A country’s transport system is the “conveyor belt” of any economy, said Forum of European Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL) president Joris Al on Monday.
Speaking at the Southern African Transport Conference, held in Pretoria, the Dutch citizen noted that a strong economy required an “affordable, acceptable and available – and available soon – transport system”.
“In the Netherlands the public is quite impatient with any failure in the transport system.”
Al said that modern day transport systems moved more freight and passengers over longer distances, in shorter time periods and at a lower cost than ever before.
In the European Union (EU) the target was for any door-to-door trip in the region to take no longer than four hours.
Al added that it had become increasingly clear that the existing transport networks in the EU could not be expanded further geographically, but that it would have to focus on new innovations to improve its efficiency.
Demand for transport was continuing to grow, he noted, despite the current dire economic situation in the region.
With congestion 20% less intense at the moment, it was expected to grow again as economic growth picked up.
However, Al said this turnaround was not expected to see significant increases in infrastructure spending. In fact, budgets were expected to “go down”.
“We also know there will be less money available for maintenance.”
Current forecasts indicated that the EU transport system had to improve its efficiency by 50% by 2050 to cater for demand, Al said.
“We need infrastructure innovations for 50% better cost effectiveness.”
He added that “the low-hanging fruit” had already been harvested, and that the next step in improving EU transport efficiencies would require much harder work.
Another challenge – proved historically – was that any paradigm shift in a transport system would change the way the entire system operated.
Al said that the introduction of electric vehicles, for example, was affecting all four transport components, namely the vehicle, infrastructure, energy and resources, as well as logistics and mobility services.
“For electric vehicles to succeed, innovations in all system components are required.”
Al believed that one way of achieving higher output would be for various department and agencies “to get our of their silos” and work together to achieve the best possible results.
He noted that the challenge was not so much the implementation of technology, but integrating various processes and systems.
“Innovation in transport is needed. Action without delay,” he emphasised.