Overcoming Complexity in Transport

Every person in the in the world depends on transport for work and day to day activities. Even if we never left our houses we would depend on transport for our food, clothes and everything else we need to live.

The energy to heat our homes or cook our food is often generated by fuels delivered by tanker and if we get ill the drugs, bandages, doctors and nurses come to us, or we go to them. In fact, over an eighth of the average household’s spending is on transport and that doesn’t include the hidden freight and transport involved in making and delivering all the goods and services we consume.

The transport network is an amazing thing: it consists of thousands of organisations, public and private, working together in an enormously complicated web of infrastructure and services. It has been doing so in roughly the same way for a long time: unlike industries like retail or publishing, the waves of modern technology (especially IT and telecoms) have not, apparently, had much effect on the roads and the railways.

This is going to change and our research says that it is going to be big business. By 2025 we think that better ways of delivering transport (what we call ‘Intelligent Mobility’) will be worth £900 billion globally.

So why are we not seeing new and better ways of travelling being introduced every day?

The reason is the size and complexity of the transport network: thousands of ‘moving parts’ work together to deliver transport outcomes. If the transport network were a single, mechanical machine with those thousands of moving parts we could imagine that friction would make it hard to turn.

The equivalent of this ‘friction’ in the transport market is what economists call ‘market failures’. For good and bad reasons the various organisations in the transport network do not cooperate together as they could. Costs and benefits are not aligned, information does not flow and there are insufficient incentives for leaders in the industry to take up innovations from universities and from other industries.

To put it another way, without help the market will not deliver the sort of innovations that travellers and businesses want. The spending on transport infrastructure will not deliver the optimum outcomes and the need to decarbonise transport will not be addressed quickly enough.

It is for this reason that the UK government decided to invest taxpayer’s money in an organisation to identify and address those market failures: the Transport Systems Catapult. We are here to help UK industry grow, to increase the number of high quality jobs in the transport industry in the UK and to deliver better transport outcomes for the country.

The central role that the TSC can perform is to be a neutral, independent integrator that brings together the various players in the industry to develop solutions that, working separately, would otherwise not happen, or happen more slowly.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other improvements that can be made to the transport network by helping to deliver innovations currently blocked by market failures. If you’ve ever been frustrated by some travel problem and thought ‘there must be a better way to do this’ you were probably right: the good news is that the Transport Systems Catapult is now here to do something about it!