Jonathan Spear

Asia Pacific

Jonathan Spear is a director at Atkins Acuity. Jonathan has over 20 years' experience advising on a wide range of transport projects with a focus on policy, strategy and governance issues. He has led, supported or advised on assignments for national and local clients in Europe, the Middle East, China and South East Asia, including several for the World Bank and other international funding agencies. He is a member of Atkins Acuity's global transport capability and has degrees in geography from Oxford University and transport planning and engineering from University of Leeds, UK.

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This summit, hosted jointly by Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and WRA on April 6, saw presentations and contributions from Singapore, Austria, Australia, Sweden and several speakers from the USA. We are proud to have had two speakers at the summit: I set out the key international trends and challenges for CAVs from a public policy and regulatory perspective, as well as covering the implications for future highway and urban planning and design. Suzanne Murtha, senior project director from Atkins in North America, gave a focused US analysis. 

Out of the summit came some great viewpoints and plans across national boundaries, many specific and set within the local context. However, there was a remarkable degree of consensus and understanding of common issues. Here, in no particular order, are our top ten takeaways emerging across the countries represented.

  1. Widespread AV (Automated Vehicle) adoption as societal level is someway off, well into the 2020s or beyond, but preparation and planning for this prospect needs to start now, with governments leading, rather than avoiding or ignoring, the debate, especially as Connected Vehicles of varying types are currently being deployed;
  2. Governments and transport agencies need to identify and meet the substantial technical, regulatory and practical challenges in the short- and medium-term to reap the major economic, social and environmental benefits in the long-term, and strike a balance between immediate public safety, technology and innovation and private sector initiative;
  3. Much as manufacturers and developers may want a free hand, the speed of CAV development and adoption will be dictated as much by policies, laws and regulations set by government as it is by technology from industry. This includes setting proportionate, open or inter-operable technical standards and regulations which align across national boundaries and give confidence and incentive to industry to develop a range of commercial products and services;
  4. The pathways for connected infrastructure and autonomous vehicles are on different timelines, stakeholder relationships and delivery chains, with a “chicken and egg” problem for which comes first and how they interact.  If CVs are mandated, AVs will be a part of that, thereby forcing early integration of the two technology sets;
  5. The immediate focus now, and for the next few years, is on testing, demonstration, validation and deploying of CAV technology. This is vital to provide the safety case, volume of data and operating experience of vehicles and systems to assure regulators they are safe, resilient and viable for wider deployment and adoption;
  6. There is a major challenge of the transition period between manual driving by humans and fully automated vehicle operation at the societal level. Not only is the length and shape of this transition inherently uncertain, but there are major issues for how mixed traffic scenarios between manual vehicles and AVs will be managed safely and efficiently;
  7. Whilst it can be assumed that CAVs will use highway capacity more efficiently, safely and accurately, the point at which this may result in changes to physical highway design, layout and management principles, and what these changes might look like, are major areas for future research;
  8. The full benefits of CAVs in terms of reducing traffic volumes, congestion, emissions and accidents may only occur when the technology is combined with other concepts such as electrification and a shift in business model from private ownership to shared use of centrally managed fleets. The latter, in particular, will play out differently across countries and the presence, or otherwise, of a “driving culture” whereby vehicle ownership and manual operation is seen as a right rather than a utility;
  9. Governments, vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and academia will need to forge new partnerships to drive the CAV agenda forward, bringing different roles, skills sets, interests and activities together and forging active collaboration; and
  10. Ultimately, CAVs are more than a transport project. They will shape the long-term future of the spatial planning and urban form of cities and regions. Planners, architects, city managers and developers need to engage with the debate.  

One further point struck me from the discussions. CAVs are currently very much an agenda for advanced economies. Yet WRA includes member countries which are still developing in their stage of economic and social status. It is therefore important to consider new vehicle concepts, for example in Africa and Asia, which may improve road safety in particular from a more basic and appropriate technology perspective.

