In part 2 of this 5-blog series, which takes a closer look at our takeaways from the Smarter Travel conference, I’m going to aim to digest and explain an all-new acronym in the transport technology world. CASE packages up a few of the major advancements in vehicular innovation to create the somewhat utopian vision of vehicles that are Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric.
At the conference, Paul Campion, CEO of Transport Systems Catapult, talked us through the three layers of transport: infrastructure, vehicles and services. The former, incorporating airports, track and roads, has a very long lifespan, and upgrades cost millions, or billions, of pounds. Relative to the infrastructure, vehicles and services have a short asset and innovation lifespan, meaning the innovation needs to happen here and evolve around existing infrastructure. This means we need new-look vehicles and new ways of using them.
Unpacking the acronym
In a way, we’ve never imagined connected and autonomous vehicles to be anything other than electric (just imagine your fully self-driving pod arriving with diesel fumes pluming out the back…), but the inclusion of the ‘S’ into this acronym is an exciting move forward. Perhaps the most glaring of the acronym elements is none of the ‘C’, ‘A’, ‘S’ or ‘E’, but the lack of the ‘V’ for vehicle. Despite all of the money and clever innovation going into CASE, we can’t forget that it’s all going into big metal boxes, and as we know from countless urban examples this might not always produce the best of spaces, but I digress…
Connected and Autonomous
I’m going to cheat here and cram two of the four letters together. We heard from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, a Department for Transport off-shoot, about the level of investment being thrown into the CAV market in the UK, with future mobility one of the Government’s Industrial Strategy’s ‘Grand Challenges’. It appears that we are discursively moving beyond discussion of the sophistication of the CAV technology available, as it becomes increasingly clear that the technology is now not far off at all. What is holding up the widespread implementation of CAVs is not technological but human – legislative, regulatory, and behavioural. This hold up is no bad thing, as it seems unclear how people are expected to move around streets which CAVs dominate. And privately-owned CAVs alone may improve traffic flow, through more efficient inter-vehicle connections, or create such attractive travel alternatives that they induce more and more demand. Enter the Shared…
The shared in the CASE acronym is the trickiest of the elements, for it hinges more on a revolution in travel behaviour than it does in technology. If vehicles are shared, so the thinking goes, they can be more efficiently used, with higher occupancy rates and less of a need to park them. With cars nowadays parked for an average of 96% of their life, the obliteration of the need to park, through the ending of owning vehicles, replaced with on-demand CASE vehicles could free up miles of kerbside space. This does, however, rely on some pretty radical behavioural change and the operation and management of a central fleet, to name but two major obstacles.
I’ve written about electric vehicles and the Road to Zero published by the DfT in our Autumn 2018 Connect. It seems self-evident to anyone imagining the future of vehicle transport that vehicles will be electric. We heard at the conference that the additional street clutter caused by electric vehicle charging points is a budding issue in cities where footway space is hot property, though with solutions such as lamppost charging points, these issues may merely be bumps in the road. Though electric vehicles are a major improvement in terms of emissions compared to current vehicle stock, they do still pollute from braking and tyre wear, meaning they’re not totally the green paradise some claim them to be.
Fundamental to CASE becoming a force for good is that vehicles are shared. Unfortunately, this is the most difficult, and unlikely, part. Connected, autonomous and electric vehicle technologies are receiving major investment, both from private enterprise and Central Government and it seems to be a matter of time before regulations catch up to enable the widespread roll-out of CAE vehicles, but let’s just see if these shiny new toys (which would look just great on a driveway) will be shared…