UK Transportation faces a number of challenges over the next few years. Firstly, the increasingly ageing sector of the population who are likely to be using transport services will require a strategy for managing volume, while another key factor is how any changes or improvements are to be funded.
There is also the increasingly urgent need to move UK transportation towards being more sustainable in terms of the impact it has on the environment. The fundamental challenge is whether to build new infrastructure, with all the displacement and inconvenience that causes, or to harness technological advances in digitalisation, automation and electrical power sources.
Here’s a brief look at the UK transportation landscape we could see by 2025.
There will be more autonomous trains on closed system short rail routes. Plans for autonomous underground trains and freight trains are also advancing rapidly. Furthermore, by 2025, diesel engine trains will largely have been replaced by electric models. This is happening in a large scale in the South East – what is needed now is the investment to phase out older rolling stock in the North.
Substantial changes are currently taking place in data collection and its use in transport management systems. Commercial companies and regional authorities are able to collect and analyse large volumes of data, which can then be used in trains with onboard computers. A current example is the new braking system currently being used on certain parts of the London tube network. In short, ‘smart’(er) transport is likely to be the norm by 2025.
The market for hybrids has expanded rapidly and the technology for the use of purely electric vehicles already exists. The challenge in this area is to roll out the infrastructure (principally charging points) required to make nationwide use viable.
By 2025, there may be a limited number of level 4 autonomous passenger vehicles on our roads. In the 5-level classification for vehicle autonomy, this means ‘High Automation’. The technology exists for artificially intelligent vehicles able to drive themselves without human intervention in varied surroundings and road conditions. However, existing regulations and legal limitations mean that Level 5 (fully autonomous) vehicles are still some time away.
Buses, coaches and taxis
AV (Autonomous Vehicle) technology is being trialled in many countries and its implementation (albeit limited) cannot be far away in the UK. Additionally, there is a whole array of onboard and data-driven management systems being trialled or already in place for road transport.
The ‘last mile’ factor
As the phenomenon of online shopping takes firm hold in the UK, we also need to consider the transport of goods, however small or large they may be. Several cities around Europe have done limited trials on droids (ground-based vehicles) and drone technology for delivering parcels.
There are still factors that make this complicated to implement (for example, possible interference for urban pedestrians), but don’t be surprised to see this mode of delivery being trialled by 2025 – it would be a significant way to alleviate the rising volume of small to medium-sized commercial vehicles on our roads.
The challenges ahead for UK transportation
In the grand scheme of things, five years ahead isn’t very long. The current budget for transport is in competition with other areas of society requiring investment (health, education and law enforcement spring to mind).
However, it is clear that Britain requires an overhaul of its transport infrastructure (some of which dates back to Victorian times). This also means weighing up the cost against potential benefits and assessing the impact any significant changes will have on society as a whole. Technology is a key driver, so in the next five years, we can only hope there is the political will to make and act on decisions regarding infrastructure and planning for the long term.