The future of mobility is changing. It will play a significant role in reducing emissions and improving the quality of people’s lives. We spoke to Giles Perkins, Head of Future Mobility at WSP, about the Future Mobility agenda and how it will contribute to a brighter future for people, places and the planet.

Giles, could you tell us a little bit about you and what you do?

I’m the Head of Future Mobility for WSP here in the UK. WSP is a global consultancy made up of around 50,000 people, 8,000 of which are in the U.K. I run a small business within WSP called Future Mobility. We look at everything that’s changing in transport and mobility – from decarbonisation and digitisation, to the role of autonomy and new sharing modes and models, as well as the business models that wrap around these. WSP work on front end policy, strategy and business casework for public and private sectors. We work with all levels of government and importantly, for major asset owners, from developers to pension firms and more.

In terms of my experience, I have a varied background in transport. I spent 10 years in local authority at Merseytravel, in Liverpool as a public transport planner, have been a consultant for 20 years and also worked in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). I’ve been with WSP for almost 17 years and have been working in the future mobility and CAV space for well over five years.

What is Future Mobility?

Future mobility is the term that we use to describe everything that’s changing from the normal. For example, let’s take something simplistic such as electric vehicle charging. Electric vehicle charging is having a massive impact not only on cars and vans, but also buses, and the beginnings of an impact on lorries too. Future Mobility looks at the trends and trajectories that are changing in society and technology, and puts the two together.

We’re looking at aspects like the ageing population and changes in how we learn and shop, which all impact where we go, and how and why we move around. From this, we look at the various technological solutions – that’s technology itself, the business models that technology enables and the new modes and solutions. We then put those two things together to deliver better outcomes for our clients. To summarise, we’re gluing together the wider socio-economic factors with technology. Importantly, when we look at everything, we look at it through the lens of all the different types of users that there are – users in all age groups and socio-demographic backgrounds.

We do a huge amount of work in segmentation and propensity, looking at the different groups of people, identifying what their needs are and how new technology and services can meet their needs. So, for instance, the needs of a Millennial or Generation Z person who is very digitally savvy and used to paying cashless, are very different, perhaps to a retiree who might not be a digital native and is dependent upon cash. We look at it in the round of how all these things join together and can deliver better outcomes.

How is the Future Mobility agenda considering people and places over technologies?

We’re focusing on people, their needs, the places that we go to and ultimately what that means for how we get there. For example, if we think about the COVID situation, many people have had to work at home. The way in which we access healthcare, educate our children, go shopping, and conduct our leisure habits are evolving.

We then look at what technologies there are that can be applied to these conditions. By looking through the lens of people, place and activity and the difference between all of those things, it means that we can tailor the technological solutions much more accurately. This will deliver more robust business-led and beneficial outcomes, so rather than just saying everybody will use X, what we’re proposing is actually particular groups of people will probably use it more and they may influence others. We’re taking a much more rounded approach in accelerating how these new technologies and services could be adopted and give economic and other benefits.

Why do you think this agenda is important?

In the Future Mobility team, our focus is really on how we can make these solutions a success. The problem with applying any technological solution in a very flat way, i.e. applying it to everybody, is that it fails to recognise that you may exclude groups of people, or that the solution might not be applicable to them. By taking a human-centric approach, which is what we’re advocating, we’re suggesting tailoring it to individual groups, types of businesses and places, which means you’re able to make it more applicable to those groups of people. Therefore, you’re more likely to succeed.

How might the future of mobility improve people’s lives?

The main focus is around the net zero decarbonisation agenda and the move to electrification. From this we start to see a link between transport, mobility and energy. We’ve already seen the link between the digital side and transportation, whether that’s through connected cars, the infotainment systems in your vehicle or digitally enabled demand responsive transport – they’re all underpinned by the digital piece.

We’re suggesting that the triumvirate of transport with energy and digital becomes indivisible going forward. Once you start to join those three things together, you can tailor information and experiences to individual’s needs. It gets really interesting when you start interlinking that with energy generation and the electrification agenda, as you’re tying it to the home as well. We start to get a joining together of the things that we do in life, of the energy we consume, where we go and how we travel.

We consider decarbonisation as the primary driver, and thinking about it more holistically in terms of mobility and digital allows us to take a more ecosystem led approach. Rather than, for example, just looking at the private car or looking at the traditional bus, instead, how might you approach an ecosystem for moving people around? How might you do that in a digitally enabled environment? Whilst also considering how you might do that so you are not excluding those who can’t afford to access these technologies.

We are not just thinking about urban areas, we’re doing a huge amount of work in rural future mobility too. We’re looking at how you can take those technologies and apply them to somewhere the complete opposite of a city, where people and businesses are spread out and the breadth of needs are bigger.

How will Future Mobility help tackle the climate emergency?

I think the key way to tackle the climate emergency is in the electrification agenda. We’re doing a lot of work around electric vehicles (EV) for cars and vans, with a focus on EV propensity, i.e. the likelihood of people in different locations taking up electric vehicles and what that means for local authorities. The transition to electrification for heavy-duty cycles, for example light goods, heavy goods, buses, trains, and ultimately maritime and air, is a big piece. The hydrogen agenda wraps into that too, so we’re doing work with our hydrogen energy colleagues to look at how hydrogen powered solutions can meet the needs of heavy-duty use cases.

You then build on this with a digitally enabled piece. For example, I’m an EV driver, so my electric vehicle is digitally connected, and I can see all of its data from my phone. The digital piece starts to link all of these things together. The shared mobility piece, i.e the ability to car share, share assets or match people to trips starts to mean we can get better utilisation of the assets that we get. All of those things together start to pave the way for automation and autonomous vehicles, which then starts the process of how we can bring services and vehicles to people to improve their lives further. Ultimately, we see this layer cake of things stacking together, with decarbonisation and digital threads running through it all.

To find out more about WSP’s Future Mobility agenda, head over to their website.

WSP contributed to the UK’s Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2020, view the roadmap now.