Following the Future of mobility: urban strategy published in March 2019, the Department for Transport (DfT), are now seeking views and evidence on what could be incorporated into a Future of Transport: rural strategy.
This consultation document is structured in 3 sections:
- the context of the Future of Transport: rural strategy
- our assessment of the mobility trends in rural areas, and the emerging opportunities for rural environments that we are witnessing in transport innovation – this section seeks views on whether we’ve identified these correctly and further evidence for these trends
- consideration of the approach that the government could take to help shape these opportunities to benefit rural areas
How to respond
The consultation period began on 24 November 2020 and will run until 16 February 2021. Please make sure that your response reaches us before the closing date.
You can respond to this call for evidence in 3 ways:
Future of Transport Rural Strategy Call for Evidence
Department for Transport
Zones 1-3, Floor 3, Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
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Freedom of information
Information provided in response to this consultation, including personal information, may be subject to publication or disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
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We are on the cusp of a revolution in the way that people and goods move around. Multiple changes are happening at the same time, including:
- changes in transport technology, such as increasing levels of automation, the development of new transport modes, the transition to cleaner vehicles, and the growing availability of transport data
- changes in demand for transport, driven by our evolving work and commuting patterns (particularly in light of COVID-19), an increase in online services and online purchasing, an increasingly diverse and ageing population, and the increasing importance of accessible transport
- changes in transport business models, as new digitally enabled business models emerge, creating the potential for new services and improved ways of accessing services
These changes are happening fastest in urban areas. The government published the Future of mobility: urban strategy in March 2019, setting out the approach we will take to seize the opportunities from these changes while managing potential undesired effects.
As part of our plan to level up our regions, and building on initiatives such as the Rural Mobility Fund, we want to ensure the benefits of transport innovation reach all parts of the country. This includes those rural communities and towns that have been left behind as a result of the lack of economic, educational and social opportunities, which flow directly from having good transport connectivity.
We, therefore, plan to publish a Future of Transport: rural strategy specifically setting out how innovations and technological developments in transport can be harnessed in rural communities. The aim of this strategy is to set out how central government, local authorities, communities and the private sector can influence how these trends emerge so they can best benefit rural areas by increasing the range and choice of transport options, and helping to deliver on transport decarbonisation.
Within this consultation document, we use the term ‘rural’ in line with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) rural classifications. We expect the strategy to cover rural communities and small towns across the length of the country, ranging from towns like Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria down to the villages of the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall.
Given the different population structures and density and different travelling patterns and geography, the opportunities from innovation in transport could be different in rural areas, which may necessitate a different approach to that taken in urban areas:
- people living in rural areas are, on average, older
While only 27% of those aged over 65 live in predominantly rural areas, the average age of the rural population is 43, whereas the average age of people living in predominantly urban areas is 38[footnote 1].
The population aged 65 years and over is projected to grow by around 50% in both urban and rural areas between 2016 and 2039, but the younger population is projected to grow by 8% in urban areas, with virtually no increase in the younger population in rural areas. This will result in an increase in the ratio of older to younger people overall, but it will be particularly notable in rural areas[footnote 2].
- in rural areas, cars are used more often and for longer trips than in urban areas
People living in the most rural areas rely more on private cars, which accounted for 76% of all their trips. In comparison, 52% of trips by residents of urban conurbations were made by private car.[footnote 3]
- active travel is more common in urban areas than rural
On average people in cities and towns travel approximately 40% more miles walking and cycling than those in rural villages and hamlets.[footnote 4]
- aspects of geography, such as islands or mountainous terrain can limit the number of routes in and out of some rural areas
Innovation in rural areas has the potential to open new opportunities for a range of transport services. This could create greater choice for how people in rural areas move, as well as creating new opportunities for journeys that do not currently exist. There is also the potential to radically transform how goods are delivered in rural areas. Innovating how people and goods move around also has the potential to help meet our ambitions for decarbonisation, achieving net-zero by 2050.
There is a risk that rural areas are not able to harness new technology and innovation to address the needs of people that live in rural areas without further action. For example, they might fall further behind if development and implementation of the technology does not take account of the needs of people who live in rural areas because operators and innovators consider services may not be commercially viable over the long term.
In this section, we set out some of the current trends facing the transport ecosystem in rural areas, followed by our assessment of the developments in innovation that have the potential to significantly change how people and goods move around.
Issues facing rural areas
Rural areas face a range of mobility concerns which can lead to social and economic issues.
Dependence on the private car
Residents in rural areas continue to be dependent on private cars for mobility. Private car use remains higher in more rural areas. This is partly associated with older residents and partly due to the reduced availability of alternatives.
In many smaller towns, residents have few options for convenient and affordable public transport and risk being cut off from basic services if they don’t have access to a car.
There also tends to be a lack of active travel infrastructure, including safe walking and cycling routes between towns and villages, increasing the reliance on the private car.
This, in turn, creates an assumption that rural communities need to be designed with the private car in mind, and has created a lower demand for public transport services.
Access to key services
Infrequent and sometimes declining public transport can make it difficult for people travelling even relatively short distances to access social and medical services. This can lead to particular difficulties for the elderly or less mobile in accessing health services, and limit opportunities for young people to become socially mobile.
However, at the same time how we access goods and services is changing, with an increasing prevalence of online shopping and – particularly following COVID-19 – increasing availability of online services, such as GP appointments.
Access to employment
Limited transport options can also lead to difficulties accessing workplaces.
The limited public transport service in rural areas is also serving as a barrier to growth and productivity gains for local businesses.
Existing and emerging business needs could be drivers of change for innovative transport.
Lack of transport options is also a key factor in exacerbating isolation and deteriorating mental health. Social isolation and loneliness can lead to a decline in health and wellbeing, and even an increase in premature deaths.
Rural areas have a unique set of circumstances that can exacerbate the social isolation of older residents, in particular, leading to poor health, loss of independence and lower quality of life.
Do you have any evidence for the issues mentioned?
Do you think there are other issues facing rural areas that we should consider in the strategy?
Developments in innovation for rural transport
Against this backdrop, technological and business innovation has the potential to transform how people and goods move around rural areas – both now and in the coming decades.
Here, we give an overview of the main trends, benefits, challenges and uncertainties of their impacts. These trends are interconnected and will influence each other.
Increasing use of active travel modes
Trends in the uptake of e-bikes along with digitalisation (for example, mapping) have the potential to increase the use of active transport modes.
E-bikes can be particularly effective in semi-rural areas for last-mile trips[footnote 5] connecting to mass transit[footnote 6], where the last mile can be considerably longer than a mile, and potentially through hilly terrain.
For example, a propensity-to-cycle tool for Cornwall shows a potential 19.1% increase in cycling using an e-bike[footnote 7].
Potentially, e-bikes could also contribute to improved age and/or gender balance, as well as enabling more cycling by disabled people.
Increased data on walking and cycling routes with digital-mapping tools and applications can also help open active routes that can otherwise go unknown, encouraging more people to use active journeys where possible.
Micromobility is the use of small mobility devices, designed to carry 1 or 2 people or last-mile deliveries, such as e-scooters and e-cargo bikes.
There is considerable enthusiasm for the potential for shared e-scooters to assist in changing behaviour from driving to multi-modal travel. Shared e-scooter trials are currently underway in Tees Valley, Norfolk and Great Yarmouth, among other places.
More effective integration of journeys
Commonly, more than one mode or service is required to complete a journey in rural areas. Ensuring reliability in transitioning between modes is essential, as a break in the chain could result in a person being stranded for a considerable amount of time.
As more accurate and live data on services become available, there is an opportunity to link different services together to create a more seamless experience for the user. Digital platforms such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) allow users to plan, book and pay for their travel, and other journey planning applications provide travellers with information on linking journeys over multiple modes.
