ITC 2016 Annual Lecture

How will technological advancements change the way we travel?

The 4th ITC Annual Lecture

15 June 2016, Science Museum, London

The ITC was delighted to welcome more than 100 supporters and eminent figures from across the transport and land use worlds for our Fourth Annual Lecture. The ITC Lecture series, which was inaugurated in 2013, explores major strategic questions that will affect the future of transport and how we travel.

Simon Linnett, Executive Vice-Chairman at Rothschild and Chairman of the ITC gave the opening introduction to the evening’s proceedings. Thanking the audience, Mr Linnett introduced the ITC’s work and expressed gratitude to the ITC’s Core Funders and to the Science Museum for hosting. He then introduced the Secretary of State for Transport, The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin, who provided guests with an insightful welcome address. Mr McLoughlin shared with guests some reflections on his political career and the progress that has been made in moving transportation up the policy agenda. He raised three points about why technology matters for transport, how it comes about, and how we should recognise its limits. First, the advancement of transport is the advancement of technology (wheel, steam train, car, plane, etc), and big data is bringing about wider changes in transport through such things as Uber, freight pods, and driverless cars; second, although the Government does have a role to play in delivering transport, it will ultimately come about from below through networks, daring and challenging old models; and third, technology is going to change things, but it won’t change everything – the arrival of new technologies always sits alongside the survival of the old. He concluded that the trick to dealing with technology and transport is to manage their integration and make better use of both old and new technologies.

The first guest lecturer was Professor Sarah Sharples, Professor of Human Factors and Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham. Prof Sharples began by considering how we make the most of the capabilities of engineering, technologies and humans, and what our role is in terms of influencing these things. She noted that our individual and collective attitudes towards technology affect our individual day to day choices and behaviours, and as technology changes so does our behaviour. We therefore need to understand the influences and speed of that change. Prof Sharples suggested that people are generally slow to make behaviour changes, but in some circumstances such as disruption to travel (e.g. the volcano ash cloud) people are able to make these behaviour changes quickly when it has an immediate effect on their journeys. She concluded by stating that we need to encourage innovation by understanding that transport is much more than just physical infrastructure.

The second guest Lecturer was Professor John Miles, Research Professor in Transitional Energy Strategies at the University of Cambridge. Prof Miles began by emphasising the importance of our attitudes towards technology. He cited the example of Milton Keynes as the UK’s “Urban Laboratory” that has been the test bed for real-world trials through exploration and demonstration on the streets of the city. He discussed the two types of movement that take place: Brownian Motion, whereby people are traveling from anywhere to anywhere; and more predictable Tidal Flows such as commuter traffic. Outlining the cost per mile of various mass transport systems, Prof Miles highlighted the cost-effectiveness of new transport modes such as Hyperloop and Electronic Fleets, versus conventional systems such as trams and urban heavy rail (metros). He concluded by noting that the civil engineering costs dominate conventional systems, and smaller systems enabled by new technologies can bring about major cost savings.