The European project C-MobILE is back this month with project member Newcastle University. In this interview, Senior Researcher in the Future Mobility Group at Newcastle University Simon Edwards explains the city’s C-ITS transport solutions, transport success stories, and more! 

Together with local partners, you have been involved in several EU projects focusing on C-ITS and solutions for cities (such as Compass4D), what are the priorities for a city like Newcastle in terms of improving safety, traffic management and in general mobility for road users?

The overriding priority for Newcastle, along with all UK cities, is improving air quality. Transport is obviously a key cause of pollution in urban areas but can also be a solution, hence, the city’s prioritisation of public transport modes and active travel. The COVID 19 health crisis has of course had a major impact on this, with public transport use now officially discouraged, in a U-turn of the previous 30 years of transport policy. We hope that this will be temporary but even so it may take many years for commuters to fully trust health and safety in public transport, and as a consequence there may well be another major challenge to get people back out of their cars. Newcastle is looking to avert a new transport crisis by robust promotion of cycling and walking, with major changes to the urban streetscape taking place to facilitate this.

The potential of C-ITS is still seen in the same way it was when we started work in this area in 2013. We want to use it to improve journey time reliability for selected vehicles, primarily buses, emergency vehicles and patient transfer vehicles, commercial vehicles, and taxis. This will also permit more flexible network management. C-ITS services that contribute to reduced energy use and reduced emissions, such as GLOSA, are the priority.

Do you have any success stories about transport solutions that the city has implemented?

For approximately 30 years, the city has been discouraging private car use, at least in the centre, whilst promoting alternative modes. Cities in the UK are a little constrained in how they can do this because the fragmented private ownership of ‘public’ transport compromises the ability to exert full operational control. Also, recovering from a decade of ‘austerity’ politics the city has struggled with financial pressures, with central government requirements to focus stringently on air quality whilst also restricting local authorities means of raising money through local taxation. However, the City has always placed itself in a position to engage in research and innovation and has a close relationship with Newcastle University. Consequently, its work with C-ITS, electro-mobility, mobility as a service, connected and autonomous mobility, and accelerated enhancement of pedestrian and cycling environments mean that it is most definitely heading in the right direction. The big future challenge will be ensuring mass use of public transport again in the future – a crucial component to help deliver wider economic, social and environmental goals.

You are the UK deployment site leader, what do you hope to achieve with this project but also for the city in general?

I would like to see all the planned C-ITS corridors up and running reliably and sustainably with many beneficiaries/ users. We believe that longer term the use of cellular services will be most efficient to deliver C-ITS services from both a technical and user-friendly point of view, but we need to be careful that this does not dilute the policy objectives of the local authority by facilitating private motorists to take advantage of these services merely by downloading a publicly available App.
In addition to its own benefits, I also personally see C-ITS as a ‘stepping-stone’ towards autonomous or semi-autonomous operations for some modes of transport and some users who would specifically benefit e.g. tightly scheduled freight operations, mobility services for older and disabled people. This is an exciting area in which both the City and UNEW are interested.

What is the most exciting and innovative aspect of C-MobILE for you, App/services deployed?

The cellular services, which were not planned originally but have been introduced in a relatively short space of time. This has involved excellent working relationship between UNEW, NCC, Siemens, Zircon, and NeoGLS. The services could eventually be large scale by being accessible to anyone, although that might well be contrary to the policy objectives of the city.
We are very interested also in the outcomes from the project at other sites relating to C-ITS for pedestrians and cyclists, as this is likely to be something we build on in the post-COVID era. Copenhagen’s results could be very interesting.

A final exciting and unanticipated outcome has been the collaboratory working relationship involving Siemens, Zircon, and NeoGLS and partners in the Interoperability Task Force.

Why the participation in such projects is important for research institutions? What are the main benefits in working with an international consortium of public and private partners?

See previous response about collaboration. The breadth of learning, and the experiences that we can benefit from and also provide to our large network of international partners across multiple sectors, both public and private, would not be achievable in a UK-only environment. It avoids national ‘silo’ development and increases harmonisation and standardisation whilst still permitting locally specific research and development and implementations. Like many people in the UK, I am still very much in favour of European collaboration!

Tell us more about your experience and research in the field before embarking on the C-MobILE project.

Although I have worked in ITS since 2001, I became involved in C-ITS with the Compass4D project and have since read around the subject a lot, as it also contributes to university teaching. I had some practical experience of the Newcastle deployment in C4D, and also led the team that performed the overall evaluation for all the sites in that project. More recently I have been involved in CAPITAL, which developed a set of training modules. Both were exemplar C-ITS projects, in my view. This has given me a good background in all aspects of C-ITS. As a research group we are also now moving heavily into connected and autonomous mobility, which we see as a logical next step.