The Movin’On event held in Montréal Canada in May 2018 was not a traditional transport conference, being styled more as a carnival of mobility. Much of the conference focused on incremental improvements to road vehicles and infrastructure. The automotive industry faces a challenge with cars being perceived as the new cigarettes. Private car ownership in cities is increasingly being seen as costly, inconvenient and environmentally unfriendly.
Unconventional site – the Big Tent on Lachine Canal
This second annual global get-together was held at a former 19th-century shipyard next to the Lachine Canal. It is a comtemporary art gallery the rest of the year, with additional buildings comprised of shipping containers and a large, durable, circus-like tent. Accordingly, the conference provided considerable pizzazz, with musicians outside, DJs inside, and dancers reconfiguring seating for panellists.
Arsenal Gallery hosted Movin’On
The conference name, Movin’On, is likely meant to signify that transport globally is moving on from internal combustion engine locomotion. But this conference was still mainly focused on improving road based transport, as befitting a conference hosted by Michelin. Nor did this conference resemble an auto show of autonomous and electric vehicles (AVs and EVs respectively), although a few such vehicles were on view. Whilst some were operated on a closed track, they ironically did not carry passengers ‒ it seems that the recent spate of AV fatalities has made technology companies suddenly and surprisingly risk averse to exposing the public to experimental technology. A case of technological exuberance meeting the real world.
Millennials are the first generation to realise and manifest this, resulting in a decline in ownership in their demographic. Ford Motor Company has similarly announced that it is switching its business model from manufacturing and selling automobiles to providing mobility services.
Many technologies and concepts were presented that aimed to address these perceptions. Most are still rocketing up the initial slope of the Gartner Hype Cycle, which Reconnections discussed in the UITP 2017 Conference report.
It should be noted that any technology conference these days merely captures a snapshot of the lay of the land – discoveries and breaking business models can overtake presentations within days. Here are some of the sessions covered, plus our analysis of the technologies and concepts:
The car is still king, for now
Numerous vendors displayed intermodal trip planning apps and road throughput optimisation software. But AVs, EVs and road transport improvements and products with their supporting infrastructure comprised the majority of the program schedule.
Although the shuttles to the Movin’On EV and AV test track at the Port of Montréal were electric, the shuttles between the downtown hotels and the conference site were diesel vans. And the latter were slowed by single occupant vehicles on city streets, ironically demonstrating the lack of progress. Cyclists made better time ‒ road space needs to be reserved for more efficient people movement.
But as these topics are already being covered extensively elsewhere, our coverage is on other promising technologies and concepts.
But the future is electric
As a number of presenters stated, the number of EVs will triple in the next three years, according to the International Energy Agency. By 2040, half of all cars manufactured globally could be fully electric. A great improvement from our current 95% dependence on oil transport. Unfortunately, vehicle batteries are not the ideal solution, being heavy, requiring key metals and being difficult to recycle afterwards.
Some presenters pitched their vision of smaller, less noxious and more fuel efficient vehicles, by means of natural gas, hydrogen cells or other alternative fuels. However, this merely assuages the conscience of car buyers. Jevons Paradox also comes into play ‒ whereby efficiency improvements enable more such vehicles, worsening congestion.
Even if half of all vehicles are fully electric by 2040, city air quality will still be a ubiquitous problem, not just from the remaining combustion engines but from tyre and brake particles of the billions of road vehicles worldwide.
This conference did thankfully explore some new alternative transport technologies and demonstrate some concepts ‒ there were free rides on electric bikes, wood frame bikes and electric boats. But no electric scooters.
Continuing the small scale theme, frugal mobility is a term describing the combining of new technology with local expertise. It starts from the ground up as individuals experiment with adapting new technology to local needs. It’s a corollary to the Law of Unintended Consequences.
An example is drones dropping medications. Rwanda is a country of a thousand hills with poor road infrastructure. Delivering blood from the capital to countryside hospitals requires scarce resources and hours of precious time. A small, catapult-launched drone is loaded with the blood packets and flies to its destination, where it drops its payload attached to a small parachute, before flying back to base and landing on a mattress. This is more efficient, less polluting and much faster than road delivery. The service started in October 2016 and has been streamlined and enhanced with larger drones, is expanding into neighbouring Tanzania.
Drone with medication in Africa
Whilst more frugal in concept than cost, Google’s sister company Loon is trialing high altitude balloons to bring internet services to remote parts of Kenya.
