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At the Digital Transport Days 2017


Dear distinguished guests and participants of this conference.

I really would like to offer you a belated welcome to Tallinn at the Digital Transport Days. I want to thank the organizers from the European Commission and organizers from the Estonian Presidency team for making this important event happen. As you know, the digital agenda is very close to our hearts in Estonia. Therefore I am extremely glad to welcome you all here.

In Estonia, we have already gone through a societal disruption to make sure our citizens and our businesses have a totally digital environment to deal with both the State and with their private partners. I hope you understand that we will also be at the forefront of digital transport solutions. It cannot be otherwise. Digital transport will definitely be a part of digital society, and it is of course easier to have a transport partner already in digital society than creating everything at one step, so I think we are one step ahead and challenge more to catch up.

The movement and connectivity of people is the core of today's society. It is clear that the future transport systems need to meet society's economic, social and environmental needs, while minimising their undesirable impacts, mainly related to pollution and accidents.

During Commissioner Violeta Bulc's last visit to Tallinn, she brought to our attention a sad fact that every day in Europe, we lose 70 people in traffic incidents and 350 more are seriously injured. In transport, we create 24% of the pollution. An average person spends a horrible 6 weeks every year in traffic. Part of it is unavoidable, but can be made shorter and smoother by clever congestion management. Part of it is totally unnecessary already by Estonian standard, like driving some place to register the birth of your child, signing a document, applying for kindergarten place. The first, like the latter, will ultimately depend on online solutions.

Therefore, I welcome all discussions that highlight the importance of the future technology and innovation in transport.

In clever congestion management we will probably rely on the mobility as a service where peer-to-peer platforms and automated driving will play a key role. We know that a lot of useless road time can be easily avoided, if a car went from point to point only fully loaded, and had as high as possible number of takers on every mile of the road. Congestion levels in such a model should decrease. Precision will rise. Less and less of our mobility will depend on the vehicles we own. The vehicles we own, the cars we own, in the future we will maybe own them for vanity but not for necessity. Transport will become therefore more democratic. The access to the different services and solutions will dramatically improve.

Maybe already in ten years, it will no longer be a social norm to own a personal car. Studies show anyway that personal cars sit unused for 94% of the time.

It is very important to be open-minded and provide legal space for new technologies and ideas. This is what we in Estonia have learned through numerous examples long ago. Take the Estonian Genome Foundation, 17 years ago. All we did was to create a legal space, then came private investors, and created our genome database for our people with private money because we had the right legal environment in this country. Then other states moved in and ruined the market, so to say. They started to pay for this service and this meant we had to lose 15 years in between because we could not pay. Now it is so cheap that we can again pay, but we lost the private initiative market just because states came in and ruined the market. Similarly, we here have no state ownership and therefore no state-related bias in telecom sector. Estonia is with Sweden the first place the 5G is sold out without any public intervention. Because we have a permissive environment, we have created the necessary legal space. In addition, here in Estonia, we have not started to fight Uber or Taxify. What we have decided is to accept them. From 1 November, the platforms like Taxify and Uber are regulated and therefore exist in clear legal space in Estonia. Legislation must always be ahead or keep up the pace with the actual developments on the streets. I would like to see more willingness to find solutions rather than ways to limit in other countries as well. Here in Estonia we debate how to set the legal environment for independently acting robots, never mind their function. It does not need to be a car, it can be any independently active robot.

And we have a good practical reason to have this debate – on 20 September this year, there was a traffic accident in Tallinn between a car and a parcel robot, where the car drove into the robot that was crossing the road legally on the crosswalk. I am glad to report that all parties of this incident escaped without any major damage.

I am also proud to report that our traffic code was already foreseeing this possible situation; therefore it was already able to regulate it. The guilty party of the first accident was found to be the car driver, by the way.