Rhode Island was a great forum for current thinking on the development and deployment of CAVs, a point acknowledged by RIDOT’s director in thanking “the greatest minds from across the world” for their contributions. The discussions will directly help RIDOT in developing its future CAV strategy and deployment plan, and linking this to wider spatial planning and economic development opportunities for the State.  

Furthermore, through WRA, the intention is to push the CAV agenda forward and drive further thought leadership at the World Road Congress in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Jonathan Spear, director, strategic transport, Atkins Acuity, Singapore

Suzanne Murtha, senior project director, Atkins, Washington DC, North America

Note: Atkins is a corporate member of the World Road Association and nominates a number of technical experts to participate in Technical Committees on a four year cycle leading to a World Road Congress. Jonathan Spear is chair of a working group within Technical Committee A1 on the performance of transport administrations. The April 2017 TC meeting was hosted by RIDOT in the city of Providence and the CAV summit was conceived as an associate event bringing together TC members from several countries with local consultants and public agencies from the USA.  

To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub and join our LinkedIn group.

Asia Pacific, North America,

That mission is to achieve intelligent mobility in urban transportation, not merely as a theoretical technical and design concept, or as a set of web-enabled travel applications, but to instil it at the heart of the national consciousness.

This is a lofty claim, but there are two recent examples to back it up.  

The first example, the 2016 National Day Parade, featured a view of what Singapore will look like when it celebrates 100 years of independence in 2065; a sky city where individuals and families will be able to access a wealth of travel choices from their connected household or personal devices, and be taken on-demand by driverless pods to wherever they want to go, whenever they want to go there, on roads which are free-flowing and without congestion.

The second example, this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations featured the usual dazzling lantern displays down by the marina. It was dominated, of course, by a massive illuminated rooster (this year’s zodiac sign), but also prominent was an unmissable Smart Nation display and within this two life-sized mock ups of the Gemini, a prototype autonomous electric capsule produced by TUM-CREATE, a technical research centre at the National University of Singapore.

These two examples are interesting because they are not aimed at the usual urban or transportation professionals, or at technology researchers, concerned with the planning or design of infrastructure.  Nor are they part of the numerous autonomous vehicle testing taking place under the auspices of the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI). Rather, they are pitched to the general public, residents and visitors, and with a clear message: we can see the future of mobility, it is intelligent, connected, automated …. and it works.

So that can we actually expect from Singapore in intelligent mobility when it reaches its first century, a little under 50 years from now, not only as a vision, but how it relates to infrastructure and the planning, design and operation of the public realm?

Here are my views: like the Jetsons in 1962, deliberately visionary, perhaps provocative and unconstrained by the real technical, social and economic practicalities of getting there, but a big picture to kick-start the debate.

Will everyone actually use autonomous vehicles?

Yes, almost certainly, and driverless transport will come in all shapes and sizes, service configurations, user tastes and value-added services.  It will also be electric, powered by hydrogen fuel-cells and other renewable sources, connected to the Internet of Things, and linked up to the smart grid and other technologies designed to limit energy intensity and carbon footprint to the absolute minimum.

Will people really use a single personal application and account on their personal device to access, compare and buy multi-modal travel options easily and intuitively?

Absolutely, and the current public transport smartcards and journey planning apps may evolve into a single iTravel online store offering hundreds of blended travel products for a monthly fee, tailored to individual needs and topped up on demand. This will be able to advise and adapt when the transport network is disrupted or conditions change in real-time.   

Will rich data on transport infrastructure, network condition and asset availability, be universally collated, managed and disseminated via open platforms to inform people, and assist and nudge their journey experience, as they move around the city each day?

Definitely: And this data will also enable city managers (perhaps Google and Apple rather than, or in partnership with, BMW or Hyundai) to run infrastructure and vehicles more efficiently, reliably and sustainably, and deploy the right resources at different times and circumstances. Linking with other smart city systems and services, there will also be clear rules and operating practices which will regulate the governance, flow and integrity of this data in real-time, like the human brain regulates blood and nutrients as it flows through the living body.

