Autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, shared mobility

The future of mobility is closer than we think. In the past weeks, several automotive manufacturers announced plans to restrict future production to electric or hybrid vehicles. National governments are queuing up with plans to ban petrol and diesel cars in city centres. And in France, there could be a ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars within a couple of decades.

It’s an exciting time to be director of Mobility at the European Investment Bank. Within our lifetimes, autonomous and electric vehicles will become the primary transport on our streets. Platoons of digitally linked trucks will snake along our roads, and the skies will fill with delivery drones.

“Getting around should soon be as simple as ordering pizza.”

Gavin Dunnett, director of Mobility at the European Investment Bank
Gavin Dunnett, director of Mobility at the European Investment Bank

As the digitalisation of transport gathers pace, getting around should soon be as simple as ordering pizza. The challenge is to deploy the necessary infrastructure and new types of vehicles for this cleaner, smarter transport network. We also need to ensure that new forms of mobility are integrated into a cohesive and connected transport network that continues to provide seamless mobility to support our economy.

Transport projects account for almost a quarter of the EU Bank’s lending, reflecting the importance of the sector in supporting the global economy. Ever since the Romans constructed a network of paved roads to connect their empire, Europe has depended on efficient transport. Almost everything we touch has been transported from somewhere else. This is a sobering thought as we contemplate the limits of the Earth’s resources and its capacity to support more and more people. Transport has an important role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and making our planet liveable for future generations.

“Almost everything we touch has been transported from somewhere else.”

In September, European Mobility Week focused on clean, shared and intelligent mobility. Discussions around sustainable and innovative mobility have finally reached a point where policy is turning into action. The EU bank is playing its part, along with other multilateral development banks, in the pursuit of a concept known as Sustainable Mobility for All (SUM4ALL), which refers to mobility that is accessible, efficient, clean and safe.

The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly five million people die each year from traffic accidents or respiratory disease linked to air pollution. This is an appalling scale of human tragedy. The EIB therefore increasingly supports cleaner and safer transport. We have launched a Cleaner Transport Facility to help roll-out alternative fuels and are working with other international institutions and businesses to make road safety audits a prerequisite for all our projects.

The future isn’t easy to predict. The information technology revolution, for example, has not diminished the demand for travel, as some predicted. If anything, it has fuelled the expectation that goods can be ordered and delivered from anywhere in the world, and that the remotest corners of the Earth are now accessible. To invest in the future, we have to ensure that our existing economy and society continue to thrive. This requires fast and efficient transport connections.

“The democratisation of travel has been one of the strongest forces for good during my lifetime”

The free movement of goods and people is one of the founding principles of the European Union. The democratization of travel has been one of the strongest forces for good in my lifetime, promoting global cohesion and understanding through trade and travel. The challenge going forward is to help even more people reap these benefits, while reducing the negative effects of transport.

(Gavin Dunnett, who joined the EIB in 2003 after 20 years in transport consultancy, is responsible for urban mobility, rail, aviation and road projects.)