Even in the western world, individuals are fighting back by choosing personal mobility, making their own cycle lanes with traffic cones – these lanes are respective by motorists, where paint and signage often isn’t.
Pop up bike lane
To the conference organisers’ credit, they brought in expertise from other transport sectors. As airliners are now basically flying buses for economy class, the commercial aviation sector’s experience is applicable to surface transport and vehicle fleets.
Onboard fault logging system collects data
Airlines are now using Big Data to minimise maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) downtime, as well as to reduce spares needed at depots, using data collected by onboard fault diagnostics built into subsystems which collects data on every trip. Big Data also promises to improve energy and maintenance efficiency. The latest generation of aviation expertise is MRO 4.0, which aims to be collaborative, adaptive, explainable, safe, secure and understandable. Hopefully vehicle fleet and personal mobility device owners take note.
Better known as 3D printing, this technology is starting to be used to construct building and vehicle components. One company at this conference shewed samples of metal parts manufactured by the additive print process. Metal alloy powder is melted in thin layers by a pinpoint laser to create parts with less material, less waste and less weight, with less labour.
Currently additive manufacturing production is limited to small parts, but will no doubt scale up. Eventually this process will replace casting foundries, and should result in slightly lower vehicle weights and costs. With billions of vehicles of all kinds, every percentage improvement counts.
SNCF’s plan to increase mobility
Guillaume Pepy, CEO of Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF), presented his vision of future mobility in France. His vision is no longer of just a train operating company, but actively moving to integrate the stations into surrounding neighbourhoods as an integral part of the city, their neighbourhoods no longer being sketchy outskirts. He noted that Europeans have strong emotions for and nostalgia of railway stations.
SNCF’s Pepy interviewed by former London Deputy Mayor Kulveer Ranger in the Big Tent
The jewel in the French railway crown is Gare du Nord, Paris’ première station, being the gateway to France for most British, Benelux and German rail travellers. Accordingly, SNCF is planning a half billion Euro major overhaul of Gare du Nord to expand and bring the station into the 21st century. The work will need to be completed in time for the city’s 2024 Olympic Games. The station will treble in size to accommodate an additional 100,000 passengers a day, also required for the rising commuter and intercity traveler numbers.
Gare du Nord’s planned cross-section. SNCF
The expansion will transform the Gare du Nord into a ‘symbolic station of the 21st century’, with an enlarged departure hall, an extended Eurostar terminal, numerous accessibility improvements and an additional station entrance. The plan aims to allow operation of the full timetable of more than 2,000 trains per day throughout.
Gare du Nord additional entrance connects to the surrounding arrondissement. SNCF
Pepy noted that the UK’s large railway station rebuild strategy has been quite successful, citing St Pancras and surrounding area as a model redevelopment. Even the hard to please Mrs Long Branch has been impressed with the results on the latter ‒ upon entering St Pancras for the first time in two decades she exclaimed “Wow ‒ this place used to be such a dump.”
Another part of SNCF’s strategy is their plan to upgrade the service quality of all of its lines to TGV (train de grande vitesse) standard.
Global transport pollution
As the scale of human activity continues to increase, so too has its effects. Pollution, no matter where it is generated, is now a global concern.
Land-based electricity generation to support increasing numbers of EVs can learn a lot from recent offshore advances. Whilst international shipping is the most environmentally sound mode of transport (by volume), now carrying 90% of global trade, it produces as much as 18% of worldwide sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. These two have been linked to an increase in deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease around the world.
To counteract this toxic trend, this year the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation (IMO) set January 1, 2020 as the deadline to implement a global sulphur cap of 0.50% m/m (mass/mass), a significant cut from the current 3.5% m/m global limit. Reductions in sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions will significantly improve the environment and human health.
The IMO has announced a further ground-breaking target for global shipping companies to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There are similar local restrictions being enacted as well ‒ an increasing number of maritime Emissions Control Areas which limit the amount of sulphur and nitrogen oxide that vessels can expel near cities and delicate environments.
Trade winds returning?
This has resulted in a renewed worldwide interest in adding sails back onto ships. A couple of modern sail concepts were presented at Movin’On, designed with the goal of reducing the use of cheap and dirty bunker oil.
A handful of different modern sail trials have been unfurled on a few freighters over the last few decades, although the fuel savings and cost-benefit have not been consistently demonstrated.
