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Despite his background in the IT sector, TRL CEO Paul Campion isn’t interested in the technology itself, but more so about what can be done with it.

Instead of joining others in marvelling over a so-called ‘groundbreaking’ product, he is focused on how the application of “smarter management” can reshape society and companies for the better. Time and time again, we have seen innovations take the limelight and receive industry-wide praise, before falling short when it comes to being put in place.  

“The transport industry is about to undergo more change than it has over the last 100 years. In turn, it’s going to enable a whole set of changes in society which are going to respond to some completely non-negotiable drivers, such as climate change,” says Campion.

“The application of technology is just as important as the innovation itself.”

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As we know, this shift will fundamentally transform the way we live; now we must look at the role of technology in enabling these changes to be successful and end up with a better world than we otherwise would.

We are now experiencing the new world of future mobility, which has recently exploded in cities around the world.

Everything has come to a standstill due to COVID-19, but these services are on an upward trend and are becoming more popular each day. From ride-hailing to micro-mobility, cities are evolving into smarter and more efficient ecosystems.

Finally, we are in a position to get on board with these new services, which have integrated and, in many ways, engulfed more traditional services. However, we still have some way to go yet. 

Regulation Vs Geometry

Ultimately, markets are created by regulation. But what is the distinction between taxis and private hire? The answer, says Campion, is a regulatory distinction created way back in 1851, based on the technological possibilities on the horse-drawn hansom cab.

“The regulatory difference between taxis and private hire is a technological solution to the same problem that we saw way back with the bus stop,” he says. “The bus stop is a piece of technology to help you coincide in time and space with the means to transport in a world where you don’t know where stuff is.”

“Then, the taxi came along to coincide with the bus system and allow people to stick their hand out to hail a ride wherever they were. Because this is more convenient, you were made to pay more. You could also arrange for someone to come to your house, which is slightly less convenient, but also slightly cheaper. This is all based on not knowing where stuff is.”

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Today, we have instrumented ourselves with smartphones, which has opened up new possibilities with on-demand transport. For example, Uber spotted this opening and promoted something known as regulatory arbitrage, which saw it quickly dominate the market. Other companies that were trying to launch solutions were doing so into a regulatory domain that was fashioned in a certain way. By changing the game, ride-hailing companies like Uber have seen great popularity.

In addition, companies and transport providers also need to look at geometry, as roads are not getting any bigger. Mass transit is in place to ration this geometry and help distribute people more effectively. Fundamentally, if you are trying to launch a service, you do so in the context of both regulation and geometry.

To make things worse, COVID-19 changed everything we knew about transport. All of the ways we thought we were going to ration geometry, by packing together lots of people on trains and buses, will no longer work. In a very short time span, public transport has gone from being the number one solution to a major problem in the eyes of society.

“As a society, we need to start asking the question: given the new technical possibilities, what markets can we define by regulation?” questions Campion. “That will encourage people to help solve our problems. We don’t know the answers, but we do know that we should be asking different questions. Otherwise, we will put all of our eggs in one basket and only focus on one solution, that may not be achievable with what is going on today.”

Turning Leeds into Copenhagen

Growing up in Yorkshire, Campion questions why the city of Leeds is nothing like Copenhagen, despite sharing an almost identical environment and geometry.

Yes, really. 

Copenhagen is one of the most desirable places to live in and move around, with most of the population choosing to cycle and walk, rather than drive. The air is clean, the roads are less congested and the general way of life is far supreme to most cities on the continent.

But Copenhagen wasn’t always like this. In the 1970s it was as full as cars as the next place.

“People say ‘it’s cold and rainy in Leeds, it could never be like Copenhagen,’ but both cities are on the same latitude, so it can’t be that,” adds Campion. “They then say ‘but Leeds has got hills,’ which is a good point as Copenhagen is as flat as it gets. But e-bikes and e-scooters overcome this issue.”

“There is some stuff that is moving forward in Leeds, such as pedestrianising some of the city centre and there are a few interesting companies involved. But it still has huge issues, such as dual carriageways passing through it.”

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In terms of micro-mobility, Copenhagen doesn’t have specific regulations for e-scooters. The rules are simple: if it goes faster than 15km/h, it falls under one set of regulations. If it goes slower than 15km/h, it falls under another set of regulations.

“This is great as the regulation is focused on the damage or risk of hitting something at a certain speed,” says Campion. “I don’t care whether it’s an e-scooter, e-bike or a car; if it’s going fast enough to kill me then I want it regulated; if it isn’t, I don’t care.”

E-scooters and e-bikes are a fundamental technology for fixing some of the problems we face today. But development is suppressed with over-the-top rules and regulations that, quite frankly, should not be our biggest worry.

“The positives far outweigh the negatives,” adds Campion. “So let’s turn UK cities like Leeds into innovative cities like Copenhagen, promoting alternative and much cleaner forms of transport for consumers to enjoy.”

With COVID-19 further accelerating this shift as people transition away from public transport, the region needs to capitalise on this moment. Just look at the impact of Anne Hidalgo Aleu, who has been re-elected as Mayor of Paris after promising that she would remove cars from the city entirely.

“London’s doing a great job, but we are not talking about it enough. There is a potential opportunity for people to grasp this new way of life. Everyone is now experiencing riding bikes on roads and starting to come around. We need to address this now before this all shifts back to life as we knew it before.”

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