This piece has been updated to reflect comment from Transport for London (TfL).
- The London Assembly Transport Committee has released a report examining the city's response to and readiness for technological innovation, as well as the future of transportation in the city. The report focused on three technological changes: connected and autonomous vehicles, app-based services and drones.
- The committee's report cites "recent failures" in the city's preparations and claims it's not ready to be a leader in innovative transportation technology. It lists eight strategies that the mayor and the city's transportation agency, Transport for London (TfL), should take to advance technology that will benefit citizens. The report claims London will not be ready for widespread AV rollout until the 2030-2040 timeframe, and the city is similarly unprepared to launch retail deliveries by drones or street robots anytime soon.
- TfL Director of Transport Innovation Michael Hurwitz responded to the report in a statement emailed to Smart Cities Dive. "This report outlines the challenges that all cities across the UK, including London, face when considering how transport will operate in the future. We work with a wide range of tech companies around the world to support and learn from innovation that could improve transport across London. This work builds on what we have already delivered in areas such as contactless ticketing, free open data and state of the art signaling to deliver some of the highest frequency metro services in the world ... As part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, many of these elements are already being considered and TfL is involved in a number of pilots and initiatives to help ensure that any introduction of new technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones is safe, environmentally-friendly and consistent with our focus on walking, cycling and green public transport," Hurwitz said.
The committee's assessment certainly does not paint London's transit agency in a capable, positive light. It illustrates an agency that has bungled numerous chances to innovate and reduce traffic congestion, such as through the introduction of on-demand ride-sharing and dockless bike-sharing.
The city's foul relationship with Uber is widely known, having made global headlines when it stripped the company of an operating license within the city last year. That decision is currently under appeal. Uber's arrival in London also brought a spike of traffic congestion, which the report says was due to the city's lack of preparation for the service's introduction.
TfL also took heat for its oversight — or lack thereof — of dockless bike-share services that launched in London last summer. oBike reportedly was the first. Its bikes suddenly appeared on the street, but the city hadn't been notified that the operator was launching a service in London. With no proper user education program in place, bikes were left in inappropriate and potentially dangerous places. TfL and the individual boroughs started seizing the bikes, and oBike was asked to remove the others. It no longer operates in London, although other bike-share businesses have moved in.
In response to the dockless dustup, the transportation report has recommended strict oversight of dockless bike-share companies, in the form of operational license requirements. The report applauds the code of practice that TfL instigated in September, but recommends that the agency goes further and requires operating licenses. This would also enable the city to limit the number of operators, which would cut down on dockless bikes littering the city.
The report claims that London will not make the UK goal of having AVs on the road by 2021, and that a more realistic expectation is sometime after 2030. It notes that the examined transportation innovations have the potential to reduce congestion in London and improve residents' quality of life and satisfaction. However, the mayor and TfL must get moving on preparations because early transportation technology adoption opportunities are quickly dwindling.