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Adaptive approaches to cope with decision making under (deep) uncertainty

Online companies are not only shaking up the economy, but might also change the way people and goods are being transported. How can governments develop policies that prepare for these opportunities and protect against possible vulnerabilities? As part of Smart Cities Responsive Intelligent Public Transport Systems (SCRIPTS), Professor Vincent Marchau tackles this subject together with fellow researchers.

Spotify for transport

SCRIPTS is researching Mobility as a Service, also known as MaaS. MaaS is to transport what Spotify is to music. Because of Spotify we no longer have mp3s on our computers but stream music from the cloud. With MaaS, travellers no longer have their own bicycle or car, but make use of public transport, car shares and, in the future, also self-driving cars, which – ideally – can all be managed with one single app.

Adaptive approach as remedy for insecurity

Marchau’s work has in part been inspired by the working methods of the Delta Program for water management in the Netherlands. Marchau: “There you see a Delta Act, a Delta Fund, and a Delta Commissioner who steers a stable and reliable course. This portfolio is not returned to the House of Representatives every week and the budget is not subject to a new round of negotiations every year. At the same time there is a sense of urgency. Short term decisions are tied in with long term goals. Something the ‘dry sector’ could learn a lot from.”

Predictions don’t work anymore

In that dry sector, new technology is offering opportunities to entrepreneurs while consumers are benefiting from more comfort and, often, lower prices. As developments are fast and unpredictable, it’s hard for the government to devise a long-term plan, says Marchau. “The classic prediction system doesn’t work in this case anymore. Insecurity about the future is too big, the transportation infrastructure is too large, and the preferences of stakeholders too unpredictable. Therefore the best way to be prepared for new developments is to be flexible enough to adapt if the future situation requires it. We call this an adaptive approach.”

Travel information

Within SCRIPTS, universities are working together with ICT developers, public transportation companies and municipalities, as well as with car lease companies. Marchau: “What does Mobility as a Service mean to the urban transportation system? What information does it need and who has access to this information? Does the government want companies to have access to all travel information for example? I express no opinions about this in my role as a researcher, I only make an inventory. In the end it’s the politicians who need to weigh all the options.”

From policy plan to policy experiment

“Policy makers like to work with a classic planning and budgeting system, and a fixed budget. Introducing flexibility to be able to adapt plans in the future usually costs a bit more, but does offer a wider range of options in insecure times. The government also needs to accept that as developments unfold – often involving risk capital – there is a chance of failure and that prepared options won’t always be used.”

Link

  • "Smart Cities’ Responsive Intelligent Public Transport Systems (SCRIPTS)"