The really exciting part of all this is how everything will join up. Infrastructure. Autonomy. Information. Pricing. Choice. Data. Energy. Service. Citizenship. All this will combine to deliver an integrated, reliable and intuitive user experience with simultaneously informs network managers and supports a liveable, sustainable and attractive city. And perhaps iTravel, or a similar concept, really could emerge as the brand, product and app store that encapsulates it, disrupts and changes everything.  

What does this mean for transport and urban planning and design in Singapore?

In Singapore, a small island state at the tip of Asia where space is scarce, this vision has a clear focus. Intelligent mobility in all its combinations, will drive a sharp reduction in private car ownership – and all the negative social and environmental impacts that go with it. With technology causing the barriers between cars, public transport and forms of personal mobility to shatter, owning a physical asset which costs tens of thousands of dollars and spends 95% of its time parked at home or at the office will be illogical and pointless. In 2065, the convenience of flexible personal travel on demand by multiple means will be available to just about everyone, without a private ownership model, at a level of service they want for a price which all can afford.

As part and parcel of this, in my opinion, transport infrastructure will be smaller and smarter, freeing up land for other uses and a greener and more inclusive public realm. Transport operators will be able to create more integrated service offers and products focused on the user and generating sustainable revenue streams to fund investment and make commercial returns.

It is even conceivable that by the time Singapore turns 100 the government may have banned manual driving altogether, and removed the right (or the privilege) of having a personal driving license. Or more likely, safety regulations, insurance premiums and market forces, with a slight push from government regulation, will just make driving so prohibitively expensive that very few will want and afford to do it, just like, as Elon Musk has said, owning a race horse or holding a private flying license.

I don’t currently own a car in Singapore. And I have no need and intention of doing so. Public transport is first class and taxis and ride brokers like Grab or Uber provide easy access when the trains and buses can’t get me there. Personal mobility in Singapore is tremendous in 2017. But I look forward immensely to seeing how the transport system will improve further in future years and how intelligent mobility will progressively reshape my life and the lives of those around me. After all, intelligent mobility is ultimately about people rather than robots.

This will happen elsewhere, of course, but with enablers such as government leadership, supportive businesses and a tech-savvy public, expect a few visionary cities, like Singapore, to lead the way, and transform their urban infrastructure and built environment as a result. 

Singapore has an unashamed big vision for transport at 100 – big commitments, big actions and big results will be needed to secure that vision and ensure it benefits everyone. We will need to think creatively around making concepts real, combine function with physical design and efficient operation, focus on user needs and craft viable delivery models to make a future that works. At Atkins we must gear up now to see how we can help in that process. 

To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub and join our LinkedIn group.

Asia Pacific,

Transport planners in cities around the world – after decades of neglect – are now acknowledging the functionality of walking and cycling, in particular for short local trips and as ‘first and last mile’ connections to public transport. But another mode of urban mobility is emerging which could add to the mix of options and prove a game changer.

The new mode is known by some as Personal Mobility Devices, or PMDs. These are generally lightweight motorised vehicles powered by small electric motors to increase travel speed and distance of individual users without major exertion. PMDs come at a time when infrastructure investment and targeted marketing campaigns have helped grow take up of active travel modes which are increasingly recognised in terms of value and benefits to public realm and health. The term embraces a plethora of new consumer products such as e-scooters, hoverboards, electric monowheels and mini segways. New devices continue to be developed and are falling in price to levels well within the reach of those on middle incomes.

In most cities to date PMDs have mostly been used for leisure purposes. Some of us have given them to our children as playthings and we are increasingly seeing young people riding them in parks and on footpaths for recreation. Because they have a largely niche application and due to the lack of a clear legal definition they have largely escaped the serious scrutiny of transport planning professionals and not received much consideration as part of the accepted hierarchy of transport modes.

Where policy makers have stepped in the approach has often been to ban or restrict PMDs from footways or public spaces on the basis of health and safety, risk to other users and regulatory ambiguity around technical standards.And PMDs are often not allowed to be carried on aeroplanes or trains on the grounds of limited space for storage or the fire risk posed by their battery packs. 

