”We should design cities for active mobility”

Philippe Crist is one of the world’s leading experts on cycling and urban mobility. He sat down with Emma Latham-Jones to talk about cycling culture in emerging countries, infrastructure improvements, and what mayors can do to promote cycling.

At the world’s largest conference on cycling and urban mobility, Velo-City, politicians, city officials, transport experts, advocacy groups and researchers gather to discuss how cycling, and active mobility in general, can complement and replace non-sustainable transport options. At this year’s Velo-City conference in Dublin in Ireland, the keynoter was Philippe Crist of the International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental think tank for transport policy linked to the OECD. I sat down with Philippe to understand more about the role of cycling in modern societies and what cities around the world are doing – or not – to embrace it.


Velo-City is the Mekka of the cycling community. This year in Dublin you roused the audience with your opening speech on “The City of the Future”. What is the main value of events like this one?

Philippe Crist: I think they bring a lot of value! They’re a great opportunity for cross-fertilisation of ideas. It is a good way for public authorities and activists to get inspiration from their peers and to share best practices. Events like Velo-City encourage city officials to talk among themselves to scrutinise policies and work out how to improve them. I think that everyday examples are really important in these discussions. Often the small things can make a big difference. Take for example how the the Dutch and the Danes angle or lower the curbstones next to cycle tracks to make cyclists feel safer and allow easy on-off access to these protected spaces.. These are small touches but they make cycling a more attractive and compelling option for all.

Are cities doing enough for cycling safety?

PC: Some are, some aren’t. Since the 1980s and 1990s, we’ve seen some real leaders emerging from the Netherlands and Denmark. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are constant leaders here, although Rotterdam has significantly redesigned a lot of their city to improve cycling and public transport use.   But we shouldn’t overlook other cities. London, for example, has seen some pretty impressive results and has managed to double the number of cyclists in the past ten years. Bicycles now represent up to 16% of all trips in central London at peak hours.

Cities need to make it inviting for people of all ages and backgrounds to get on a bike. In cities where not much has been done to make cycling a compelling and safe option, the cycling population is not at all representative of the overall population. Instead it is largely skewed to young, male, risk-takers who generally feel comfortable breaking traffic rules they feel are not designed for them. When I see a lot of such cyclists – or a lot of cyclists in lycra — I see that as a symptom of bad cycling policies. Cycling should be made a feasible and attractive option for all – especially those that do not cycle now.

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Cyclist in car traffic in Sao Paulo, Brazil

What are the most noteworthy future trends in active mobility?

PC: There is a kind of tension in what the future holds. On the one hand, citizens want to be more active. Their commute is an obvious, and easy, way to include physical exercise into their day. On the other hand, there is a counter trend to more and more immobility. We’re witnessing a rise in transport that makes things as convenient as possible, which translates into minimising movement – it means moving the least amount possible door-to-door. You see this with ride sourcing and electric push-scooters. These forms of mobility mean you don’t even have to walk down the road to your bus stop or train station. Hence, activity is reduced. We know that the greatest benefits of active mobility are the health benefits and so we should be thinking about building cities to ensure activity mobility. If you make it easier to cross the city by bike than by car, you’ll soon see a rise in the uptake and convenience of active mobility.

Can you list your top three things a city official can do to promote cycling?

PC: Yes! First is managing speed. They need to implement speed limits, while redesigning streets for slower speeds. Where the speed limits have already been put in place, they then must be properly enforced. The second is space! They need to give cyclists more space on our roads. And this space needs to be properly separated. The final thing I’d recommend is making sure that cycling safety is built into the education system. In fact, not just the education system, it should also be a part of the drivers’ licensing system… But these changes must be made at the national level.

Cycling seniors

You mentioned Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and London as pacemakers. All four are in Europe. Are there other cities that stand out to you as cycling pioneers and from which city officials and citizens draw inspiration?

