Why London Needs A Drone Superhighway Over The Thames

On 5 May, Londoners will vote on who should replace Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. As happens in elections, the candidates are playing their opponents instead of their policies, but once the winner is chosen he (and it will be a “he” because Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith are the only likely winners) will have to run one of the world’s great cities. From now until the election, I’ll be delving into some of the areas where the Mayor of London has power to make a difference for entrepreneurs. First up: transport.

It’s fair to say that Ken Livingstone’s unpopular congestion charge has been a success (even if it might need revisiting). While Boris Johnson’s bold defence of London’s cyclists – through the popular “Boris Bikes” and various cycle superhighways – have made the capital a little greener and made its scale a little more human.

But did Boris go too far with his his defence of two wheels? Jonathan Quin, cofounder and CEO of World First thinks he might have: “While I am broadly in favour of the improved safety for cycling, I’ve noticed that it is getting harder and harder to get around London by bus or taxi. I am concerned that the Mayor has gone too far and the loss of lanes on key arterial routes through London will ultimately damage London.”

Quin adds: “In December we were on our way to a very important meeting in the City and after being in a taxi from Millbank for 40 minutes and still not moving (stuck on the Embankment) we eventually had to abandon it. It was the first time I’ve felt tangible evidence that the traffic was impacting our business and I’ve since had other situations where people are not prepared to have to travel to Silicon Roundabout or Hammersmith because the roads are too bad.”

London is suffering from its success. The city is growing at speed and its population is expected to reach 10 million by 2030 and possibly 13 million by 2050. Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs for BDB thinks the city is showing signs of strain: “It gained much from being one of the early adopters in transport across rail and the underground, but mistakes were made. The city has expanded around the transport networks and that makes fundamental change difficult.”

Thomson notes that “the opening of Crossrail will be transformational, but Crossrail 2 needs to be developed quickly and, where possible, accelerated. There are also plans to continue the upgrade of the Tube which should not be allowed to stall. The improvements to the North London rail line since TfL took over have been nothing short of phenomenal. And the expansion of London Overground to include suburban services will doubtless bring similar, much-needed, improvements.”

And in the ongoing debate between Heathrow and Gatwick for expansion, surely it’s getting to the point where any sane person (without a property in the flight path) believes we need both. Although this is a decision for central government, London’s Mayor should be lobbying for more airport capacity at the earliest opportunity.

But we also need to think a little beyond planes, trains and automobiles. In the city of the future, robots will need to move as efficiently through the city as humans. Anita Rivera, head of planning at Mishcon de Reya suggests “creating a policy to facilitate drone over the Thames, canals and specified roads during the quieter hours of the night (between 3-5am) for delivery of goods.” Rivera thinks this “would alleviate congestion and the need for transport delivery of supplies during high volume hours.”

London deserves a transport system fit for purpose – whether you’re synthetic or organic.

This article originally featured in Forbes.

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