Transport modelling challenges and opportunities discussed at London conference | Smart Highways Magazine: Industry News

Transport modelling challenges and opportunities discussed at London conference

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A conference for the transport modelling industry in London has heard of the challenges facing the industry as disruptive technologies change the ways we travel.

The annual Modelling World conference includes all the leading modelling companies including PTV Group, TSS and SYSTRA as well as consultants such as Atkins and Mott MacDonald and mapping businesses like TomTom.

The speakers in the opening Plenary Session agreed that modelling assumptions need to change as disruptive technology affects the way we travel, pointing to unexpected influencers on transport such as the smart phone making people far more informed and Uber significantly changing travel choices and uncertainty about how much of an effect, if any, autonomous vehicles and Hyperloop will have on the way we travel.

Leading analyst Luis Willumsen from Kineo Analytics explained that modelling is difficult because of uncertainties in the world, from politics to behavioural changes, including how the sales of cars will be affected in the future.  He also said that technology, such as autonomous vehicles will change the landscape while working practices has changed with more home working, and likewise internet shopping meaning more home deliveries.

His solution was to have several models which can be adapted to changing conditions and flexibility is highly valued, and that the industry needs to detect, think and act faster when facing changing trends, and that the modelling solutions need to better understand and present forecast uncertainly and microscopic research into these changes is needed and a shared understanding of new transport issues such as Uber, car clubs, the gig economy and internet procurement and how they affect mobility is required.

Prof Greg Marsden, from the Institute for Transport Studies said that the transport sector is not changing fast enough when it comes to the environment while other parts of the sector, such as the shared economy, is changing very fast.  He also suggested that modellers must create different forecasts based on different trends rather than a single forecast where the future is just impossible to know.

John Allen from SYSTRA told the conference that peak car usage was reached in 1997 and that driver and passenger trip rates and distances are now 5-10% lower so asked whether models predicting increasing car use may be wrong.  He pointed to better communications thanks to the Internet, environmental rules affecting travel, mobility as a service, connected and autonomous vehicles, Hyperloop and drone deliveries and taxis as disruptive technologies which change the way people travel.  He said new models are required with flexible approaches and that one model for, say, MaaS should not render other models redundant.

Economist Paul Buchanan, who is a partner at Volterra, showed graphs explaining why “everything we do is wrong,” and that assumptions about time savings are wrong because faster travel simply allows people to travel further and live further away from where they travel, so that for 50 years we have been investing in time savings, and all that has happened is that people make longer trips.  He also challenged the “Land Use is Fixed” assumption because he said that land use responds to transport and the more accessible an area, the more developed they are and the more employment density there is.  He said that it could be because the transport models have so well fitted demand, but much more likely is that transport is built and land use centres around it.  His final assumption he challenged what that modal use is static, but in fact new modes see rapid growth in passenger distance travelled, including for example rail taking 10-15 years from opening to being the largest mode of transport and car took 25 years to overtake rail, therefore the evidence suggests that a new mode of transport such as Hyperloop or autonomous vehicles could take off very, very quickly.

His comments predicted that Hyperloop could be an extremely disruptive technology and that there is a big risk in investing £60bn for HS2 if it could be obsolete in ten years’ time and that this sort of technology needs to be considered in models, as should autonomous vehicles which will compete with rail and bus.

Devrim Kara, director of PTV UK, who is also speaking at the event, told Smart Highways, “The challenges facing the modelling industry were well explained during this opening session.  It does bear out the policy PTV Group has pursued to work with pioneers in the autonomous vehicle and Mobility as a Service spaces to really understand the disruption at the outset and build it into our models to best predict the way people and goods will move around in the future.”


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