PC: To answer this question fairly, I think you have to take into account where the cities have started from. Mexico City and Los Angeles are now doing a lot, despite little preexisting cycling infrastructure. Taipei is rolling out an impressive bike-sharing system. Rotterdam is known as a cycling leader, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the situation was very different only ten years ago. Back then, they were entirely car-centric. In just two years Seville built an entire city-wide cycling path network. Berlin is looking now to integrate cycling with public transport. Cities are working around the world to rapidly scale-up cycling infrastructure.

Not everyone is keen on cycling. And some, frankly, just aren’t very good at it. What are some of the best low-carbon alternatives for these individuals?

PC: There are all sorts of human-powered vehicles out there. A lot of older people have tricycles to help with balance issues. Children, of course, often use them too. Companies are increasingly using cargo bikes to deliver their products, as they are much more reliable and are able to navigate dense and congested conditions more easily. This translates into high rates of on-time delivery, and so happier customers! Individuals can also use cargo-bikes. They are great for carrying people that are less mobile or incapable of walking.

It seems that mostly young people use bicycles. Is cycling something that is also accessible for older generations and for the less physically fit?

PC: In a city that has done enough to encourage cycling, there should be no difference in terms of the demographic using bicycles. There should be children on a bike, the elderly, fathers with their babies, young women – you name it. We see this when city design has made cycling the most compelling and convenient option. Technology can also help. E-bikes are making cycling investment possible even in cities with low population density, because they extend the range of cycling and overcome some of the topographical challenges.

Cyclists in Vietnam

Is cycling an option to increase mobility in cities in the developing world?

PC: There is a lot of cycling taking place in the developing world – but it’s often viewed as an “imposed” mobility option rather than a positive one. Cycling is something that poor households do, as it’s the cheapest option. But it is also done in horrible traffic conditions and street spaces that are not at all designed for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians – as soon as households gain income, they typically move away from active modes of travel.  In the developing world too much space is allocated to vehicles that only a minority of the population can afford. Investment in cycling infrastructure is one of the best ways to increase the safety and attractiveness of active mobility. This includes the “hidden infrastructure” that is speed management. Such cycling infrastructure in turn enhances a city’s accessibility and inclusiveness.

Thank you so much for your time, Philippe.


Philippe Crist is Advisor for Innovation and Foresight at the International Transport Forum (ITF). His interests include how to use new data sources to improve transport decision-making. Currently he is investigating how policy and regulation might adapt to an increasingly algorithmically-driven world. Philippe won the Leadership Award for Cycling Promotion of the Danish Cycling Embassy’s in 2016. He is the author of “The Shared-Use City: Managing the Curb” (ITF, 2018)

Cover of the report "The Shared-use City: Managing the Curb" (International Transport Forum, 2018)

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Why fighting transport CO2 emissions is like “Game of Thrones”

by Andrew Jackson

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We all enjoy a good story, where the unsuspecting hero faces challenge after challenge, and eventually wins through to bring triumph for those we care for. “Game of Thrones” challenges that paradigm, as the heroes we love are killed off one by one – with betrayal, swords and poison.

While this comment about “Game of Thrones” may be a spoiler to few people, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD in May published a report on the future of transport which may include the biggest spoiler of any plot. And unlike in our perfect stories, the report’s plot is one from “Game of Thrones” – where our future ends tragically.

The story starts by looking at how much we will travel in 2050. Cheap cars, cheap flights and cheap freight will provide us with great access. We will be able to explore the world more easily and have the things we want come to our doorsteps from anywhere in the world.

The total distance we travel locally and internationally will continue to rise. New technologies, urbanisation, global patterns of trade and world population growth from 7.7 to 9.7 billion people weave together into a powerful story of our future. Increasing wealth sees many more able to afford to adopt the movement lifestyles of the developed world. The story concludes that by 2050 total travel will increase threefold.

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Changing how we move

Not only will there be a significant increase in movement, we will also change how we move. Fewer people will own their cars. More of us will use public transport and cycle and walk. The use of electric vehicles will increase. We will take all of these steps to make our transport system more sustainable.

But the “Game of Thrones”-like ending to our heroic efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will be that we will fail to reduce the amount of carbon produced by transport. The three-fold increase in the amount of miles travelled will mean that despite all of the international efforts to decarbonise transport, our poison pill will be a 60% increase in CO2 emissions from travel and freight by 2050.