We are also seeing innovation in infrastructure to support the linking of services such as mobility hubs. These co-locate different modes and services together, providing safe, accessible and comfortable waiting areas. Mobility hubs can also reduce the need to travel long distances by co-locating some community services, such as GP appointments and parcel lockers, with transport modes.
We also expect to see a significant increase in demand for charging infrastructure for electric vehicles as conventional vehicles are phased out. Rural communities have unique and different electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure needs compared with urban areas and addressing those needs will be a crucial part of the government’s strategy for EV charging infrastructure.
Digital models for more flexible services
With increasing data and digital capability, we are seeing the emergence of new digitally-enabled models of transport provision, including demand-responsive transport (DRT). Such platforms can be flexible in the services they provide to meet demand, increasing their commercial viability, while providing greater convenience for users. New models of ‘feeder services’, for example, shared taxis and DRT, could be trialled in rural areas to determine whether they can meet some of the needs of people at lower costs – both to individuals and communities.
Digital applications for car and ride-sharing can also improve the consumer experience and make these services easier to use. This could have particular benefit for employers with large numbers of staff driving to work in business parks or other out-of-town zones. There are financial, logistical and decarbonisation benefits from developing shared transport options, such as commuter shuttles, or people sharing privately owned cars.
Data and digital improvements unlocking market knowledge
Better data and digital connectivity can enable an improved understanding of the market potential for more agile mobility services (for example, DRT).
Big data is being used in private transport, public transport and freight to enable dynamic journey management and planning. Increased data can also provide travellers with more information upon which to base decisions around which mode to choose, in line with priorities such as cost, speed or health benefits.
We are starting to see new modes emerge to transport people and goods. For example, drone delivery can assist in rural and semi-rural areas.
Fully automated drone deliveries were originally part of Solent Transport’s successful bid to create a Future Transport Zone. A centrepiece of that proposal was to create an automated drone air traffic control system to supply medical supplies across the Solent, saving time and cost, and reducing emissions.
For the first time in the UK, a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operated at an airport concurrent with manned aircraft. Solent Transport will now develop a smaller, fully automated drone with the vertical take-off and landing capability.
Rural areas may have a first-mover advantage in some emerging aviation mobility technologies, which could make investments in drone landing spaces and secure 5G-connected drone corridors a realistic option for servicing more remote locations. As an island nation, there is also the potential for new zero-emission and automated vessels for transporting goods to coastal communities. COVID-19 has led to an acceleration in research and trialling of automated freight delivery around the world.
We are also starting to see examples of increasing automation of passenger services as well. Small autonomous and electric aircraft may be able to move goods and people efficiently in low volumes, particularly in island communities.
Self-driving vehicles are also being developed to operate in rural environments. For example, Japan has recently trialled self-driving shuttles in rural settings for older people to increase mobility. In the UK, the Human Drive pilot project completed a 230-mile self-navigated journey from Cranfield to Sunderland that covered semi-rural and urban areas.
Many rural communities have strong local identities, fostering strong community ties and support. It will be important to recognise and harness this community spirit and understand how it can facilitate innovation in transport services in and for rural communities.
Home-working and home-based businesses are an increasingly significant feature of rural economies. This includes businesses in traditional rural sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, but increasingly in creative and knowledge-intensive service sectors too.
The changing composition of rural economies has seen a shift towards increasing numbers of businesses that are selling goods and services beyond their local areas. Innovations can help rural businesses to reach markets more quickly via improved transport connections.
What examples do you have of the transport trends in rural areas of:
- increasing use of active travel modes
- more effective integration of journeys
- digital models for more effective services
- data and digital improvements unlocking market knowledge
- new modes of transport
- strong community links?
Do you think there are other trends in innovation we haven’t included?
