In an effort to achieve 'net-zero' carbon emissions, many local authorities across the UK are implementing immediate measures to cut the number of vehicles entering towns and cities. Pressure increased after a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that demanded ministers take immediate action to cut air pollution. Following this ruling five UK cities (Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby) set up Clean Air Zones (CAZ).
Reducing congestion in city centres is not new. However, there is no common consensus on how to move forward, even across the different cities that are implementing CAZ. Birmingham plans to charge a fee for access to its city centre for cars, taxis, buses and coaches. Southampton has dropped plans to charge vehicles for access to the CAZ, preferring to use other means to reduce pollution. Other cities have published plans to charge HGV vehicles and taxis for access to CAZ but not private cars.
With nearly nine in 10 car users in England agreeing that they require a car for their current lifestyle, local authorities need to strike the right balance between reducing congestion and maintaining sustainable travel networks.
Nobody benefits from traffic congestion. Not only does it increase pollution in the air, it makes people late. There is evidence that it causes road accidents and can even lead to more road rage. Many cities were not designed to deal with modern volumes of traffic. But reducing congestion relies on more than charging cars to enter certain areas.
Cities have conflicting objectives: on one hand cities have a responsibility to encourage visitors via a thriving city centre retail environment; on the other, they need to reduce congestion. Cities can take arbitrary measures such as banning all parking in a city centre, but this just generates new problems: what about private parking? Will employers want to relocate to a city without these facilities for employees? These are all legitimate concerns.
Embracing the digital
Digital transformation gives public authorities the ability to react to local conditions based on evidence. For example, a digital platform gives the flexibility to look at the implementation of dynamic pricing and permitting to best satisfy a range of demands on parking spots in a town or city. Dynamic pricing means the cost of parking changes depending on the availability of space. Today car parks that are nearer the centre of a town or city tend to charge more than those on the outskirts or ‘park and ride’ schemes. Dynamic parking can implement this in real time, assessing the number of free spaces available and the level of air pollution and setting parking costs to reflect this.
Considering the average motorist in the UK spends almost four days per year, a total of 91 hours, looking for parking spaces, if this can be reduced there is a clear and obvious immediate win: cities become less polluted; drivers less frustrated and the volume of fuel and emissions wasted reduces significantly.
Data driving the change
Data is a key enabler for innovation in transport and an essential part of 21st century infrastructure. Increased sharing of information in real-time can ensure an open mobility marketplace, enabling a better user experience and improving the safety and efficiency of the transport network. Using Big Data to analyse real-time traffic information can help local governments to refine traffic management policies whilst reducing carbon emissions. Data is critical to driving insight that delivers improved outcomes for cities and residents, for example creating a cleaner environment and allowing them to get around the town or city using efficient transport systems.
Building a sustainable future
Reducing pollution is critical to city dwellers wellbeing. But so is effective transportation, particularly when, by 2030 the United Nations estimates that 60% of the world’s population will live in a city. It is therefore not surprising that most cities are having to think strategically about how to deliver the best possible environment for residents. Cities will need to rely on more than blunt tools and balance business, retail and resident demands in planning consideration to ensure that the cities of 2050 are effective places to live and work.
Paul Moorby is CEO of Chipside