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"The Future Intelligent Transport Systems initiative" - one more short-sighted interest-fed government-industry boondoggle

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  • Eric Britton
    This kind offer came in from Andrew Curry in the World Transport Forum immediately after I posted my rather critical but no altogether negative note of 10
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 13, 2006
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      This kind offer came in from Andrew Curry in the World Transport Forum immediately after I posted my rather critical but no altogether negative note of 10 October, and I think his proposal might be a useful thing indeed. In fact, Andrew, I want not only to express my appreciation of your willingness to poke into this project with us, but also I would note the quite exceptional nature of your offer. It has been my sad experience over the years that once something like this has been splashed onto the screen or laid in concrete, those behind it either flee or wall themselves up and simply cannot be engaged.


      So kind thanks, and may I suggest that we carry out these exchanges in the New Mobility Idea Factory, for which the posting address is NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com. The best way to access it is via the top menu of the Agenda which sits waiting for us at http://www.newmobility.org.


      I had in fact not responded immediately since I was eager to see what kind of reactions that all this might bring, and am happy to see that there have been a few of our colleagues jumping in. I am eager to give this a full and fair go because I think it is one of those kinds of issues (long term vs. short term) which lurk at the heart of our current disarray before the challenges of the mobility sector in all its many parts. And also because I am sure that the additional information that you are going to put before us will be both challenging and food for thought. Something deeper and better should come out of it.


      So off we go. I await with great interest your first comments, and in the meantime I will hike over to www.foresight.gov.uk and educate myself.  (It’s about time!)


      Eric Britton


      PS. Just in case it is not quite clear (surely the case for most of us), the attached note has been prepared to provide a quick overview of how the various discussion fora under the New Mobility Agenda are organized. We try hard to keep good order in all this, but do not always succeed. (As surely you have noticed from time to time.)





      -----Original Message-----
      On Behalf Of Andrew Curry
      Tuesday, October 10, 2006 9:07 PM
       Subject: "The Future Intelligent Transport Systems initiative" - one more short-sighted interest-fed government-industry boondoggle



      I need to declare an interest here before I start to respond: I was one of the futures consultants who worked with the UK Foresight, which is an independent body inside the Department of Trade and Industry, to create (with a wide range of stakeholders) the scenarios component of the Intelligent Infrastructure Systems project. All the outputs are now online at www.foresight.gov.uk. I'm responding here personally rather than professionally.

      Full disclosure over. The ITS contracts are only a part of the work being done to develop transport policy in the context of future constraints. The soft systems work which underpins the scenarios (which wasn't done by me) is robust and challenging - and looks at the whole context. A number of the stakeholders and advisers - including some well-respected social scientists - ensured that the agenda of the project was as much about alternatives to mobility as easing/encouraging mobility. Without getting into the detail of the four scenarios of themselves, at the heart of each of them is a different 'core driver' of transport use and policy; from ICT innovation, to built environment, to high resource cost, to carbon controls/road rationing.

      I also know, through my work (and therefore can't say much more) that the Department of Transport is engaging with other government departments in the UK to try to develop a cross-government view of future transport policy which extends well beyond the relatively narrow part of the work which was mentioned at the ITS. But the Intelligent Transport Systems Congress isn't really the right place to talk about the other stuff.

      Eric, if you've looked at the scenarios and systems work, and the science summaries, I'm happy to have a debate about whether it covers the right sort of areas. If you haven't, would you like to do that?

      With best wishes

      Andrew Curry


      On 10/10/06, Eric Britton <eric.britton@...> wrote:

      PS: Harsh criticism as this may seem, my goal here is a very positive one. Read on. 


      Boondoggle : Hate to say it John but to my mind this is but one more short-sighted interest-fed government-industry boondoggle: in short the winners are once again circling their wagons and gaily divvying up the accumulating spoils while the planet and the well being of ordinary people continue to come under grave attack every day as the establishment continues in all impunity to ignore the real bottom line. Which believe me is not "intelligent" transport systems. 


