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The Future of Transport: stargazing and guiding principles

October 2010

Michelle Di LeoAustin Williams, and Yvonne Hübner will be in conversation with the Salon audience.


Michelle Di LeoWhen Mancunians roundly rejected a new transport plan in 2008, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester’s city council said 'There is no plan B, which is why we will have to have a period of reflection'. The plan would have made £3billion of funding available for transport improvements: much of it borrowed against future revenue from a proposed rush-hour congestion charge. The voters of Manchester, it appeared, were in no mood to have to foot the bill for improvements funded through a tax on driving.


Austin WilliamsMaking transport system changes is rarely a straightforward process. Our transport systems are complex and engineers are locked into an infrastructure designed for a previous age. Proponents of the Manchester transport plan claimed that the city has the slowest-moving traffic in England. In built-up areas, there is clearly an acceptable limit to how many extra roads can be built. Many agree that public transport services need to become more frequent, less crowded and more reliable. And that means spending money. While nobody likes paying higher fares or more tax, that may be just the kind of uncomfortable choice that needs to be made.


Yvonne HuebnerMore broadly, on top of concerns about congestion and worries about safety, changing cultural attitudes mean that for many mobility itself is no longer an unquestioned good: cars are frowned upon; aviation deemed too carbon intensive, trains too expensive, and space travel simply pointless. We are urged to consider other alternatives: whether it is restricting car use in favour of cycling or reducing unnecessary journeys through stay-at-home tele-conferencing. Local government supports car pooling schemes and energy-efficient transport. The idea of environmental taxes to fund new infrastructure and penalize transport use has widespread support.


Should politicians be unashamed about arguing for the funding required to make travel easier if that is what the voters want? Or do they, and we all, have a responsibility to curb our enthusiasm for rapid transport: in the interests of both the environment and just slowing down the pace of life a little? The technology now exists to make what were once the dreams of science fiction a reality: jet-packs; hydrogen powered cars; Maglev public transport; and automated highways. Yet we have much more modest transport ambitions today in which high-speed rail links come only but slowly and at the price of new runways. What do we make of this apparent irony? What future for transport in the 21st century?


What are today's guiding principles shaping our future vision, and what needs to be done to benefit the next generation? This session provides speakers and attendees the opportunity to do a little star gazing, and even be a little adventurous about the transport of the future.


Listen again (not miked so variable quality)...


Speakers' introductions - click on the Play button:


Audience questions and comments - click on the Play button:


Speakers' comments - click on the Play button:


Further audience questions and comments - click on the Play button:


Speakers' summation - click on the Play button:



Photo of the discussion

Future of Transport

Some background readings

The spirit of motoring past, present and future, by LJK Setright, Telegraph 27 Dec 2003

The Future of Transport: a network for 2030, Department for Transport July 2004

The train that never stops at a station - Innovative idea for reducing time and energy, YouTube

China Wants to Connect its High-Speed Rail to Europe (Largest Infrastructure Project in History), Zachary Shahan, CleanTecnica, 13 March 2010

Can the Lada make a British comeback?, by Brendan O'Neill, BBC News Magazine, 10 May 2010

Heathrow runway plans scrapped by new government, BBC News online 12 May 2010

The Coalition: our programme for government, see No. 30 Transport, Website of the UK government, May 2010

A 'cycling revolution'? On your bike, Borris, Brendan O'Neill, spiked online 22 July 2010

Manchester Airport declared 'A380 ready', BBC website, 19 August 2010

Environmental Awareness, Keith McCabe interviewed by Louise Smyth in Traffic Technology International August/September 2010

Being transported back to the future?, Musings on transport by Jane Turner for Manchester Salon reviews section September 2010

Rebound: unintended consequences of transport policy and transport innovations, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) factfile paper on transport August 2010

Why we need to continue investing in transport, by Philippe Legrain, Idependent's Battle of Ideas blog, 8 October 2010

Engineering Innovation - within limits, by Dr Paul Reeves, Independents's Battle of Ideas blog, 24 October 2010

Sponsors and Partners

The Institution of Engineering and TechnologyThis discussion is joint initiative between the Manchester Salon and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to help develop a fuller two way conversation between engineers, technicians, scientists and a wider public audience. To ensure the widest possible engagement, this discussion is included in the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2010 festival of ideas as a satellite event, and as part of the Manchester Science Festival programme. The IET have also helped make this discussion possible through their generous sponsorship to cover the costs associated with venue and speakers.


Battle of IdeasThis discussion has been included as a satellite event in the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2010 weekend festival of ideas being held on 30 and 31 October 2010, hosted by the Royal College of Art, London. Now in its sixth year, the Battle of Ideas festival comprises 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. It affords the opportunity for some clear thinking, rational debate and agenda-setting - above all, it's future-orientated, whilst retaining a healthy regard for the past achievements of humanity.


Manchester Science FestivalA first for the Manchester Salon is inclusion in the fabulous Manchester Science Festival which this year runs from 23 – 31 October 2010 plus trailblazers throughout the summer. This year, it celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity; offering learning opportunities about our amazing planet, highlighting the plight of the bee and knitting some endangered species. You’ll also have the chance to explore all things science; how to make chocolate, lust vs love, the latest gadgets, the secrets of sporting success, sweet music, hilarious stand-up, heated debate, workshops, hands-on activities, stories and science busking.


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