However, this kind of incident makes us rethink what transport means in the modern way of life. It makes us realize that digital transport solutions do not only exist in movies. They are here. They are real and they are here to stay. The sooner we accept and use them to our advantage, the better. We are now discussing how to make sure that all artificial intelligence machines are welcome in Estonia and digital society.

We need to commit ourselves to fully exploit the benefits of technologies for a more inclusive, connected, competitive and cleaner transport sector. And we must have ambition for the European Union to be a global leader in this field. But in my humble opinion, we certainly must not try to regulate for digital transport separately and say, robots serving us in restaurants or hospitals, separately. It might seem initially easier to go sectoral, but frankly we would get a much clearer legal situation if we went general, answering the questions about rights and responsibilities of all artificial intelligent manifestations and their owners.

Countries around the world are facing the challenge of understanding the rise of AI, which is increasingly affecting the daily lives of their populations. The transport sector is one of the key stakeholders in this strategic debate, a definite frontrunner, but it should not egoistically attempt to legislate sectorally.

Of course, modern solutions that address the challenges that the technology brings specifically and only to transport, they need to be addressed in the realm of transport sector. Increasing safety is one of the main goals that drive most of the new developments in land transport and aviation sector. It is also the biggest challenge.

Estonia has promoted free movement of data as one of its Presidency priorities. The systemic access and use of up-to-date data helps us to shift from reactive approach in security for example – which is based on accident and occurrence reports – to a proactive approach, which means that we analyse the data to ascertain and verify the trends and situations, which can lead to a safety hazard. The start of this shift can be seen in the aviation sector, which is on the forefront of the safety battle.

However, use of data will play a key role in the future safety management across all transport modes. Other sectors can take stock of this fruitful approach and transmit the knowledge to their field of speciality as well.

In many ways, today's vehicles are already connected. However, in the very near future they will also interact directly with each other and with the transport infrastructure. Sometimes also without the knowledge of the passenger or the driver.

Different studies show that by 2025 we will have two billion connected cars on the roads. Those cars can generate up to thirty terabytes of data daily. This will significantly improve road safety, traffic efficiency and comfort of driving and transportation and mobility itself.

It is very important to stress that developments in the sphere of cyber security must also go hand in hand with sharing a large amount of delicate information. Data is a somewhat different raw material than gold or oil. The amount of available data is growing faster than our ability to consume it.

Another key motivation for digital transport is tightly connected with the environment. The need to cut emissions and the need to fight with the traffic congestions in urban environments is imminent. It cannot come from anywhere else but the already mentioned people's choice to go without a car. We already have made having a car terribly uncomfortable in most cities of Europe and globally. Yet people cannot give them up, and they cannot give them up for the lack of an alternative, which can be as comfortable as a car. Effective and truly automated multimodality is the key motivation to switch from personal to shared transport. It would be very difficult to convince our people to take that step. Why? Because we are used to thinking that if I am not relying on my own car, then I am automatically a victim to missed schedules, trains running late, connecting trains, etc. Here I have to say that for some reason there is one country, Japan, which can already manage to run trains not even one minute late, because the next train will arrive in one minute and you need a free spot for that. So frankly speaking, we need to first make what we already have more exact for our people so that they could trust more the other means that are not their own cars.. And here as well, digital comes in. We would be able to use existing data, existing infrastructure can easily be used together with collective data to make sure that at least people start to see that these multimodalities might one day make sense. I do not think we can go straight from late-coming trains to promising people that they need to take their friend's car's backseat to connect to another friend's car's backseat to go somewhere on time. People will not believe it if they have absolutely no experience with trains running on schedule before.

It is of course definite that with digital transport solutions, also many of the main jobs that we know in this strategic sector today, they will be gone in the future. I am aware that this transition will be uncomfortable to many people but I want to be honest and clear. These jobs, which we now have will obviously vanish. Drivers jobs, if you drive automatically, regulating various aspects of traffic, which is regulated by communicating with cars, trucks. I do not think we should be not talking about it—we need to do the opposite—put the information out there. