The sign of a developed society is that the affluent use public transport'
Future of Transport speakers offer a range of suggestions for Cambridge
A stellar cast of speakers at the Future of Transport also considered what’s happening above ground as transport decisions – so long mired in process – reach a critical decision point.
One reason for the additional sense of urgency has been AstraZeneca, whose arrival in the city has already boosted the prospect of a new station near Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Cambridge South station is “a key enabler for life sciences from our point of view”, said AstraZeneca’s Andy Williams, who is vice president R&D for MedImmune and Cambridge Transition team leader for AstraZeneca. Mr Williams is also a committee member on the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Joint Assembly.
“We want 90 per cent of our employees to live within five miles of a decent travel hub,” said Mr Williams. “We just want a direct link to work – our staff don’t care if it’s light rail or driverless cars, they just want to get from A to B, and it needs to be cost-effective.”
AstraZeneca, as the Cambridge Independent has reported, has already built its own tunnel on Cambridge Biomedical Campus to carry services between its buildings - something of a proof-of-concept for the viability of boring through the Cambridge clay.
Charlene Rohr, senior research leader at RAND Europe, considered how transport might look in 2035.
“The Government needs to think about how new technologies can provide the maximum benefit to society,” she saidr. “There will be winners and losers because the benefits of new technologies are not going to be evenly distributed.
“ICT connectivity can be a complement to travel, but it can also be a substitute for travel.”
People might stay at home more, or “might choose to live further away and come in less often”.
Rachel Stopard, interim chief executive of Greater Cambridge Partnership, said: “Liberating the city centre from cars is an option we would all aspire to.”
The partnership is keen “to enable the shift from private cars to public transport”, echoing the ethos of smart Cambridge who are wont to quote Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota, who said: “The sign of a developed society is not that even the poor have cars; it is that even the affluent use public transport.”
Autonomous pods on the guided busway was the topic for Dr Richard Fairchild, director of Autonomous Mobility Programmes at Aurrigo, part of RDM. A 15-person pod “can run quite effectively even when it’s quite empty”, said Dr Fairchild. “We’re halfway through a feasibility study which has shown that we can run a pod service on the guided busway and we’re in the process of deigning a vehicle which can accommodate the guided busway.”
Dr Fairchild also challenged the idea – a matter of principle for petrolheads – that the driverless era will be boring. To laughter, he pointed out that boring means safe.
“I just flew back from Australia and it was a really boring flight and that’s what you want, nobody wants an exciting flight.”
Last up was Nathan Wrench, head of industrial and energy projects at Cambridge Consultants.
“Drones are amazing things, but up close they are terrifying, it’s like a lawnmower upside down,” said Mr Wrench, while outlining how DelivAir would mean drones making deliveries to people needing stuff from car parts to medicine to flowers.
“There are lots of roadblocks in this area – regulatory roadblocks,” Mr Wrench added. Probably just as well: lawnmowers in the sky should mean traffic lights in the sky too, and it might take a while to get the technology right.