The ITF’s analysis includes the assumption that we will follow through on all current pledges of worldwide action. It thus assumes that the percentage of trips by car in OECD cities will decrease from 75% to 46%, and that 35% of trips in cities will be by public transport. Overall, this will lead to 20% fewer of trips being made by car. Further assumptions are that the current rate of uptake of electric vehicles will continue and that we will have electric planes making all trips of less than 1 000 kilometres. But all this will still not be enough even to keep CO2 emissions from transport at current levels, let alone reduce them.

We are offered an alternative ending to the story.  A story where we double our current efforts for change in the transport system. The number of trips by car in cities would fall to 26% of trips. There would be a 5% to 10% increase in the densification of our cities. There would be widespread uptake of electric vehicles, and we will use electric aircraft for all flights up to 1600 kilometres.

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The change we need

Yet even this apparent heroic intervention in the form of major investments, rapid technological advances and promotion of significant social change would be destined to fall short of our goal. Just like in “Game of Thrones”, this would be another hero we could embrace, only to see that our renewed efforts fail to bring about the change we need.  Yes, in this scenario we would see a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from transport by 2050.  But it would be nowhere near the 80% reduction we need to avoid annual weather events of a scale and nature that historically were the tragedies of a century.

Tragedies like the 1931 floods in China, which saw more than a million people die, the North American drought of 1988 which led to damage of USD 130 billion and 10 August 2003 European heatwave, the hottest day in history killing 30 000 people across Europe.

I wish I could finish my story with a third ending, where we will live on happily ever after. I do not have one. This is a story that will only end well if we have heroic political leadership. Leadership that is willing to take decisions that will risk their personal political futures today in order to secure a positive future for society. But at the moment we are on a track to see world temperatures rise to the levels which are the worst nightmare of the climate change activists – summer is coming!

Andrew Jackson is Managing Director at Consulting Jackson. He is a former Deputy Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport

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The ITF Transport Outlook 2019 is available via the OECD iLibrary here

 

 

Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide

by Will Duncan

Countries around the world struggle with a divide between urban centres and rural regions. Bridging it requires imaginative transport policy to connect citizens everywhere with the services they need and give remote communities a better future.

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Olivier Ortelpa; “Paris, Gilets Jaunes – Acte IX”

After decades of weak growth and limited investment, many regional communities across the developed world feel forgotten; left behind by national governments in thriving capital cities. A sharp rise in regional inequality since the beginning of the millennium has exposed new and profound political divisions.

Take the Gilets Jaunes protests, for example, which have gripped France each Saturday since November 2018. It began as a demonstration against a fuel tax, but evolved into an array of anti-government political objectives. The movement highlights the growing dissatisfaction of a society divided into vibrant, globalised urban centres on the one hand and a periphery that is left behind, still struggling to adjust to decades of economic reform on the other.

It’s important for policy-makers to recognise the political fault line the urban-rural divide represents. Regional inequality, intensified by the global financial crisis in most developed countries, has contributed to “growing public discontent with the political, economic, and social status quo” in neglected regional areas, according to the OECD’s 2019 Regional Outlook,

Productivity growth is concentrated in just a single region in one-third of OECD countries — think the Paris region in France or the wealth gap that separates northern from southern Italy.

Cities are economic powerhouses. They are dynamic, yet efficient; with large, dense populations that concentrate innovation, creativity, and extraordinary productivity in close proximity. With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas (and nearly three quarters in Europe), it’s no surprise that cities are often the primary focus of transport and infrastructure policy experts. Cities’ exceptionally active economies as well as their specific and complex problems from congestion via crime to inequality demand attention and substantial public investment.

Targeting attention on urban regions risks further alienating rural areas, yet “orthodox economics has few answers to the problem of regional inequality”, as The Economist noted.

Transport as an equity issue

Transport connectivity plays a major role in regional integration — that much is clear. Good physical links ensure accessibility and build stronger communities by fostering economic development and social inclusion.

