Future Urban Technologies: Undertaking Research to Enhance Sustainability

Project details

Full project title: Future urban technologies: Undertaking research to enhance sustainability

Sponsor: EPSRC (Sustainable Urban Environment Programme)

Principal investigator: Professor Mike McDonald, University of Southampton

UWE Bristol co-investigator: Professor Glenn Lyons

Project partners: University of Southampton, University of the West of England, University of Leeds and Transport Research Laboratory

Start date: April 2003

Finish date: March 2004

Project summary

FUTURES is a Scoping Study for a research programme to develop fundamental understandings of the impacts and potential of new technologies to contribute to Sustainable Urban Environments (SUE). It is one of four related scoping studies in Cluster 3 (Transport) of the EPSRC SUE Programme. FUTURES is bringing together key individuals from four institutions from a wide variety of disciplines.

The researchers are working with a stakeholder group led by Institute for Transport Studies UK to provide advice, focus and to confirm relationships to support focused research activities in a subsequent proposal. In the context of understanding drivers for change, the Scoping Study will identify research needs and opportunities in three related and overlapping areas of traveller services, traffic and transport systems and services and the environment. Outreach, to ensure that the programme engages fully with all those involved in sustainable urban transport, is a key activity.

The Centre for Transport and Society is leading the Traveller Services area.

Traveller Services

The potential impact of new technology on transport is clear, witnessed by developments associated with personal travel, triggered by the emergence of the Internet as a mainstream communications medium. Growth in Internet access and use has been dramatic and is becoming ubiquitous in (urban) society, with increased availability of access from desktop PCs, mobile devices and public kiosks, coupled with falling equipment costs and more user friendly interfaces. The Internet is already serving the traveller by facilitating the option of virtual mobility for a number of activities (obviating the need for physical travel by the individual), as well as supporting the delivery of increasingly sophisticated and effective information services to assist individuals in planning and executing their physical journeys.

Considerable growth in the number of people teleworking and using other teleservices like teleshopping in the UK has taken place at the same time as the growth in Internet access and use. There is a need to understand how such developments are diminishing the significance of spatial location, how personal travel patterns are being affected and, crucially, how virtual mobility can be directed to make a positive contribution to a sustainable urban environment.

In line with the emergence of the Internet, the flagship of UK information systems developments is now a government-led initiative called Transport Direct that seeks to deliver an integrated multi-modal travel information service, principally via the Internet. Considerable momentum therefore exists concerning traveller services but the scope of the field is vast and understanding of the technical opportunities and public benefits of traveller services' innovations remains limited in a number of areas.

This part of the Scoping Study will seek to:

  1. review and assess understanding of the nature of and barriers to (virtual) travel in urban areas
  2. identify opportunities where new or improved traveller services can significantly assist such travel; and
  3. scope the technical, organisational, political, behavioural and social issues and challenges associated with such opportunities.

Four areas identified at the proposal stage as worthy of consideration include:

  1. determining how the nature and extent of flexible working practices are evolving in urban areas in the context of Internet use and what the consequences are for personal travel patterns;
  2. identifying the extent to which lack of availability of, or access to, traveller services exacerbates mobility-related social exclusion in urban areas;
  3. improving the navigation of walk links within and at the beginning and end of (multi-stage) public transport journeys; and
  4. exploring the ability of distributed technologies, such as the Internet, to support effective traveller services relating to demand responsive transport and car share schemes.