In the first in a three part series of blogs, Transport Systems Catapult CEO Paul Campion looks ahead to find out where the next big names of transport will come from and the trends that will shape their innovations.
When you think of the great names from the past who helped create the transport system of today I’ll bet names like Thomas Telford, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, George Stevenson, Henry Ford, William Morris, the Wright brothers or Sir Frank Whittle come first to mind. It is the great engineering and infrastructure works of the past that we think of; the roads, bridges and railways, the car, the bicycle, the train and the plane.
Transport has always been about stuff and may people have strong emotional attachments to that stuff. Railway enthusiasts famously get misty-eyed at the thought of trains of the past, and petrol-heads and plane fans match their passion for the machines they love.
The future, too, promises to be full of exciting machines; the papers are full of stories about Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), drones and flying taxis. But in the world of everyday transport something different is happening. The industry which has always been about things is increasingly becoming focused on services instead.
Transport services have always been there, unless you are driving your own car then a company is likely to be providing a transport services for you. Almost no-one flies their own plane; we rely on British Airways to own and run the planes that take us on holiday and rail and marine journeys (and the transport of goods) is all based on buying a transport service from someone.
Car journeys represent 62% of all trips in the UK, but even here we might miss the fact that half of the UK’s cars are leased or rented (and so the car is, technically, being used as a service) and that substantial businesses depend on the services offered to support the use of the car from insurance to…err…servicing
But why would the services industry in transport grow in the future?
Firstly, transport is not immune to the global and long-standing trend towards the transformation of all industries to services industries. There are many drivers of this trend and we are all familiar with some recent examples where industries have been radically transformed from products to services – the music business is an obvious and extreme example.
The UK economy is an exemplar of the trend. In the 19th century the UK economy was largely industrial; today, although the UK still manufactures things at a level roughly consistent with its overall share of the global economy (the CIA world factbook quote on Wikipedia has the UK as the seventh largest industrial economy in 2017 versus the 5th largest overall), manufacturing represents only about 20% of its economy.
As manufacturing has become more and more productive (i.e. more and more mechanised so that fewer people produce more goods) more people have been released to work in the services sector.
Secondly, the wave of new information and communications technologies that have transformed sectors like music and publishing are now set to do the same to transport.
New ideas like Mobility as a Service promise to deliver better outcomes to travellers by bringing together existing products and services into wider, more convenient networks. In freight, too, concepts like the ‘physical internet’ aim to deliver better service by putting services wrappers around existing infrastructure and vehicles.
From the perspective of the overall economy, this is important. The lifetimes of transport infrastructure are extremely long and the size and value of the national transport asset base is so large that we could not significantly change the roads, railways and vehicle fleets in the next ten years if we wanted to. What we can do, though, is to make better use of what we have by helping people and things to have more options and to make better choices about how they travel.
The good news for the UK is that there are a lot of world-class companies in the UK who are working on these opportunities. From Transport operators, to consultants and infrastructure companies to the universities and research organisations, the UK is well positioned to take the lead in providing better solutions to citizens and companies – and to export them to other countries who share the same challenges.
I believe that we can help these companies to take this lead and to become the next great names of transport. In my next blog posts I will discuss some of the things that are standing in the way of these companies delivering the future today and what we might be able to do about them.