“In the end, it’s an equity issue”, noted Ofelia Betancor of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at a session dedicated to remote and rural communities during the recent Summit of the International Transport Forum. “We need to combine .. social evaluation criteria with equity criteria”, argued Betancor.

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From left to right: Ofelia Bentacor, University of Las Palmas, moderator Juliette Foster, Gloria Hutt Hesse, Chile’s Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, and Helen Hughes discuss access for remote and rural communities during the ITF  Summit in Leipzig, Germany, on 23 May 2019.

Basic services such as doctors, libraries and post offices are critically important for rural communities. But the available public and private services are often in decline, due to a lack of profitability (and of resources to compensate for that lack), which has left far-out communities further isolated and disadvantaged.

Stronger links between people and products, employment and markets are essential to empowering citizens in regional areas.

Most developed countries are supporting disadvantaged peripheral communities, providing some kind of buffer to regional decline. But simple redistribution — taking from rich areas in order to give to the less well-off regions — has often proved inadequate in the long-run, and expensive projects do not necessarily generate a significant return on investment.

Connectivity beyond planes, trains, and automobiles

So bridging the urban-rural divide not only requires considerable, disproportionate, public investment — it requires thinking outside the box. Governments must be creative and embrace innovation when considering better regional connectivity.

Investment in rural roads, rail, and aviation is obviously essential to bringing a population closer together. But so is considering structural reforms that might strengthen urban-rural economic interdependencies, and harnessing the possibilities of digitalisation, 5G networks or drone technology to connect remote and rural places.

Digital access via the internet provides new ways of linking in citizens outside the main population centres and should be part of policies for enhancing the well-being of rural communities. ”If you want to overcome social isolation, if you want people to have better access to job opportunities, digital connection is a must now,” summed up Helen Hughes, Director of Professional Services at Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

But it is the countryside where digital connectivity is in greatest need for improvement. Currently, urban areas outperform rural areas in quality of internet access in every American state, for example. And many rural EU regions have poor broadband speeds or no broadband connectivity at all.

A better-connected population would represent a vital step in bridging the divide and avoiding the resentment against better-off better-connected urban “elites”. A long-term commitment to maintaining and expanding and infrastructure important to rural communities and innovative approaches to linking in rural areas is essential to help them remain viable and thrive, and ensure that no-one feels left behind.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master’s in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, France, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

Links

ITF 2019 Summit session on Ensuring access for remote and rural communities

 

Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.

Renewable natural rubber’s essential role in our sustainable mobility

By Nicolas Beaumont, Senior Vice-President, Sustainable Development and Mobility, Michelin

00300410The 800 million vehicles on today’s roads worldwide are fitted with 1.2 billion tires manufactured from over 10 million tonnes of natural rubber. And vehicle numbers are likely to double over the next quarter century. The transport sector is the main consumer of rubber – three-quarters of global production – with the remainder destined primarily for the health sector. To ensure rubber is produced in a sustainable manner to help contribute to tomorrow’s sustainable mobility, it is vital for tire manufacturers to join forces.

An industry-wide approach to production is possible as natural rubber lends itself particularly well to responsible and sustainable cultivation. As a fully renewable natural resource, rubber fits perfectly into a circular economic model. Rubber trees are also beneficial in terms of carbon storage, fixing twenty times more CO2 than most other plantation crops. And at the end of its rubber-producing lifetime (of around 30 years), a rubber tree can have a second life cycle as biomass or in furniture production. Rubber growing is highly labour-intensive; it is estimated that the livelihood of some 6 000 households depend directly on it, with 20 million indirect jobs also supported. Plantation workers earn an income all year round – except for a one-month wintering period – as the trees are tapped to collect latex every day. Promoting social and responsible natural rubber practices is therefore also a means to foster inclusive growth.

In the move towards more sustainable practices, manufacturers have taken responsibility by engaging concrete measures. Some market players have made voluntary public commitments to adopt a responsible natural rubber policy. These include Michelin (2016), Pirelli (2017) and more recently Bridgestone (2018) and Goodyear (2018). The natural rubber producers undertake to fight deforestation, improve the living and working conditions of farmers and encourage best farming practices. Some carry out social and environmental audits of the main rubber suppliers or send agronomists to advise rubber growers on better farming practices.

