By Dave Milne
And so to the final day. My main choice of papers related to trends in the retail sector and their associated impacts for travel. A key angle of most of the work is the role of internet activity in altering shopping behaviour, be it through full internet shopping, click and collect, or simply checking out the alternatives available in advance of a more traditional shopping trip. It is also probably fair to say that much of this research is at a fairly early stage of thinking and development. But there are some interesting ideas being explored using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The main understanding I gained involved a better appreciation of the amount of variability within current retail trends, as companies tailor the details of what they offer to their particular market segments. This leads me to think that there may be much scope for work on socio-cultural and generational differences. It is also striking how information about internet-related retail activity is missing from most mobility surveys and seems to be generally lacking from other information sources. This supports a more general view I’ve been developing that we should be doing more about time use (a popular area for social science in the past) as part of improving our understanding of travel in the context of people’s daily activities.
The closing address was given by Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport (see photo below).
He outlined what he sees as the four major challenges faced by the transport sector in a very concise and well structured presentation. In summary, the challenges he identified are:
(1) Expectation of increasing demand for road, rail and air travel that needs to be accommodated if economic potential is not to be constrained;
(2) Reconciling the expected increasing demand for travel with a need to reduce negative externalities;
(3) Addressing the spatial and institutional dimensions of transport at all levels to achieve, for example, improved regional balance; and
(4) Facilitating and responding to technological change, both in transport itself and in other relevant areas (eg information technology).
He also discussed the implications of failure, though a plot suggesting very substantial economic gains from airport expansion in London and the south east made me wonder about a possible conflict with attempting to improve regional balance.
Finally, before signing off, I should offer congratulations to Marianna Imprialou from Loughborough University who was awarded the Smeed Prize for her presentation about modelling the relationship between road accidents and speed.
Overall, it was a well organised and enjoyable conference. But now the UTSG baton has been passed to the Universities of Bristol and the West of England, who will share hosting duties in January 2016.