As part of our continuing interest and involvement in all matters concerning transport in our city, Roger Tanner and I attended the above conference for the Cardiff Civic Society. The subject was the future of transport, not just the car; cities in particular need to understand how to benefit from and accommodate the evolution of technology. Cardiff is so late to the party in terms of modern urban transport we have an opportunity to leap a generation and deliver the ambitious ‘Liveable City’ agenda launched by the council last year with a forward looking, not outdated perception of how a city should move and function.
Huw Thomas, the new council leader, reiterated the ambition to deliver the vision of a fast growing, top quality European city that has featured in all iterations of the LDP. He admitted that we are at a crossroads in terms of spreading the benefits of such an approach to all, overcoming the worst gap between haves and have nots in the UK, with pressure on roads and other infrastructure, we need space availability to grow into, commuting is described as the highest in the UK (in proportion), with traffic jams and record Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) and particle pollution levels. His new ‘Capital Ambition’ strategy was described as ‘make or break’ for the city, with dramatic changes outlined in all areas of transport and energy policy. Cardiff Civic Society will be following up on all these plans.
The conference agenda focussed on three categories of personal transport:
- Electric vehicles. Forecasts from university research experts suggest, amazingly, that
no hydro-carbon engined vehicles will be sold beyond 2026 if current progress is maintained. The launch of the new Tesla electric car was a feature of the conference
- Autonomous vehicles, i.e. without a driver, which are being trialed now. Since 90% of accidents today are attributed to human error, the impact of AV on public safety could be dramatic. The option of transfer of control to a driver when faced with an emergency is a big area of debate, but the reaction time would have to be very quick to be effective – this makes it very unlikely, it would be safer to leave the software in control!
- Connected vehicles, which can interact with each other and the highway to improve traffic flow and minimise vehicle movements. This concept is very futuristic, and the idea of a car as a computer on wheels, communicating with other vehicles and the highway management system is difficult to grasp. On a simplistic level, recommending route changes or altering traffic light frequency in response to delays is clearly possible and beneficial.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES (EV)
This category includes battery, hybrid and fuel cell powered vehicles. Cities are beginning to favour such vehicles with cheaper access, parking, priority use of reserved/bus lanes etc, and EV car clubs are springing up. However, the production process (especially of the battery) is very carbon emission intensive. Thus, such vehicles arrive on the market at a ‘carbon emission’ disadvantage, so that much of the benefit from lower emission running costs is already lost.
The charging network is expanding but is still in its infancy; however, EV still suffer from low range which constrains take-up; but battery technology is a big research topic so range will improve. At present charging can take 2-3 hours, adding a level of impracticability; although cost of a full charge is low at around £3-4. The number of charging points in public and private car parks will have to improve dramatically to ensure EV can be recharged easily ready for the next use.
More worrying is the impact on the general electricity supply grid; 7kwh chargers require wiring to match and the grid would fail at present if the forecasts are right, adding 25% to electricity demand. Also, storage of grid electricity in car batteries is inefficient, with loss rates quoted at 7% compared to high voltage systems. Techniques for smoothing demand are understood, but if your car is not charged when you need it…..!
Several cities have trials with electric buses (e.g. Nottingham and Milton Keynes) but Huw Thomas admitted to my question that Cardiff has no plans to churn the current fleet of buses, big contributors to pollutants, as they cost twice as much to purchase.
France has announced a date for the end to sales of non-electric cars in 2040, India also plans to be fully EV by 2040. All in all the jury is out on the time it will take to resolve all these issues, but the trend is clear – petrol/diesel are on the way out, the future is electric.
AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES (AV).
It was suggested that the city of the future would use AV for ‘the last mile’, with fleets of AV (i.e. like driverless taxis) ready and on call from city wide bays to pick up and drop passengers at prices very competitive with taxis today, and sharing space with walkers/cyclists in redesigned roadways that could then be used as public space. Effective use of such a service would reduce demand for access to the city centre, and allow buildings and land devoted to car parks to be freed up for useful development.
This all sounds very futuristic, but is technically possible now. There is no regulatory framework for such vehicles at present, but recent government strategy documents suggest this is due to be addressed.
Now this really is futuristic, but again trials are under way. Communicating vehicles could alert highway management systems to delay and obstruction. The avoidance of traffic holdups, road works or accidents is already enabled to a certain extent to each driver by advanced Satnav devices, CV could instruct traffic lights to change to accommodate changing traffic volumes. The combination of AV and CV opens up a driverless future; stuff of sci-fi, but both Birmingham and Manchester are conducting test cases to examine how it could work.
“I have seen the future” and it will happen faster than I realised before this conference.
We can imagine the future transport network in a city:
– Access from outside, by road or rail.
– Interchange at park and ride/stations to frequent, rapid and affordable urban services (i.e. tram, light rail, electric buses) or EV car hire to get into the city or for onward journey.
– Vehicle charging services on demand.
– Shared space within the city centre between walking, cycling and AV on demand.
– Smart ticketing from network access point to destination.
– Restricted/chargeable access to city centres, favouring EV.
– Re-designation of city streets into public space, known by architects Jan Gehl for Copenhagen as ‘RECLAIMING THE STREETS’. Note: Gehl are advisors to Cardiff Council under the Liveable City initiative.
– Massive improvements in air quality, pollution, road safety.
– Redesign of the city for ‘weather proofing’, so we can walk/cycle more readily.
IS THE CAR INDUSTRY READY FOR THIS??
IS THE CITY COUNCIL READY FOR THIS??
………………………………………………….ARE WE READY FOR THIS??
CARDIFF CIVIC SOCIETY
24st July 2017