Increasing yield is a lever which can be harnessed to prevent more land being lost and to mitigate the risk of deforestation, as well as boosting income for rubber growers. Some rubber plantations in Côte d’Ivoire boast a yield per hectare of over 2.2 tonnes per year. Yet in Indonesia, the world’s second rubber producer, yields stand at half this figure. A number of factors can explain this disparity: soil preparation, choice of tree variety, density of plantations, quality of tapping operations, organisation of harvesting and rubber production. Fostering best farming practices is one of the keys to upping yield per hectare. It would make a doubling of rubber production possible in a country like Indonesia without increasing the amount of cultivated land necessary and associated negative impacts on the environment.

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Since 2015, Michelin has been deploying an innovative tool called Rubberway. It is designed to map supply chain risks and identify best practices in the various regions concerned: Thailand, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Brazil. Of the millions of farmers dependent on rubber, 85% are smallholders. In fact, one single rubber processing factory can receive its rubber supply from as many as 10 000 different growers! The Rubberway tool consists of a questionnaire sent to direct suppliers and even smallholders by means of an app which makes it possible to reach further down the chain below Tier 1 suppliers and middlemen. The findings of these thousands of questionnaires will give an insight into farming conditions and practices in the plantations in various parts of the world and help us better tailor the farming assistance required.

The Tire Industry Project (TIP) is an industry-led forum grouping the eleven tire manufacturers, which account for 65% of global tire production capacity. The launch of a global sustainable natural rubber platform was announced at the World Rubber Summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April. Its purpose is to continuously improve the natural rubber value chain. A diverse group of stakeholders are actively participating in the development of this initiative including NGOs like the WWF, BirdLife International, FSC, Global Witness, Mighty Earth or Rainforest International.

All these joint initiatives which benefit the agricultural sector are another step on the road to sustainable natural rubber. It is an ongoing challenge we are addressing – all together – with sustainable mobility for everyone on the horizon.

Michelin is a member of the ITF’s Corporate Partnership Board (CPB): our platform for dialogue with business. Find out more at www.itf-oecd.org/CPB

„Digital governance will make road freight transport fairer and safer“

by Volker SchnebleImage_Blog_Kapsch_3_MEDIUMSMALL

Only around 5% of the 6.2 million trucks in the EU and 11.2m truck in the US are ever checked for compliance with existing rules – whether these concern the vehicles themselves, the humans who use them or the load they carry. This lack of enforcement causes avoidable crashes, increased road maintenance costs and economic costs due to market distortions.

Data could be a powerful tool for improved enforcement of the rules in road freight. Indeed, a recent ITF report recommended moving towards digital governance approaches. The concept of “Data-led Commercial Vehicle Enforcement” (CVE) is operationalizing this approach, facilitating on-the-spot roadside controls as well as on-the-fly checks.

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Only around 5% of trucks in Europe and the US are ever subject to compliance checks

Data can help control vehicle condition (for instance whether maximum load weights are exceeded or the roadworthiness is imperiled) as well as monitor driver behavior (e.g. via digitalized tachograph records) or verify compliance with the rules of the market, for example by  checking that a company is licensed for freight transport of a specific type and in a given region.

Many rules, one enforcement mechanism

Market-based rules regulate the access of road haulage operators to the road transport market. In parts of the world with smaller countries, road transport often means cross-border traffic. To assure the functioning of the international road freight markets, the most important rules and regulations that govern road haulage are supranational.

Driver-based rules are those that apply to professional truck drivers and their specific actions when at the wheel, resting or in the state of availability. The regulation of driving time is a good example of a driver-based rule. In the European Union and the countries of the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR), it is enforced by fitting every goods vehicle with a total weight of more than 3.5 tonnes with a tachograph that records driving and rest times. Similar regulations and requirements for drivers apply in the United States and in Canada.

