy gives freedom to people who may be house-bound and lonely, and young people book and buy transport on their mobile phones.

These technological advances, and others such as big data, will spark new forms of transport and could cut congestion by creating previously unimagined opportunities for vehicle sharing.

Yet it could also go the other way. Over much of the past century, the car has given people previously unimaginable freedom: to travel, to work, to escape. But at the same time our society has shaped itself around the needs of the internal combustion engine, at a serious cost to air quality, health and traffic congestion.

Something like 85 per cent of road deaths are the result of human error. Reducing that total significantly would be an extraordinary achievement. Losing that opportunity would be a disaster.


Rates of cycling, walking and active travel started to fall off a cliff in the 1950s. And many parents today are worried about letting their children cycle or walk to school.

These issues were all reflected by Mumsnetters earlier this month. In an AIBU thread, posters described how they had considered taking public transport, walking or cycling, only to conclude that driving was easier, safer and ultimately a better fit with the pressures of their daily lives. But active travel - if done safely - is just about the healthiest and greenest thing you can do.

So, if the government is to make the coming transport revolution work for everyone, it needs to do things better this time. It needs to think carefully about how we use those technologies, from electric vehicles to big data, and how we can take the full benefit of their environmental, economic and social benefits.

Just swapping thirty million petrol and diesel vehicles for thirty million electric ones would do nothing to solve our problems of congestion, obesity, or growing social individualism. In fact, it might well be a policy failure of epic proportions.

Managing this transition to a new tech-enabled world of transport is what the government's new Future of mobility urban strategy aims to do. It starts with cities, because that is where technology change is happening fastest, but we will move on to consider the needs of remote and rural areas as well.

The strategy proposes a set of nine principles for government and local authorities, so that technology can be used to make city transport safer, cleaner, and more accessible. They cover a host of areas, including new and emerging forms of public transport as well as private.

Of course, we will look closely at self-driving vehicles. But we are also going to examine e-bikes and e-scooters, and new models of urban transport based on shared use of vehicles and road space, through things like ride-hailing apps and car clubs. In practical terms, we will also be conducting a major regulatory review of transport, to examine whether we need new laws or whether existing ones will suffice.

But this is only one of a vast number of things the government is doing to improve transport. We have almost trebled investment in cycling and walking since 2010, we have announced a host of new measures to improve road safety, and we are investing to make roads better and more resilient at every level, from motorways to local lanes.

These past weeks, however, have been a bit different. With this strategy, we have taken the first steps towards using new technology to create a transport system that will, with luck and hard work, serve all of us better - and our children and grandchildren too.

If you would like to read the 'Future of mobility: urban strategy' you can do so on the gov.uk website.

We will be passing your questions on to Jesse Norman on Wednesday 24 April

By Jesse Norman,

Twitter: @Jesse_Norman

Romax Wed 17-Apr-19 17:25:11

*No-one knows when, but at some point self-driving cars will become a reality”*

No one knows when, but space travel for tourists will become a reality

Alongside a load of other events

The key is “no one will know when”

ScreamingValenta Wed 17-Apr-19 17:35:29

Are you investing in hyper loop technology?

cdtaylornats Wed 17-Apr-19 17:41:02

Just swapping thirty million petrol and diesel vehicles for thirty million electric ones would do nothing to solve our problems of congestion, obesity, or growing social individualism.

But that is unlikely to happen. I suspect many people will stop owning cars.

MockerstheFeManist Wed 17-Apr-19 18:22:59

The Future is synthetic meat, self-driving cars and sex robots.

Enjoy.

EmpressLesbianInChair Wed 17-Apr-19 18:39:30

If the self-driving car malfunctions, will there be a way to ensure that at least one person in it is capable of doing something about it?

ineedaknittedhat Wed 17-Apr-19 19:33:29

I don't want a self driving car, I want a robot who will clean the bathroom. When do we get one of those?

FiremanKing Wed 17-Apr-19 19:37:34

With the onset of self driving cars eliminating tailgating by keeping a safe distance between other vehicles and steering themselves into the correct lane on roundabouts etc, my journeys will become boring as I will miss winding the window and yelling, “Learn to drive Pal!” and sticking my middle finger up. sad

Bumply Wed 17-Apr-19 20:34:34

I don't feel comfortable with a self driving car making the decision to run over a child versus a dog if collision with one was inevitable.
Although at least if its software malfunctioned there would be less people it could kill than a Boeing 747 with rogue anti stalling software.

adaline Wed 17-Apr-19 20:46:29

How will any of these things work in rural places?

BrightYellowDaffodil Wed 17-Apr-19 22:02:32

How will any of these things work in rural places?

This, in spades. I live in an urban area but compete in a sport that's in a rural area. Public transport is a no - even if I wanted to use it, it's more expensive than a car, it's less frequent than a car, it's less convenient than a car, it doesn't go where I need to get to (walking several miles on unlit pavement-less open limit roads - yay!) and isn't suitable for carrying a large amount of kit.

Sure, I could move closer but then I need to commute from said rural place to my urban place of work, so I'd have the same problem the other way round. And the reason I live in an urban area is because rural living is astronomically expensive.

Now, I'm guessing that these measures are really aimed at urban areas where the congestion happens and the air quality is worse. But ultimately a lot of these new technologies are not open to all. I can't have an electric car all the time I don't have my own driveway - in terraced houses with on-street parking, my car might be nearly quarter of a mile away from my house. Cycling isn't going to increase all the time cyclists don't have segregated lanes where they can't be hit by a motorist straying over into a cycle lane separated only by a line of paint. Ebikes, escooters and car clubs only work if you don't need to transport more than one person and/or you never need to leave anything in your vehicle. I know my car is a kind of travelling store room - stuff for sport, bag of clothes to change into at work, laptop bag etc. I need it all as I go about my day but I can't physically lug it all everywhere I go.

