UIC takes part in the International Transport Forum each year. The ITF Annual Summit is the world’s largest gathering of transport ministers. Since 2008, this global transport policy event has been bringing together ministers, heads of international organisations, business leaders, civil society and academia to discuss the future of transport and mobility through interactive sessions and debates. More than 1,300 participants from over 70 countries attend the summit each year.
Ireland holds the presidency of the International Transport Forum for 2021. The 2021 Summit on “Transport Innovation for Sustainable Development: Reshaping Mobility in the Wake of Covid-19” explores how innovation can contribute to enhancing sustainability of transport infrastructure and services and the governance framework required in order to enable this.
On 24 May, UIC Director General François Davenne participated in the panel discussion “In search of clarity in an increasingly complex mobility landscape” together with Phil Blythe, Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems and Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Transport, Newcastle University, Gemma Schepers, Project Leader, Smart Mobility Programme, City of Amsterdam, Shin-pei Tsay, Global Head of Cities and Transportation Policy, Uber Technologies Inc. and Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General, Polis Network.
Automated decision-making is taking hold in numerous areas, from healthcare and housing to media and mobility. Our daily lives are increasingly being influenced by automated decision-making systems based on algorithms and data science. These systems run on code, produce prodigious amounts of data and running largely in the background – both of our consciousness and in regulatory oversight. In transport, algorithms are a core feature for services, from public transport scheduling to routing apps, from bicycle sharing to self-driving technology, and from parcel delivery to the dispatching of ride services. Algorithmic decision-making has the potential to produce significant gains in efficiency, sustainability and equity – but without the right framework, it could erode all three. The panel examined ways of ensuring that mobility driven by algorithmic code supports societal objectives. It also highlighted opportunities offered by blockchain, open algorithms and other alternative approaches to data-sharing to ensure that traffic design and control strategies, as well as future infrastructure development, effectively respond to citizens’ needs.
Discussing key messages for UIC members regarding the use of artificial intelligence and decision-making systems, how to manage interfaces, digital twins, etc., François Davenne said, “Railways are part of the solution in terms of decarbonisation and better use of public space. For that, we need a massive modal shift towards railways and public transport in the next ten years. As Shin-pei Tsay said, interconnections and information-sharing are the key. All developments in terms of artificial intelligence should focus on providing new and better services in order to make modal shift desirable. From a railway perspective, the challenge is to know how to connect; how to be user-friendly. The main issues for railways are ATO and how to implement smart traffic management systems.
ATO (Automatic Train Operation) will be a key issue in increasing the capacity of existing infrastructure. ATO is not only a matter of going from A to B. It is also about integration of management of stations and freight terminals. For that, we need a system-wide approach. UIC welcomes the trials that our members are conducting. We are living in a common ecosystem; at the end of the day, all systems will have to be able to connect. For ATO, there is a crucial question as to whether we want a perfect virtual driver in the train, able to adapt to any system, or integration at the system level? There will be experiments, and UIC can play a role in sharing of knowledge and development of operational specifications.”
Regarding interconnections and data management, Mr Davenne said, “UIC is working with its members on digital platforms for passengers and freight services. It will be crucial to define the right interfaces and data format in order to deliver the right level of services for decarbonising our cities and supply chains. The use of AI can also provide low-cost solutions for connecting small and medium-sized cities, for which we have numerous existing secondary lines with no economic viability for rail services.”
Regarding modelling, he said, “We need to progress strongly. UIC is working on RSM – rail system modelling – within the framework of Shift2Rail. This software will reconcile modelling tools in order to enable simulations by AI or traffic management tools in complex systems. As the railways have to become the backbone of the new era of mobility, they need to interface with all transport modes while improving their internal efficiency. Modelling will pave the way toward the implementation of digital twins, which will allow digital simulation of complex issues in order to identify solutions in minutes rather than hours or days.”
Finally, concerning data sharing, he said, “The real question is how to create data models that can be shared. For instance, ontologies used in RSM make models readable by machines and AI: this is potentially a way to aggregate and process data for infrastructure, rolling stock and possibly ticketing. It is also a way of considering the complex railway system, taking into account all the different perspectives: engineering, operations, maintenance, services, etc. I can say that our members realise that they have to collaborate on these issues in order to operate a shared system. The good news is that we are beginning to have the relevant IT tools to do that together.”