It is easy to dismiss PMDs as a passing gimmick, or let decisions be made on the narrow basis of health and safety or poorly designed and maintained infrastructure, rather than see their wider potential for use on short distance trips. While safety concerns will – and should – always have priority these devices may yet, in my opinion, have a positive role to play in urban mobility policy and extending the accessibility of public transport.

It is therefore time we defined our terms properly, gathered the evidence and had in open debate about the role of PMDs alongside walking and cycling as viable alternatives to the car. The profession must also seek to create proactive and safe deployment through clear standards and guidelines.

Singapore is one city where PMDs are gaining traction as a key component of a ‘car- lite’ society, as a strong alternative mode for first and last mile links to public transport and as an important element of creating a sustainable and ‘liveable’ city. Such devices feature prominently in the Government’s ‘Walk-Cycle-Ride Singapore’ campaign, are allowed to share certain walking and cycling infrastructure and are a focus within events such as Car Free Sundays.

Proponents argue that PMDs serve much the same role as walking and cycling in reducing car dependency and extend the catchment of public transport without the need for major infrastructure investment or feeder bus or taxi services.

They also do so in a manner which is appropriate to Singapore’s tropical climate where heat and humidity deter many people from intense physical exertion for much of the year. Against these arguments critics have expressed serious concerns over the dangers posed to pedestrians by reckless riding and point out that PMDs have only a fraction of the health benefits of non-motorised transport.

Now after much debate the Singapore Government is legislating to set clear rules and regulations as to what riders of PMDs can and cannot do and where they can do it. The Singapore Government introduced an Active Mobility Bill in November 2016, which is currently completing Parliamentary approval and enactment is due early this year. The Bill includes the use of PMDs and limits their speed to between 15 and 25km/h depending on type, route and location.

A series of rules and a code of conduct are being set out to encourage responsible use. Rules include the need for lights to be fitted and turned on at night, use of hand signals, observing of all relevant traffic regulations and exchanging personal details in the event of an accident. Penalties of up to S$5000 (about £2800) will be handed down for reckless riding behaviour, with custodial sentences of up to 12 months for the most serious offences.

Over the last year ownership of PMDs has grown in Singapore, especially e-scooters which are increasingly being seen on the streets. There is an active and competitive supplier market developing and a proposal has been made for a public e-scooter hire scheme, operating much like the public cycle hire schemes of London and Paris.

The question in my mind is whether Singapore’s acceptance of PMDs offers an example for other cities across the world seeking to safely adopt the latest wave of innovation. And are PMDs a passing fad, an unsafe nuisance or potentially a disruptive form of technology here to stay? If such devices are recognised as a proper transport mode how do we weigh their costs, benefits and wider impacts and adapt the design and maintenance of infrastructure and public realm to allow their safe (and as appropriate shared) use? Would the policy adopted in Singapore play well in other cities with a hot or tropical climate, such as Kuala Lumpur or Dubai, or even in those with temperate conditions such as London, New York or Munich? Will cities leading on public transport or cycling such as Zurich, Amsterdam and Copenhagen see PMDs as irrelevant, a threat or an opportunity?

Like the long running debate over shared design and use of infrastructure and public space between pedestrians and cyclists there will likely be a wide range of views, enthusiasms and concerns over the wider take up of PMDs, some of them passionately held on both sides. In deciding future policy for any given city, we should assess evidence from around the world to help shape what could be an exciting new aspect of urban mobility.

Find out more about Intelligent Mobility(iM) here.
Join the Intelligent Mobility conversation on LinkedIn.
This article first appeared in Transportation Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation.

Asia Pacific,


With populations and economies growing in cities across the World, and public expectations for journeys that are safer, quicker, more reliable, sustainable and resilient, urban transport networks needs to better connected and integrated than ever before. They also need to utilise finite funding, land and other resources prudently and combine consumers, operators service providers and regulators within a coherent and inter-linked “ecosystem.” With digital technology advancing, increasingly connected and populated by the Internet of Things and Big Data, there has never been a better time to deploy transport solutions that can deliver better outcomes with smaller resource outlay and footprint.

