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Future mobility in the West Midlands

“The West Midlands is the UK’s centre for innovation in future mobility". This statement, made by the West Midlands Combined Authority in developing its local Industrial Strategy, has never been more pertinent. From projects like Midlands Future Mobility to AutopleX Consortium’s automated driving technology, local trailblazers are not only setting the pace of change, but driving forward a UK-wide agenda in which Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) are at the forefront of a revolution in future transport solutions.

Simon Marks

City Executive Birmingham Ask me a question
Future mobility in West Midlands

“The West Midlands is the UK’s centre for innovation in future mobility.”

Debating the issues

Successfully introducing driverless vehicles to UK roads relies on multiple touchpoints. The impact on everything from highways to the manufacturing industry and local economy cannot be underestimated. Implementation relies on the coming together of parties from across the public and private sector, whether from city leadership and the local authority, to those working in technology, automotive, or even academia. Simon Marks, Arcadis’ City Executive for the West Midlands Regions, is succinct when he says, “collaboration is key to success.”

This was the overarching message emerging from a recent dinner debate, in which some of the most active players in the CAV arena came together to discuss how to further the regional agenda. The question on everybody’s lips: How can we collectively respond to CAV in a way that works for the region and – most importantly - its citizens?

Catalyst for growth

The development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has accelerated the way in which we share technology across multiple sectors.  In disrupting established business models, CAV offers an opportunity to rewrite how UK regions collaborate and build on individual learnings. As a catalyst for UK-wide economic growth, the prospects are immense.  

The West Midlands currently generates 6% of the UK’s economic output. However, there is potential to raise this to £109 billion, making up one fifth of the nation’s entire economic output, if certain gaps around skills, employment, investment, enterprise and innovation are addressed. 

The development and deployment of CAV offers a means of building on the region’s existing strengths. “We need to play to our ability,” said Alan Smith, Head of Growth Programmes at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. “This isn’t just about supporting a single sector; it’s about making major economic change. But we need to be clear about how we align with regional priorities.” 

The Human Touch

Ultimately, people sit at the heart. Whether we are considering the impact that CAV will have on social inclusion, or issues around behavioural acceptance and even the effect of cultural norms, successful implementation of CAV depends as much on people as it does on technology. 

“Behavioural change is one of the biggest challenges we face,” pointed out James Bonner, Self-Driving Progamme Manager at Addison Lee Group.  With many early stage CAVs likely to take the form of shared transport solutions, we need to overcome multiple issues ranging from a disinclination to share modes of travel to the perception of conferred status and an expression of personal character that comes from car-ownership. This will all call for a radical shift in thinking. 

Nick Reed, Head of Mobility Research and Development at Bosch agreed. “Do we need to consider the role of incentives in encouraging people to move away from traditional models?” he suggested. This idea resonated with Arcadis’ Transport Innovation Director, Tim Strong, who pointed towards innovative approaches like Spitsmijden. “This is an approach being used in the Netherlands,” he explained. “It offers financial rewards to incentivise smart travel choices and is one way to start changing road behaviour.” 

Zero Carbon Futures’ Colin Herron was even more forthright in his assessment.  “We need to out-game the idiots,” he said, referring to the need to out-engineer negative human behaviours. This was a particular concern when it came to the risk of vandalism or other potential misuse of an un-monitored CAV system. 

Mobility for all

It was universally agreed that the benefits of CAV need to be shared in a way that ensures all round prosperity. It can’t just be about giving people who already have options, more options. 

Julia Goldsworthy, Director of Strategy for the West Midlands Combined Authority, was one of the most vocal proponents for a human-centric, inclusive approach to CAV. “We need to bring everything back to the citizen,” she said. “How will CAV change the region for those that live and work here?”

For Mike Waters, Director of Policy, Strategy and Innovation at Transport for the West Midlands, one solution is around ensuring CAV is fully integrated with the existing public transport network. “People need transport links that are reliable, regardless of the mode of travel,” he said. “CAV needs to complement – not threaten – the existing system.” 

It’s also about skills and creating a sustainable industry for the region. While the types of roles will change, engineering still needs to be an attractive career option, with CAV being a tangible and accessible part of the picture. 

Different parts of the whole

Clearly there is no single answer as to how we can best realise a CAV future. With so many interrelating constituent parts, a holistic approach to mobility that unites multiple aspects into one cohesive system will be crucial to success. 

In drawing the discussion to a close, Simon Marks summarised much of the thinking around the table.  “Whether young, old, mobility impaired or part of the squeezed middle, CAV needs to be about improving everyday quality of life for everyone, he said. “As we explore new technologies and bring together businesses and organisations that wouldn’t traditionally work together, we need to ensure this goal stays front-of-mind. A layered approach to implementation, with the citizen at the centre, will be crucial as CAV moves ever closer to becoming a reality.”   

The Top Six Takeaways

Looking at what needs to happen in order to move the CAV agenda forward, some key themes emerged: 

1.  Behavioural change is the biggest challenge. 

2.  We can focus on supporting the development of CAV technology, but fundamentally it’s about people. 

3.  Collaboration is key. 

4.  Is there a role for incentivisation? 

5.  Incremental change coupled with reinforcement of the benefits of CAV will be key to progressive consumer adoption. 

6.  Ultimately, we are in a transition period and we all need to be active in participating in the change.   

Future mobility in West Midlands

Arcadis would like to thank our event partner, the West Midlands Growth Company, and the following for contributing to the debate: 

•  James Bonner, Self-Driving Progamme Manager, Addison Lee Group 

•  Nick Reed, Head of Mobility R&D, Bosch

•  Mark Bonnor-Moris, Sales Director, BP Chargemaster

• Alan Smith, Head of Growth Programmes, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

•  Mike Waters, Director of Policy, Strategy & Innovation, Transport for the West Midlands  

• Julia Goldsworthy, Director of Strategy, West Midlands Combined Authority

•  Nicky Hewitt, Commercial Director, West Midlands Growth Company

•  David Shepherd, Senior Business Development Manager (Automotive), West Midlands Growth Company

•  Colin Herron CBE, Founder and Managing Director, Zero Carbon Futures

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Simon Marks

City Executive Birmingham Ask me a question
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