Rural mobility technology to be explored

June 13 2018  

Rural mobility technology to be explored

Mobility as a Service in rural areas will form the basis of a new Government publication, the Transport Minister Jesse Norman confirmed to a Parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Transport Select Committee chair Lilian Greenwood asked the Minister: “We are expecting the publication of something around the future of urban mobility; so should we also expect a document around the future of rural mobility?”

“The answer is yes,” came the reply. When pressed on the timescale, he answered: “I will inform the committee when we are in a position to give you a timescale. The point is we are not taking half the country (urban) and ignoring the other half (rural).” Monday’s session was exploring MaaS and its potential for improving journeys through multi modal smartphone travel apps.

Jesse Norman had earlier said that MaaS promises to offer “lower cost methods of connecting people to their jobs, places of leisure or education” and could help to “enfranchise people who may be lacking transport at the moment”. It is very important, he added, to think of MaaS “not just as an urban phenomenon”.

It was put to the Minister that local government – such as in the West Midlands – seems to be further ahead than central government in understanding MaaS. He was asked if it was right for “local government to be leading on this and for central government to follow in its wake without strategic direction?”

The Minister replied: “We want innovation to take place and innovation almost always occurs in a liberal regulatory environment with freedom to experiment. The decision Government took to create metro mayors and devolve power has given local transport authorities capacity to innovate more.”

He was asked how confident he is that the private sector will look to introduce technology in rural communities, as well as competing in cities. Could rural locations be “doubly disadvantaged”, it was also said, with no access to the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund and no private sector interest either?

“I think that is a remote possibility in the further future, but at this point we still trying to work out what are the costs and benefits,” the Minister said. But he added: “We are very keen as a Department to make sure MaaS positively enables outreach and inclusion, so we are sensitive to the possibility it could have those negative effects you describe.”

Jesse Norman had earlier told the session that MaaS could lead to a utopian or dystopian future, depending on how the market develops and evolves. “Utopia might be no more parking on the streets, (allowing for more) bus lanes or gardens of something marvellous for the public good,” he explained.

“A dystopian system would be unplanned; (with potentially) tens of thousands of pods travelling at 6MPH a few inches apart and intimidating for pedestrians. So it is all to play for.”

The Minister was also asked for his thoughts on plans for MaaS to support freight and he replied that the technology could help encourage more sustainable ‘last mile’ deliveries using electric bicycles, for instance. “Freight and fleets do have high amounts of buying power and I expect them to be early sources of conversation with a MaaS provider,” he added.

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