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On-board units and receivers built into the infrastructure used by trucks can ensure that enforcement agencies are always in the picture

The increasing use of information technology in heavy goods vehicles makes automated, therefore ongoing and hence more effective enforcement of all of these rules feasible. Based on information provided by on-board units in real time and with the monitoring of the data facilitated through receivers embedded in the infrastructure that trucks use, enforcement agencies are always in the picture. In many cases, they won’t need to even act because enforcement can be automatic. Pilot research already indicates promising results –  see this video of a Direct Weigh In Motion and Credential Enforcement pilot programme in Indiana (United States) and a corresponding article in the Chicago Post-Tribune.

Don’t cross that bridge when you reach it

The road infrastructure automatically surveys a vehicle’s total weight and stops it from using weight-sensitive road sections – a bridge for instance – if it is too heavy. Similarly, existing information from the onboard systems on vehicle emissions could be used monitor compliance with the limits on CO2 or particle emissions required by vehicle condition rules – and signal that the vehicle may not enter, say, a zone restricted to electric vehicles.

The technology is already available. Now it is for governments to create market access and automated enforcement instruments: certified equipment, legal and administrative cooperation between national enforcement bodies or radio spectrum free of interference.


Volker Schneble is Managing Director Germany of Kapsch TrafficCom AG, a provider of intelligent transport systems. Kapsch works in tolling, traffic management, smart urban mobility, traffic safety and security, and connected vehicles. As a member of the International Transport Forum’s Corporate Partnership Board, Kapsch contributes its expertise to transport-related research projects undertaken at the ITF.

Automated Driving and Traffic Safety

kronberg-volvo-blogby Peter Kronberg, Safety Director Volvo Group

Automated driving holds promise of a revolutionary new way of providing transport and mobility. Indeed, the added value in improved productivity and efficiency that can be extracted in commercial transport operations appears to be substantial.

But, the question of the impact of automation on road safety tends to divide the public in two distinct camps – one lauding the life-saving potential, and the other envisioning a future of self-aware vehicles running wild, causing death and destruction.

So, where are we heading? Well, I believe the reality of the challenges involved is becoming apparent as more automation pilots are deployed and experience accumulates. Improving road safety on a system-wide level will prove challenging. Yet, under favorable circumstances automation concepts are showing great safety potential. Favorable is a key word here.

The vast majority of incidents and crashes involve human behavior. It is easy, then, to suppose that taking the human out of the loop will reduce crashes correspondingly. Yet, I think intuitively we understand there is something wrong with this logic. And the reason is most driving involves no crashes. An attentive person is fantastic at anticipating events in complex situations – much better indeed than any AI outside of Hollywood.

What strikes me in the debate on automation is the tendency to confuse automation and safety – especially, I fear, among those supposedly well-informed in the area. It is easy to be tricked by the fact that active safety and automation share technologies. Naturally, there will be no successful deployment of automation unless it is safe. But, the development of one does not follow naturally from the other. Both areas require dedicated efforts.

In conventional driving, the human driver performs both operational maneuvers and the highly intricate task of anticipating and mitigating critical situations. The objective of safety is largely to introduce barriers – conceptual and real – to minimize the consequences of mistakes and errors.

The challenge for a highly-automated driving system, then, is to accomplish both the basic task of driving and anticipating and avoiding emerging critical situations. In other words, it must be able to avoid or mitigate any situation it can reasonably encounter in its operational domain – not just mitigate the rare instances missed by a human driver.

Do I sound skeptic about automation? Well, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I believe vehicle automation will make great contributions to road safety. But, it needs to be done right – with safety as a primary design factor. This means vehicles need to behave safely – be sensibly cautious and use good margins. It also means the set of conditions under which the vehicle can safely operate is actually an integral part of the solution itself. In other words, the when, where and how, are just as important as the what. With joint effort we have a chance to develop conditions on a system level that are favorable for safe automation. It may mean starting in confined – or by other means controlled – areas, and then working systematically to increase the number of applications viable for automated driving.

Done right we will be able to reap all the benefits automation offers in terms of productivity and efficiency while enhancing safety.

That’s the Volvo way.

Peter Kronberg will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…