Many current urban transport challenges stem from the inefficiencies of over a century of mass adoption of the private car, whilst conventional public transport systems have frequently been unable to offer a competitive alternative in terms of journey time, flexibility to user needs, price and ability to pay. Exploiting recent innovation in technology systems and processes to respond to and overcome these limitations, Intelligent Mobility is rapidly developing as the seamless ‘future of transport.’ Applications in Mobility as a Service, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, interactive Journey Planning and electric powertrains are already delivering, or offer prospects for, enhanced and optimised operational performance, environmental impact, commercial feasibility and consumer acceptance. Moreover, much of the progress being made is driven not by governments, but by the private sector, which is itself subject to creative disruption, new business models and start-ups coming from nowhere to challenge market incumbents. Increasingly, it is self-evident that the mobility problems and risks facing 21st Century cities cannot be tackled with outdated 20th Century planning and regulation. Fresh thinking is required and new ideas need to be turned from theory to reality on the ground.

Nowhere is this truer than in Asia where cities such as Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo are developing, testing and adopting new best-in-class smart urban mobility approaches ahead of the global curve. Emerging urban economies in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines are also seeking to gain traction in supporting basic urban transport infrastructure and services to serve young and growing populations in a cost-effective manner, and adopt leapfrog technology in tackling their acute operational, social and environmental challenges.


Atkins believes that Intelligent Mobility, and the computing power, communications and data which support it, will enable more informed, multi-modal, personalised and flexible decisions to be made by network owners, service operators and providers and travellers themselves. In time, this will drive influence operator and end user needs and support sustainable economic growth and competitive advantage through knowledge creation and exploitation. However, this will only happen if policy makers and regulators within the public sector are clear about the objectives to be achieved, act proportionately in balancing unconstrained innovation with protecting individuals and society and support the early market for key products before commercial viability, bankability,supply chain and mass adoption can be demonstrated.

For this reason, this week, Atkins has been hosting its first global Intelligent Mobility Week. This brings together key experts from Atkins, clients and influential stakeholders in the UK, Middle East, North America and Asia Pacific to coordinate a programme to raise profile and stimulate engagement across industry, government, partners and academia. The focus is on the ‘big question’ – what is Intelligent Mobility, how, and where, is it developing, who is driving it and what does it mean for the supply chain of planners, technology providers, transport operators and, of course, ultimately for end users?


Here in Singapore, the Government has invested heavily to expand urban rail, bus and taxi services to make it much easier to get from one place to another without the need to use a private car. In addition, whilst the urban road network has been progressively expanded, the capacity and accessibility benefits of this investment have been locked in through Travel Demand Management measures, such as Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) which helps ensure smooth-flowing traffic. With car ownership kept at noticeably lower rates than other international cities, transportation planning has been closely integrated with land use, and investment directed into promoting first and last mile connections by active travel and personal mobility devices such as e-scooters. A range of technology trials of Automated Vehicles are also under way, linked potentially to shared mobility models such as Uber and Grab.

The strategy is working; Singapore has enviable transport outcomes for some key metrics such as congestion delay, mode share, air quality and accessibility and consistently features highly in global rankings of urban mobility, economic growth and quality of life.

The Land Transport Authority acknowledges that in order for this approach to work, the public want more information to manage their travel decisions and have confidence in the multi-modal choices which are available. Since 2011 it has developed an “E-Place for All” through the MyTransport.SG portal and smart application to provide real-time travel information, such as bus arrivals, directions to train stations or bus stops, traffic news updates, car park availability, ERP prices and cycling routes. MyTransport.SG continues to continuously improve with the recent addition of information on public transport fares, bus and train crowding, “snap and send” functionality to report road defects, and information on how to get to local events and places of interest. Future plans will add car sharing and public cycle hire once these public-private partnership schemes commence over the next few years,The success of MyTransport.SG, now downloaded over 1 million times and a host of third-party travel applications, including Uber, Grab, Waze and, is assisted by the fact that Singaporeans love their mobiles. In per capita terms, the Country is the world’s largest smartphone market, with mobile devices now outstripping desk top computer use to access the Internet. Consumers across Asia are mirroring this trend, with many countries now over the 50% adoption rate for smartphones, leapfrogging the desktop-based Internet to create a new and exciting mobile web landscape for a wide range of services and opportunities. This is a major disruptor and wake up call to any transport agency or business without a mobile-enabled or ­optimised website or app, and a chance for new business models, service bundles and value propositions to come forward, experiment and take hold.


