Immediate imperatives are seen to relate to economic recovery for many countries. In this regard transport infrastructure investment has strong appeal – the investment itself creates employment and economic flows and the historic association between transport and the economy holds the promise of infrastructure enabling more movement and in turn more economic activity. European Union financing for transport connections has tripled for the period 2014-2020 compared to the preceding six year period. A key question is whether and how such investment should be made in order to support an appropriate society in the longer term.
In terms of road transport, for the decade ahead, we are set to see much attention being given to innovation in transport technology as a supposed key to cleaner, more efficient (and safer) transport. This concerns, in particular, the prospect for a growth in electric and hybrid-fuel vehicles as a share of the fleet alongside the introduction of self-driving vehicles. Meanwhile for countries with less advanced transport systems, motor manufacturers are likely to focus upon growth in sales of vehicles based on established technologies.
Whether or not they receive as much attention as those above, other important considerations concern how notions of vehicle ownership and transport service provision may be changing as well as the role of movement of information as an alternative to movement of people as we continue further into the digital age. Sharing and hiring of vehicles may progressively replace conventional ownership of vehicles. New models of ridesharing services are emerging with prospects for hybridization of what we have previously known as public and private transport. For example, Uber, a ridesharing service that uses smartphones to connect passengers to drivers, was launched in 2010 and is now reportedly available in some 200 cities worldwide with the company valued at around $18 billion. As e-commerce grows globally, there are consequences emanating from developments in the retail sector for demand for shopping trips as well as the movement of goods from seller to buyer.
Fundamentally, society has two options. The first is to accommodate current and perceived future demand. The second is to shape the demand for travel by particular means through both push and pull measures that encourage behaviour change towards travel by different modes, at different times and between different locations; and which may also encourage less travel and greater reliance on proximity and digital connectivity. The first option has proved to be more politically palatable but tends to be more exposed to feedback effects arising from supply affecting rather than only accommodating demand. The two options can be seen respectively as ‘predict and provide’ (responding to presumed need) and ‘decide and provide’ (taking the opportunity to shape change in the face of uncertain (future) need).
Solutions that the establishment is likely to give most attention to over the next ten years will be driven by lock-in effects and vested interests of the incumbents within the current regime. They will tend to be seen as transport solutions for transport problems. Meanwhile, digital connectivity is giving much more possibility to ‘bottom-up’ innovation with a plethora of new ideas and fledgling products, services and practices in support of physical and virtual mobility. Not all such ideas will gain traction and see diffusion and widespread adoption. However, the scale of collective possibility and the greater agility of development may see some startling developments over the next ten years with new trends in behaviour emerging. Consider that ten years ago Facebook and Twitter did not exist and Skype had only just been founded.