Buses and Disruptive Technology – UK Bus Summit, 8th February

London Bus

It is a relatively new phrase “disruptive technology”, as if we had never experienced it before. It also seems to represent a rather negative view. Definitions of disruptive include “troublesome, rowdy, disorderly, unconventional”.

In reality technological developments have been changing transport ever since the wheel. Buses were themselves the big “disruptor” in the 1920s & 30s, changing from a minor mode in 1920 to the dominant mode in 1950. The losers in that era were the railways who struggled to compete against more flexible, responsive and cheaper buses.

The outcome of “disruptive technology” in transport terms is clearly a worsening in the competitive position of at least one mode of transport, but generally a significant improvement in accessibility for transport users overall. The important issues to think about are really:

  • How big a change is it in terms of better, faster, cheaper journeys?
  • How expensive is it to introduce/grow?
  • Are there any other externalities – environmental, equality, safety etc

Looking back to the latter part of the 19th century the invention of the bicycle changed transport not because it was particularly fast, but because it was cheap and therefore accessible for many. The introduction of air services in the early 1950s had a similar impact on total distance travelled, but that impact was restricted to a small minority of people able to afford the fares, pre low-cost airlines.

How will disruptive technology change existing bus markets? Come along and find out at the Transport Times Bus Summit!

Paul Buchanan

Image: London Bus by Max Pixel is licensed under CC by 0.0

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