As the race for technical standards for the systems and processes behind Intelligent Mobility progresses, levels of innovation in hardware, software and user interface can be expected to converge at some point. Singapore may have an impressive lead, but Japan, China, California and some countries in Europe are not far behind. Others will inevitably follow in time, even in developing economies where the combination of unmanned drones and super-fast 5G networks could in the future provide urban and rural accessibility where roads are rudimentary, impassable or absent altogether.

However, whilst core technologies may align, policy and regulatory responses from governments, as well as consumer needs and levels of acceptance are more likely to remain localised and distinct. Atkins’ approach to Intelligent Mobility campaign provides a positive platform to have conversations around these points of difference, asking questions such as:

  • What is the current State of the Art in Intelligent Mobility and against key uncertainties and risks which approaches look most likely to gain traction and acceptance in different parts of the World?
  • What are the economic, social and environmental benefits of harnessing emerging technologies and how do these align with government objectives as well as the interests of operators, service providers and consumers?
  • How will Intelligent Mobility, including key concepts such as AVs, influence the design, operation and management of road infrastructure, and inform a more people-centred approach to urban planning, public realm and the making of places?
  • What are the barriers and practical issues for early adoption and mainstream deployment of key technologies and innovative practices, and how can these be over-come?
  • How can the boundaries of technology and operational performance be expanded at the same time as protecting public safety and security, protecting personal privacy and data rights, providing certainty to all over key regulatory tools, such as traffic laws and rules of the road?
  • How can Intelligent Mobility be successfully funded, governed and managed across the public and private sectors, who will be the key players in driving innovation forward, and how will the digital disruption of existing stakeholders and business models, and emergence of new players evolve?
  • What are the likely Intelligent Mobility applications (and distribution of benefits) for emerging as well advanced economies and how can leapfrog technology and knowledge transfer be promoted so these countries go from zero to high capability in a generation?
  • How does Intelligent Mobility integrate with other planning and technology concepts, including Future Proofing and Smart Cities and integrate across different service propositions?

Atkins’ Intelligent Mobility campaign provides us with a great opportunity to debate some of these seminal questions across disciplines, and propose some solutions to provide towards coherent, structured and systematic way forward

Jonathan Spear is a Director with Atkins Acuity, based in Singapore. He has over 22 years’ experience in transport policy, strategy and regulation across Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific. He is increasingly focused on the policy, regulatory and public acceptance aspects of new technology, and is currently leading Atkins Intelligent Mobility activities in South East Asia and China. 

To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub

UK & Europe,

Whilst the UK is in a leading competitive position to support Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology development and testing, others across the world are not standing still. In Asia, Japan’s Nissan has set 2020 as the target year to have fully self-driving AVs available on the market, subject to regulatory approval. South Korea’s Hyundai is aiming for a step change in driver assistance systems from 2020 and commercialised applications of full driverless automation by 2030.

Two other countries, China and Singapore, are emerging as key players, both for production capability and early deployment at the city level to address transport and mobility challenges.

Baidu, the owner of China’s largest internet search engine, has in recent years carried out research into automated cars, working with auto manufacturers to test integration of hardware, sensors, control systems and software. The company is providing the city maps and cloud storage systems which cars will use in order to navigate. To date, testing has been largely confined to simulators and the laboratory, but it is understood may shift to a road-ready prototype onto the streets of Beijing by the end of 2015.

