Innovate UK Transport Vision 2050
Transportation will grow between now and 2050, but as the climate emergency bites, the UK must make it sustainable

Transport in 2050: how to turn ambitious vision into reality

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Karl Tomusk

By 2050, a modern transport system will enable us to move by “seamless, safe, net zero, connected, cost effective, accessible and reliable means,” according to a new study.

At least that’s Innovate UK’s vision for country in a new report. The aspirations are lofty: near 100% reliability; cost-effective and accessible; almost all transport will be zero emission at the point of use; transport related deaths will reduce to near zero; and transport will drive economic growth, exports and new jobs.

The question is how to get there.

In its report, Innovate UK has set out six areas where steps need to be taken to reach that vision for 2050.

Travel and transport demand

Total road traffic is forecast to grow between 17-51% from 2015-2050, which raises potential problems for the UK’s plans to reduce carbon-intensive activities. “Demand can be reduced, but there is an equally important role for zero emission technology and modal shift away from more polluting transport modes,” the report said.

Post-pandemic economic recovery packages should target decarbonisation and shifts in behaviour. This could include further decentralised work, which would reduce the need to travel to work. National and international taxes and subsidies could also influence approaches to transport.

Connectivity

Greater efficiency will depend on better connectivity. “Connecting transport systems and vehicles through cellular and satellite communications technology will lead to significant efficiency gains and new services for both travellers and freight,” the report said.

Improved connectivity – Innovate UK imagines “widespread 7G use by 2050” – will be able to power real-time data for more efficiency planning of road use, while machine learning could lead to more efficiency traffic management systems.

Energy vectors

Innovate UK Energy Sources

Forecast energy sources, by vehicle type, between 2021-2050 (click to expand)

The UK will need a complete shift from fossil fuels to sustainably produced electricity, hydrogen and other alternatives.

Liquid fuel – hydrogen, biofuels and fossil fuels – will still be the dominant energy source in 2030, which means there will need to be a “major transition” to other fuels between 2030 and 2050.

In order to achieve net zero by 2050, electric batteries will have to power more than 99% of cars and vans, 50% of buses, 50% of HGVs, 95% of rail and 100% of micromobility – electric and human-powered vehicles under 200kg.

Autonomy

Automated vehicles will be able to reduce costs, improve safety and improve “dull, dirty or dangerous” human tasks. The report said it expects private vehicles to operate in driverless mode in limited areas by 2030 and to be common place by 2035.

Self-driving train trials should take place on the intercity rail network by 2030. Meanwhile, the first autonomous commercial air flights will take place by 2030 – although passenger-carrying aircrafts will likely retain pilots for the foreseeable future.

Business models

Digitalisation, robotics and connectivity will bring about new business models, with consumers demanding faster and more reliable delivery services. However, the report said that while businesses will find creative ways to minimise costs, forecasting the most successful business opportunities is “extremely challenging”.

Policymakers and commercial organisations will need to react quickly as winning strategies emerge.

Infrastructure

In order to reduce fossil fuel use by more than 90% by 2050, the UK will have to invest in zero carbon production and distribution of power. This includes a need for an estimated 280,000 road charging points by 2030 and the electricity infrastructure to support 800km of railway running on battery trains in 2050.

Looking ahead

The report said: “A vision of transport in 2050 can only be realised by investing in new and emerging areas where the UK can capture value. We must understand which organisations have the strengths to deliver which part of a future transport system.”

Innovate UK is carrying out what it calls a “significant study” to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the UK transport supply base compared to other countries. The summary of its findings will be published this autumn.

The organisation also said the vision is meant to provoke debate, and it is seeking feedback to help refine and improve that vision.

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