We want to be able to harness these opportunities to encourage the availability of a greater range of transport services across rural areas.
We recognise that some of these opportunities could be available over the short term, while others will be developed over the next decade.
We want to create the conditions to enable these near-term opportunities to be grasped while ensuring that the needs of rural areas are embedded in longer-term technologies and services as they are developed.
Building upon Future of Transport principles
In the Future of mobility: urban strategy, we provided a set of principles to underpin our approach to transport innovation in urban areas. There are a number of these principles that we think are also relevant to guide the application of innovation in rural areas, as well as to ensure that this innovation can meet wider social and economic policy objectives, and limit any unintended consequences.
While building on these principles, we acknowledge that there are different market forces within rural areas, along with different mobility needs; therefore, it is appropriate that government takes a bespoke approach to transport innovation in rural areas.
One example of a rural-specific principle could be around the promotion of shared journeys. While lower population densities in rural areas might mean that mass transit is not always an option, there is potential to increase the number of shared journeys – whether within a shared car or through DRT. Such services can help reduce the carbon footprint of journeys, as well as provide another travel option to increase accessibility within rural areas.
The urban principles
In facilitating innovation in urban mobility for freight, passengers and services, the government’s approach will be underpinned as far as possible by the following principles:
- new modes of transport and new mobility services must be safe and secure by design
- the benefits of innovation in mobility must be available to all parts of the UK and all segments of society
- walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys
- mass transit must remain fundamental to an efficient transport system
- new mobility services must lead the transition to zero emissions
- mobility innovation must help to reduce congestion through more efficient use of limited road space – for example, through sharing rides, increasing occupancy or consolidating freight
- the marketplace for mobility must be open to stimulate innovation and give the best deal to consumers
- new mobility services must be designed to operate as part of an integrated transport system combining public, private and multiple modes for transport users
- data from new mobility services must be shared, where appropriate, to improve choice and the operation of the transport system
Do you think the Future of Transport: rural strategy should include the above principles? Which additional principles would you like to see in the strategy?
Encouraging transport innovation in rural areas
Beyond a principles-based approach to innovation in rural areas, we also recognise the importance of testing, trialling and governance to enable new technologies to emerge.
Testing and trialling
Creating a safe environment for testing and trialling new technologies is important for:
- understanding how new technologies are embedded in the real world
- enabling local leaders to shape emerging mobility technologies and services proactively
- gathering customer insights
This can also help prove commercial cases for investors, and identify and respond to any regulatory or other challenges to enable the roll-out of successful projects on a larger scale. It can also aid central and local government in understanding how the supply side of the rural mobility market might be stimulated and where there may be a case for government action.
In addition to testing new and novel innovation, there’s a role for testing and trialling proven models within urban areas to understand how these can be adapted for rural areas.
We’re currently considering the role of regulation in enabling trials of new modes through our Future of Transport regulatory review.
Roles for government, sub-national bodies and local authorities
There are several layers of governance within our transport framework. Many powers relating to transport and land use planning are devolved to local and combined authorities. We want to see local and regional authorities equipped to shape the development of new technologies within their places, aligning to local needs and identities, and supporting local growth and development.
We recognise that central government has a role to play in ensuring there is a flexible, innovation-friendly regulatory framework, and that local leaders have a strong role in decisions on transport needs and deployment of new services in their areas. Government can also help shape the conditions for the private sector to invest in rural areas.
Are there specific considerations for testing and trialling new technologies in rural areas that you think we should consider?
In your view, what should the role of:
- central government
- sub-national transport bodies
- local authorities
be in encouraging innovation in rural areas?
Do you think government can encourage the private sector to develop innovative new transport services in rural areas?
How do you think government should encourage the private sector?
Do you have any other comments on this call for evidence?
What will happen next
A summary of responses will be published within 3 months of the call for evidence ending.
Analysis of responses will inform our work to develop a Future of Transport: rural strategy over the coming months.