      Oops : The fact that such a program is further interest-driven by members of the academic community, who to my mind should have a far deeper understanding of the gravity of the situation we face in this sector and its many components and spin-offs, is, in its own way, quite grave.  Dear academic colleagues. May I respectfully ask that you step back from this kind of thing until we have made at least some palpable progress on the terrible matters at hand.  Your intellect, skills and energy are much needed on far more important things. 


      Syndrome : This is part of a larger syndrome to which we have collectively subscribed without quite realizing it. Namely, our sector has fallen victim to an egregious Cartesian tendency to parcelize the whole into many bits and pieces beyond the limits of any common sense (just look at the organigram of any ministry of transport to see how that works) and then sub-optimize this and that with gay abandon. Thus we have roads and streets that have been optimized through construction and yes! electronics for speed and throughput, when the communities around them have quite a different set of requirements. And what could be a better indication of this than our exchanges of yesterday on the subject of the New York times article  'Delays mire U.S. road project in Aceh '  look at Robert Cowherd's telling comments on this in the morning mails here. (And BTW, can anyone think of a good name for this syndrome?)


      Refocus : The fact is that we are now at a fork in the road, and if there is any one thing that can help us make a choice as to where we are now going to invest our energies and brilliance, it is to the following simple question which to my mind should stand first in line every time any public authority is going to use our hard earned taxpayer money (it's ours, not theirs) to fund stuff that is going to shape the future. "What can be done via this line of action (in their case ITS) so that we can put those technologies to use in THE NEXT TWO TO THREE YEARS TO GET VISIBLE RESULTS AND PATTERNS OF POLICY AND PRACTICE THAT CAN BE REPLCIATED BROADLY AND AT LOW COST WORLD WIDE.  And if your program is not structured to respond to this usefully, then out it goes. We can look at the long term when we have some breathing space. But this is not the situation in October 2006 and will not be surly for the remainder of this decade.


      So off you go Department for Transport, Department of Trade and Industry and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and all your good friends from industry: redline your mandate along these lines and you have something really useful there.  Keep us informed. We too are part of the solution. Work with us on it.


      Eric Britton


      PS2. Dear colleagues. Am I horribly wrong in this? If so it would not be the first time. So let me put it in front of our various peer groups here so that we can get different views on this.





      A radical new approach to funding highly innovative and wide ranging

      research into key long term transport issues was announced yesterday by

      Minister for Transport Stephen Ladyman and Lord Sainsbury, DTI Minister

      for Science and Innovation, at the Intelligent Transport Systems World

      Congress in London .


       The new approach to research is expected to result in far greater

      Advances than simply awarding funding to a single organisation. It will allow a

      small number of consortia with wide ranging expertise to work in

      collaboration to tackle some of the major transport challenges we face

      over the next decade.


      The Department for Transport, Department of Trade and Industry and the

      Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will jointly provide

      £9 million of funding, with a further £3 million expected from industry



      The Future Intelligent Transport Systems initiative is intended to

      stimulate new ideas, concepts, products or services that will:


          * Further improve safety on our roads by reducing collisions,

       casualties and deaths;


          * Result in better, more reliable, accessible and safer public

       transport services;


          * Lead to even greater efficiency in the road freight industry;


          * Improve road network management; and,


          * Provide better travel information, allowing travellers to make

       informed choices on how and when to travel.


      Further details can be found within the call for Expressions of

      Interest to participate, which can be found at:

      < http://www.dti.gov.uk/innovation/tech-priorities-uk/innovation_platforms/page33795.html http://www.dti.gov.uk/innovation/tech-priorities-uk/innovation_platforms/page33795.html


      Jon Maybury

      Innovation Platform Manager


      Intelligent Transport Systems

      Department of Trade and Industry

      Office of Science and Innovation (OSI)

      151 Buckingham Palace Road,

      London SW1W 9SS


      Tel: 0207 215 1196

      Mobile: 07810 558891

      Home Office: 01252 819610

      Email: <mailto:jon.maybury@... jon.maybury@...

      Email (on the move):

      <mailto:jmaybury1@... jmaybury1@...


      Web: < http://www.dti.gov.uk/innovation/tech-priorities-uk/innovation_platfor




      With all good wishes


      Eric Britton


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