Kite equipped freighter
But with the introduction of more stringent pollution regulations, and the realisation of the costly impact of severe storms and climate change, there is now a second strong reason to go green on the seas.
Enabled and emboldened by more powerful computers and more sophisticated modelling software, a number of companies are designing and building new sail integrated freighters to optimise wind propulsion. This includes determining the best sail geometry ‒ with real time sensors to optimise operation ‒ as well as using more accurate weather forecasts and GPS navigation to take better advantage of favourable winds. Lighter, composite materials also mean more efficient sails.
Simulations promise that sails can reduce a large freighter’s or tanker’s fuel consumption by 300 tons a year, significantly reducing emissions.
One of the latest sail designs looks like an upright narrow cylinder, but is almost 100 years old ‒ the Flettner rotor sail. It was invented by Finn Sigurd Savonius to harness the Magnus Effect, which generates force perpendicular to wind direction by air moving past the spinning cylinder. As the air pressure on one side is greater than the other, it creates significant force, much like wings provide lift to aircraft.
Flettner’s 1926 schooner
Unfortunately for Savonius, his design was named after German engineer Anton Flettner, who fitted the Finn’s design on a schooner to power it across the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Flettner, the concept was forgotten with the onset of diesel engines and cheap fuel.
The modern version will take advantage of being made from lightweight carbon fibres, which requires less force to spin. Sensors embedded in the rotor will detect wind speed to allow the system to control rotations to maximise the force produced.
The Magnus Effect
The shipping industry has operating margins as meagre as any other global industry, and the threat of bankruptcy awaits like a killer storm ‒ the top ten Hanjin shipping line went under in 2016. Hence the sudden renewed interest in energy efficiency improvements to economise fuel, the most volatile cost factor.
Viking Grace with Flettner rotor sail
Maersk Line and Viking Line cruise ship companies are trialing the installation of Flettner sails to new ships, hoping to save 10% to 20% on fuel usage, depending on wind conditions. A Viking ship is also being fitted out with other green energy systems ‒ converting engine waste heat into electricity, using seawater to cool the engines and the on-board air and using liquid natural gas (LNG) fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.
Environmentally friendly ships and ferries
Because of the Emissions Control Areas, and the increasing understanding of the dangers of airborne pollution, a number of cruise ships are also now being built with battery-electric operation, to allow short range pollution free cruising of up to 50 nautical miles. Urban all-electric ferries are also now being delivered. The ferry market is also examining other means of alternative power including LNG, hydrogen and methanol.
New European rules about environmentally friendly ship recycling are due to come into force in 2019. The international Hong Kong Convention for safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships will follow.
Energy storage on land
Unfortunately, there was little discussion at Movin’On about building cost effective wind and solar energy storage on land, which could bridge the time divide between sustainable electricity generation and peak hour vehicle use. Fortunately Reconnections has also been covering some developments in this field.
The elephants in the city
Many large cities are being inundated with TNCs like Uber and Lyft, with many of their vehicles circling in a holding pattern on city streets. In many cities TNCs are blamed with siphoning riders away from public transport and adding to traffic congestion.
Some large TNCs are still being subsidised by the billions by investors, and many bikeshare companies have already folded. Which makes us think ‒ what will the endgame be for modern cities – to become like Rio di Janeiro, Manila and Mexico City, with day long traffic jams?
Another point that most presenters missed was that transportation network companies Uber, Lyft et al, do not scale up well in dense cities. TNCs are making the mistake of believing their own press.
They also miss the point that road based transport takes valuable real estate away from cities, as well as adding unwanted combustion engine (in most vehicles) and tyre pollution. The free market of roads is leading to gridlock and ill health.
Nonetheless this conference showed that progress is being made in numerous areas. City administrators are becoming quicker at identifying and legislating (and taking advantage of) disruptive technologies.
Movin’On to the summary
Individual mobility components are still growing and maturing, such as bike, car and scooter sharing and connectivity apps, but there is no standout example or city to hold up as a shining example yet.
Nonetheless the focus at this conference was still mainly on personal road based transport, but as this is inefficient, space devouring and mostly polluting, the mobility conversation has really not moved on much at all yet.
In Part 2 we will look at Mobility as a Service (MaaS) examples from this conference.
No Patreon funds were used to attend this conference.