In Leipzig, Germany, more than 1000 decision makers - politicians, CEOs, leading researchers and the heads of international organisations - will gather in two weeks for the 2015 Summit of the International Transport Forum.
José Viegas is Secretary-General of the Forum and we asked him to explain the importance of the event.
“ITF’s Annual Summit is the unique platform for a global conversation on strategies for transport in the 21st century,” says José.
Prior to assuming his current role, José was a professor of transport at the Technical University of Lisbon and also chairman of T.I.S., a consultancy firm advising on transport issues to organisations like the World Bank and the European Commission. In other words, he’s not unfamiliar with the brain-melting problems that the world faces in organising transport.
“Since its launch in 2008, the Annual Summit has developed into the leading global get-together of the key players in transport and transport-related sectors, providing a unique platform for high-level exchange on strategic policy issues.”
While it’s not a gathering that’s widely known to the general public, its impact is significant. “Our mission is to help shape the transport policy agenda on a global level, ensuring that it contributes to economic growth, environmental protection, social inclusion and the preservation of human life and well-being”, explains José.
To give specific examples, an ITF team recently worked with the Mexican government on revising the regulatory framework for rail freight in the country. Their suggestions were passed into law. Another example for ITF work is a recent study on the potential impact of shared self-driving vehicles on city traffic, with some startling conclusions:
“If an autonomous ride-sharing system is put into place,” says José, “the number of vehicles necessary to satisfy all the current trips could be reduced by as much as two thirds, even at the peak hours.” More examples of ITF work are available at www.internationaltransportforum.org.
Mobility for a connected world
This year’s Summit will look at the links between transport, trade and tourism. Global trade generates more than half of global GDP, and tourism represents more than 20% of global exports in services. This is only possible with efficient global transport systems, and consequently the sub-title of the 2015 Summit is ‘Mobility for a connected world’.
José thinks that the rise of new, app-based, decentralised transport services like Uber, Lyft, Blablacar or Buzzcar will prove a key point of debate at this year’s Summit. One of the panels in Leipzig literally puts the issue centre stage, with Uber’s SVP of Policy and Strategy, David Plouffe, and Ogi Redzic, SVP of Connected Driving at HERE debating “What the rise of the sharing economy means for transport”.
Services such as Uber have skyrocketed to commercial success in recent times, but their quick ascent has taken governments and city authorities somewhat by surprise.
“Both they, and the regulatory framework in which they operate, will have to evolve in order to balance the benefits conferred by innovation with societal objectives”, says José. “At the same time, the regulatory environment for competing transport service providers such as taxis and some forms of demand-responsive public transport will also have to evolve to ensure a level playing field.”.
When will self-driving cars hit the road?
Since José is one of the best-informed people on the planet when it comes to transport, we couldn’t resist one final question. What’s his best guess for the arrival of autonomous cars?
“A question I often get asked! Vehicles have been getting more connected and autonomous over the years, so it is something that has been advancing incrementally. The final step will be full automation, i.e. level 5 of the Society of Automotive Engineers Levels of Driving Automation. “
“I think it is no surprise that the main barrier will be the regulatory issues. In fact, we have done a study in this area, with our Corporate Partnership Board, in which we have identified some important policy insights which will need to be taken into account: uncertainty on market deployment strategies and pathways complicates the regulatory task and incrementally; shifting the driving task to machines and algorithms and away from people will require changes in insurance, and may have an impact on what information developers and manufacturers of autonomous vehicles share and with whom. Of course regulators and developers should actively plan to minimise legacy risks. There are many more insights in the report, which you will find here.”
“But to answer your question directly, I would say very probably in about 10 years.”
The Summit programme and speakers can be found at www.internationaltransportforum.org/2015. There is a live webcast, and session summaries, videos and presentations will be made available online. Do tune in.