Baidu’s initiative is one of a number by Chinese companies, encouraged by the Government which is keen to see collaboration between auto makers and technology developers in such areas as navigation, systems automation and electric propulsion. Alongside Baidu, Leshi, a manufacturer of web-enabled TVs, has indicated its plans to invest in the development of a connected electric car as part of its wider diversification strategy; Alibaba, an e-commerce-firm has announced a fund to promote internet-enabled automobile technology in collaboration with SAIC Motor, and more are expected to follow.

Interestingly, Baidu’s approach differs from the approach taken by its US counterpart, Google, in purposefully not aiming to design a full-driverless car from scratch. Instead, the company sees the way forward as increasing levels of intelligent assistance to the driver and providing optional autonomy only when it is desired or needed. Hence, new cars will continue to have manual controls, and in the view of many, the role of the person in the driver’s seat will shift from that of an ‘active driver’ to that of a ‘supervisor’ who must be able to intervene or resume control whenever necessary. This different approach may make it easier for consumers to adapt to, and for public regulators to test and accept AV technology over time and license it for mainstream deployment within prevailing traffic laws and regulations.

China is seen by some as a more open market than the USA or Europe for the early AV adoption. This is not only down to the size of its domestic market and manufacturing capability, but also because of a perceived looser regulatory environment and less litigious track-record in the event of product faults, recalls or accidents. China’s poor road safety record and the strong interest in technology amongst consumers are also seen as making the market attractive for early adoption.

Elsewhere in Asia, the city state of Singapore has recognised the potential benefits from AVs working alongside traditional public transport. The opportunity for such vehicles to bridge first- and last-mile connections, particularly for the elderly and disabled, is seen as a strong benefit. Additionally, the prospect that AVs may reduce car ownership levels – as users share access to common vehicles – is held as an opportunity for urban mobility and land use planning in a city long regarded as “best in class” for its integrated transport policies, delivery and outcomes.

In August 2014, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that it was setting up the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI), to oversee and manage AV research, test-bedding and the development of applications by industry partners and stakeholders. It has now issued a Request for Information and will shortly assess the potential of proposals from manufacturers to test AV concepts in the One-North, a business park in Jurong, including demand-responsive vehicles and mass-transit operating on fixed routes and scheduled timings. Third-parties wishing to test their AVs must have safety procedures including immediate manual override as well as third party insurance, with much of the LTA Guidance matching the UK Code of Conduct for Testing of Driverless Cars, published in July 2015.

Several other AV trials are currently underway in Singapore, including SCOT, a low cost AV which has been jointly developed by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. SCOT was originally deployed on the NUS campus in 2011, with the first prototype being an adapted golf buggy. The latest version of SCOT is an adapted Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which uses LADAR sensors to navigate through an environment and is also able to drive through tunnels and other places where a GPS signal would normally be hindered.

These trials are particularly interesting since Singapore is of a scale, has a dynamic and technology-orientated Government and population, and a world-class track record in urban mobility planning that may enable proof-of-concept, operational applications and widespread AV deployment earlier than many other countries. SAVI is interested in the technical and statutory requirements underpinning such developments and keen to ensure Singapore reaps the full benefits that technology can offer.

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe,

The transport sector has long had far-reaching ideas for how people and goods will get around in the future.

In 1961, for example, the American Weekend Magazine speculated:

“The Year 2000 will be the age of press-button transportation. Rocket belts will increase a man’s stride to 30 feet, and bus-type helicopters will travel along crowded air skyways. There will be moving plastic-covered pavements, individual hoppicopters and 200 mph monorail trains operating in all large cities. The family car will be soundless, vibrationless and self-propelled themostatically. The engine will be smaller than a typewriter. Cars will travel overland on an 18 inch air cushion.”

This particular vision of the future didn’t happen of course; and whilst the following 40 years did see great progress in personal mobility, freedom of movement and access to a wealth of opportunities, supported by modern motor cars and mass transit, it also gave us urban congestion, pollution and a public realm shaped more often than not by vehicles and concrete than for people.

In the 21st Century, many have once again taken out their crystal ball to contend that we are on the verge of a new technological revolution. In particular, there has been much talk about so-called “disruptive” technologies which are predicted to transform consumer experience and change society beyond recognition.

