Electric vehicles: UK government hits go on Future Mobility Challenge
Future Mobility Challenge

Electric vehicles: UK government hits go on Future Mobility Challenge

The UK government’s Future of Mobility Grand Challenge took a significant step forward today, in a move that could shake up the transportation sector – reducing emissions, congestion, and the need for parking spaces.

The programme, which comes under the government’s Road to Zero emissions initiative (and the new Industrial Strategy), will see electric cargo bikes, vans, quadricycles, and micro vehicles replace fossil-fuel-powered vans in UK cities in an effort to reduce emissions and congestion.

There are currently 300,000 HGVs and over 4,000,000 vans on the UK’s roads, so there are huge environmental gains to be had from reducing these figures.

Newly outlined plans emerged this week in the government’s Last Mile and Future of Mobility call for evidence documents, outlining an ambitious move towards safer, more accessible, and greener transportation for people, services, and goods.

Their publication represents the practical starting point of the government’s Future Mobility Grand Challenge.

The cost of the last mile

The Last Mile call for evidence seeks to establish how to deliver goods more sustainably by making use of e-vans, micro vehicles, and e-cargo bikes in place of light commercial vehicles.

This includes understanding the barriers to more sustainable transport options, what incentives might be appropriate to encourage wide-scale adoption, and the scope of potential environmental and congestion benefits.

The consultation will also consider measures for improving logistical efficiency, such as urban consolidation hubs.

The final leg, or last mile, of logistical operations is often the most inefficient, using large amounts of fuel for the quantity of goods being transported over a short distance within towns and cities, and causing congestion. According to Department of Transport figures, van traffic increased by almost five percent to 49.5 billion vehicle miles in 2016 alone (with most of those being diesel powered).

Announcing the consultation, Parliamentary under secretary of state for the Department for Transport, Jesse Norman, said:

We want the UK to explore all modes of e-cargo and emerging transport technologies for last-mile deliveries, so we can help create beautiful, liveable, green, and connected towns and cities.

The Future of Mobility challenge

As one of the four Grand Challenges established in the Industrial Strategy, the Future of Mobility call for evidence will examine the context of the transport revolution that is underway, assess emerging trends, and shape how and where the government will make changes, harness opportunities, and overcome any challenges.

‘Mission oriented’ policy-making is designed to establish a regulatory framework that evolves over time, while overcoming barriers to data sharing and use.

The documents also confirm £12.1 million in funding for six projects related to simulation and modelling in the development of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Chris Grayling MP, secretary of state for the Department for Transport, said:

Delivering on the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge could substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from the UK’s road and rail network. Automated vehicles could make our roads safer, and mobility could be available when we want it, where we want it, and how we want it.

“The Future of Mobility also presents enormous economic opportunities for the UK. We have strengths in many of the most relevant areas of research and development, including artificial intelligence and complex vehicle engineering. We have dynamic businesses developing new mobility solutions, and innovative, strong and diverse automotive, rail, maritime. and aviation sectors.”

Grayling also raised some of the important questions that the call for evidence will need to answer, including: How do we ensure that the benefits offered by new technologies are accessible to all? What are the implications of new business models for existing mass transit networks? And how might new ways of consuming mobility be used to encourage sustainable, active modes of transport?

A separate call for evidence on the opportunities for rural areas will follow.

Earlier this week, the UK government also announced a £20 million open competition for low-carbon transport projects.

Internet of Business says

There’s no doubt that there is huge scope to migrate many last-mile deliveries to greener alternatives. Given the shorter range, high traffic volumes, and improving electric vehicle technologies, this is a crucial area in the UK government’s efforts to leave diesel behind.

However, to make a serious dent in the UK’s diesel van dependency there are significant obstacles to overcome. There will need to be heavy investment in charging infrastructure and technology to support the huge numbers of new delivery vehicles required.

Such a network could also put significant strain on local power grid capacity, raising the possibility that connections will need reinforcing and/or require the implementation of smart charging or battery storage facilities.

There’s also the cultural acceptance and education required to encourage adoption. For many cost-conscious smaller firms, the attachment to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles may be difficult to overcome.

Nonetheless, the promise of greener and quieter streets is appealing as the UK grapples with the long-term problem of ageing populations in ageing cities.

We hope the Last Mile and Future of Mobility consultations will stoke interest in an electric vehicle future and tackle some of the pain points the country faces to bring that future about. The good news is that the government is seemingly all set to go on its Road to Zero emissions policy.