Cycling and walking may well be "just about the healthiest and greenest thing you can do" but without an understanding of why these aren't always at all practical, or indeed why many of the alternatives also aren't (yet) practical, then these initiatives aren't really going to go anywhere. With respect, preaching about the "healthiest and greenest things you can do" is to have rather missed the point about the realities of transport.

cdtaylornats Wed 17-Apr-19 23:25:17

I don't feel comfortable with a self driving car making the decision to run over a child versus a dog if collision with one was inevitable.

But you feel comfortable with a human doing the same, but slower.

SciFiScream Wed 17-Apr-19 23:46:43

I think that the concept of car ownership will change. Self driving cars will be come more successful when the ownership changes.

Most cars are only used (driven) for about an hour a day. That's 23 hours of no use.

Imagine a scenario where there was a local warehouse of community owned cars (perfect for rural situations) people would order one up, it would collect them, the passengers and the kit then deliver to their location. After that it would return to its base warehouse or a local one.

Maybe paid for via membership schemes?

Like car share schemes but more convenient as the cars come to you!

Rating systems would need to be in place so that cars weren't left dirty or damaged.

Cars would be pre installed with car seats - perhaps they fold away somehow.

There would be cars of differing sizes for wheelchairs/other mobility equipment/families or groups of different sizes.

How much investment are you putting into the further of travel, of green travel, active travel, healthy travel, useful travel?

Hotterthanahotthing Wed 17-Apr-19 23:57:25

Self drive cars will only be suitable for major roads.Money to adapt those roads will take a while coming too given that we can't afford to fill potholes.
Most people won't be able to afford electric cars or replace batteries.
Also this does not really change transport does it,just some cars.A real change would be easily accessable green public transport to reduce traffic on the roads and give people who cannot afford new electric cars an option.

BoneyBackJefferson Thu 18-Apr-19 00:13:20

What is going to happen with the infrastructure needed to support the new breed of transport, especially in rural areas?

Once again we have something that only really works in very large towns or cities and by the time the role out is for rural areas something will happen to prevent it from fully supporting the outlying areas.

Truth is that is the same old same old.

LuxLucetInTenebris Thu 18-Apr-19 06:11:45

That's all very lovely if you're affluent.
I can't afford a dinosaur car, never mind an electric, self driving number.
Improve public transport!!!!

lljkk Thu 18-Apr-19 06:50:49

I'm trying to reconcile this article with Jesse Norman's boss, the irreplaceable Chris Grayling. Who managed to door a cyclist almost as soon as he got his job, and soon after declared (in HoC no less) that “Where you have cycle lanes, cyclists are the users of cycle lanes and the road users are the users of the road. It’s very simple.” Coz you know, cyclists are not real road users.

Chris Boardman had a few choice comments about that.
The Transport Secretary’s comments demonstrate an astonishing lack of knowledge about how seven million people regularly use the roads in this country.

Neah. Can't take you seriously, JT. Does this guest post tick a public engagement box for you? Did you write it yourself or did some of your overworked interns get that opportunity? I hope they get career advancement credit, at least.

PrincessMargaret Thu 18-Apr-19 06:55:43

I've just finished reading "The Passengers". Not keen grin

CharlottesInterWeb Thu 18-Apr-19 07:01:08

I actually love driving and have no desire to see driverless cars on our roads!

And I also live rurally and can't see how this could possibly work.

I wish the money invested in this could be channelled for more humanitarian purposes but hey ho, head in the clouds...

NoMoreBump Thu 18-Apr-19 07:54:23

Imagine a scenario where there was a local warehouse of community owned cars (perfect for rural situations) people would order one up, it would collect them, the passengers and the kit then deliver to their location. After that it would return to its base warehouse or a local one

Is that just a... Taxi rank? But without the jobs for, you know, humans.

Loopytiles Thu 18-Apr-19 08:37:42

Weird topic for a guest post when there are so many more pressing transport issues!

I am keen on innovation, including automated vehicles, but day to day am much more concerned with slow, unreliable, overcrowded commuter rail services and road problems.

MIdgebabe Thu 18-Apr-19 08:53:13

the need to have green electric vehicles ties to a need to have a lot more green electricity available in the uk surely the transport infrastructure needs to address that key problem more than road building

MIdgebabe Thu 18-Apr-19 08:58:14

Lacking in innovative thinking, usual focus on technology. How Male. Why do we have so many car journeys? Because things are not evenly distributed. People live a long way from work and shops and hospitals. Instead of worrying about bringing people to places can we bring places to people.

MIdgebabe Thu 18-Apr-19 08:59:36

Public transport. Can we have the same level of per person investment that we see in London all around the uk

Ali1cedowntherabbithole Thu 18-Apr-19 10:23:43

I live rurally and drive an electric vehicle. It's not enough have the technology, there needs to be a whole systems approach to the infrastructure.

Can I ask Volvo what they are doing towards building that infrastructure?

There are currently nowhere near enough public charging points for EVs to become mainstream.

My nearest town doesn't have a single public charging point.

The next 2 nearest towns have points in the railway station car parks where parking is £7:00 a day. Overnight charging is therefore £14.

You can't pre-book electric charging. For me, this means I don't take the risk of traveling more than 50% of my range incase I can't charge up for the return journey. I take DH's diesel car instead.

I actually love my car, but it's only viable because I also have access to a model with a combustion engine.

There is still a long way to go.

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