In a 2013 research piece, the McKinsey Global Institute lists 12 such technologies. To qualify as disruptive, each is classed as rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs in innovation, having broad commercial reach, showing the potential to create significant economic and social value and, above all, radically challenging the status quo. The Mobile Internet, Cloud technology, 3D printing, renewable energy and next-generation genomics are all seen as fulfilling these conditions with profound public policy, economic and legal implications, and with impacts which cannot be fully predicted based on existing values, experience & business models.

In transport, we are facing a number of technologies which could arguably be described as disruptive on these grounds. These include:

  • The electrification of road transport, ranging from hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius now giving way to exploding sales of plug-in electric cars from the likes of Tesla, BMW and Nissan, and with breakthroughs in battery and energy storage expected in the early to mid-2020s;
  • Intelligent Mobility, with smart information and access to online services via personal devices, big data and the broader Internet of Things allowing travel to be commoditised, ordered and managed on demand in near real-time, threatening established transport operators as Uber has shown; and
  • Vehicle automation, with engineering, software and data becoming increasing integrated to the point that within a few years it will be technically possible to take the human driver out of the loop completely, with Google and others seeking to turn motor vehicles into “living spaces on wheels” for work, rest and play.

For many commentators, these technologies are not a question of “if” rather than “when.” Indeed, they are out of the test lab in some shape or form already, at demonstration stage or evolving from concept to commercial application.

They are also showing signs of converging. The car of the future is likely to be clean (to the point of zero-emission on-street), intelligent (able to steer and park itself) and connected (offering the user infotainment and other targeted personalised services rather than a focus on unproductive driving). And the companies behind this shift will be driven as much by licensing software (Apple, Google and Baidu making the running) as selling traditional automotive hardware (threatening Ford, Toyota and Mercedes).

Is it possible that within ten years from now, these converging technologies will have moved into the mainstream? There are clearly some sceptics, but ten years ago who would have anticipated the emergence and impacts of Wi-Fi, 4G and smart apps on the daily lives of millions? Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in June 2007, only 8 years ago. Now in 2015, who doesn’t crave the latest iPhone6 or its Android equivalent, constantly connected, on the move and tracked via Google, Twitter or WeChat? Already over 50% of the human population and 20% of motor vehicles of the planet are connected to mobile data services and the numbers are increasing in double digit proportions year on year.

In the transport sector, new technology clearly offers substantial benefits including increased safety, more efficient use of infrastructure and reduced emissions. From a user perspective, it offers the potential for greater personal productivity, accessibility and informed choice. And for businesses, it offers large operational efficiencies and the opportunity for targeting products and services to where they best add value and generate revenue. In each case, as Apple might say, “This changes everything.”

Perhaps, however, we should pause for a minute. In many areas, the vision of technology is running ahead of the practicalities of making it work in the here and now understanding consumer tastes, deciding ethics and enabling practices which are acceptable to policy makers and regulators. Sometimes, it can also be difficult to separate the blue sky claims for technology made in the latest company keynote or TED presentation from the more mundane realities of ease of use, reliability, cost and legality.

Again, as McKinsey comments:

“The link between hype and potential is not clear. Emerging technologies often receive a great deal of notice. News media know that the public is fascinated with gadgets and eager for information about how the future might unfold. The history of technology is littered with breathless stories of breakthroughs that never quite materialized. With the possible exception of the mobile Internet, there is no clear relationship between the amount of talk a technology generates and its potential to create value.”

This is good advice. The challenge for policy makers is to make sure they fully understand all sides of the technologies coming forward and make their own assessments based on hard evidence and structured analysis. And whilst the focus of this understanding will be on the next 10 to 20 years, there needs to be immediate and short-term attention on getting some fundamental building blocks in place linked to clear policies and standards and a clear roadmap of delivery.

Otherwise, we risk being as wrong about the future as many of the armchair scientists of the 1960s.

This text is a summary of a presentation on Transport and the Smart City given to the Annual Conference of the Hong Kong Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management in May 2015.

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