King’s Speech: Automated Vehicles, Rail Reform and Pedicabs

8th Nov 2023

King Charles III announces 21 new bills in the first King’s Speech in over 70 years, including bills for automated vehicles, rail reform and London pedicabs.

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May 2022 Queen’s Speech 

As part of the May 2022 Queen’s Speech, the UK government said it would introduce a Transport Bill during the 2022–23 parliamentary session which would:

  • give powers to a new organisation called Great British Railways (GBR) to enable it to act as a “single national leader of the railways”;
  • transfer contracting powers for passenger services to GBR;
  • introduce new laws that would “safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels”;
  • support the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points;
  • enable the licensing and regulation of London pedicabs.

However, the Transport Bill was never introduced. In December 2022 the transport secretary, Mark Harper, told the Transport Select Committee that the government would not introduce a transport bill that session, due to a lack of parliamentary time. 


November 2023 King’s Speech

It has been highly anticipated that some of the measures in the failed Transport Bill may be included in the 2023 King’s Speech.

Yesterday, 7 November, this was confirmed as the King announced the:

  • Automated Vehicles Bill to unlock a ‘transport revolution’ by enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles;
  • Draft Rail Reform Bill to deliver on the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to create the ‘biggest rail reform programme in a generation’ to create a simpler, more effective rail system;
  • Pedicabs (London) Bill to give Transport for London powers to regulate London’s pedicab industry so that passengers, pedestrians and other road users go about their lives safe in the knowledge these vehicles and their operators are properly licensed and accountable.

Here we will give an overview of these three new transport-related bills. Full details of all 21 bills announced in the 2023 King’s Speech can be seen here: The King’s Speech Background Briefing Notes.  


Automated Vehicles Bill 

The Transport Select Committee recently released a report on self-driving vehicles which stated that “the current laws for self-driving vehicles are archaic and limiting, especially concerning testing and legal liability”. The committee recommended that the UK Government devise a new legal framework and that “to do this the Government must bring forward and pass comprehensive legislation in the next parliamentary session to put in place the robust regulatory framework it promised. Failing to do so will do significant and lasting damage both to the UK’s self-driving vehicle industry and to this country’s reputation as a trailblazer”.

It would appear that these recommendations set forward by the Transport Select Committee have been listened to, as the new Automated Vehicles Bill proposes to deliver one of the world’s most comprehensive legal frameworks for self-driving vehicles, with safety at its core.                                                                                                                                                            
The Automated Vehicles Bill will do this by:

  • Setting the threshold for self-driving vehicles in law. 
    To be classed as ‘self-driving’ a vehicle must be able to follow all road traffic rules without the need for a human to monitor or control the vehicle. 
  • Hold companies firmly accountable once vehicles are on roads.
    Companies will have to meet safety requirements from the point a vehicle is introduced onto the road or face new sanctions and penalties if they fail in their duty. 
  • Investigate and learn from incidents. 
    The Bill sets out new processes to investigate incidents involving self-driving vehicles to ensure that lessons are fed back into the safety framework.
  • Digitalise Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). 
    Local authorities will be required to send the legal orders they make (for example, to set speed limits, close roads and designate parking bays) to a central publication platform. 
  • Create new organisations responsible for self-driving. 
    While the vehicle is driving itself, companies that develop and operate self-driving vehicles will be responsible for the way it drives rather than an individual. 
  • Clamp down on misleading marketing. 
    The Bill prohibits misleading marketing: only vehicles that meet the safety threshold can be marketed as self-driving. For all other vehicles, the driver is responsible at all times. 

The majority of the measures in the Bill will extend and apply to Great Britain, England and Wales. The exception to this is the Digitalising Traffic Regulations Order measure which applies only to England.


CIHT recently released a report how data and AI can be used to achieve transport decarbonisation. The report highlights the benefits of using self-driving vehicles to create more personalised travel experiences for the general public and make public transport a more appealing option. 


>>> Click here to read the report ‘The role of data and artificial intelligence in achieving transport decarbonisation’





Draft Rail Reform Bill 

At the Conservative Party Conference on 4 October 2023, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced that the government would not build the remaining phases of the ‘High speed rail 2’ project (HS2). Mr Sunak said that all the money that would have been spent on HS2 phase 2 would instead be spent on other transport projects, including £36bn for a new transport plan entitled ‘Network north’.

Yesterday, on 7 November 2023 King Charles announced that ‘My Government will invest in Network North to deliver faster and more reliable journeys between, and within, the cities and towns of the North and Midlands, prioritising improving the journeys that people make most often.

Building on this, the draft Rail Reform Bill claims to set a ‘bold vision for future rail customers’ for the whole of the UK, providing punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation.

The Draft Rail Reform Bill sets out to do this by enabling:

  • Greater efficiency. 
    Establishing Great British Railways (GBR) to create a simpler industry structure. GBR will work in close partnership with the private sector (including train operating companies, freight operators, suppliers and innovators) to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system.

  • More accountability.
    The Secretary of State’s franchising authority functions will be transferred to GBR, ensuring that operational and infrastructure decisions are made in a co-ordinated way. 

  • Better service. 
    Simplifying fares and ticketing, providing more convenient ways to pay with the rollout of Pay As You Go and new ways of buying tickets such as single leg pricing which will make the railways easier to use.

  • Smarter growth. 
    Developing the right commercial conditions to empower the private sector to reinvigorate the industry, drive innovation and most importantly, attract more customers to the railway. 

  • Improved focus on customers through specific accessibility and freight duties.
    Introducing specific duties in relation to accessibility and freight, set out in the GBRs’ licence, will ensure that accessibility on the railway is improved and the experience for disabled passengers is enhanced. Rail freight will be targeted for growth, recognising the sector’s economic benefits and potential for expansion.

The Bill extends UK-wide, and most measures apply to Great Britain.

However, in the past, Scottish ministers and Transport Scotland have expressed concerns over how one governing body for rail will work in Great Britain, whilst still respecting that most rail powers in Scotland are devolved. 


Pedicabs (London) Bill 

At present, local authorities outside of London can regulate pedicabs, also known as cycle rickshaws. Transport for London (TfL) does not have these powers, making pedicabs the only form of unregulated public transport on London’s roads. This causes concerns about lack of safety requirements and contravention of traffic rules such as one-way streets, parking restrictions and impeding traffic.

The Pedicabs (London) Bill will enable TfL to regulate London’s pedicabs and protect passengers by:

  • Conferring powers on TfL.
    This will allow TfL to bring forward a licensing regime for pedicabs, in a similar way to local authorities throughout the rest of England and Wales. 

  • Providing TfL with the ability to introduce fare control. 
    To combat overcharging on pedicab services and protect consumers from being ripped off. 

  • Allowing TfL to set standards for operators, drivers, and their vehicles. 
    To improve the safety of pedicabs, as well as introducing insurance requirements and ensuring vehicles are road worthy. 

  • Ensuring that pedicab drivers undergo criminal record and right to work checks.
    In the same way that drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles must do, allowing passengers to use pedicabs with confidence and cutting crime. 

  • Giving TfL powers to take steps to improve congestion. 
    TfL will be able to restrict the presence of pedicabs in certain areas, at certain times. This will help improve road safety and traffic-related issues in central London.

  • Enabling enforcement action.
    Against those operating without a licence or outside their licence conditions, including civil sanctions and criminal offences. 

The Bill will extend to England and Wales, but the measures will apply only in Greater London. 


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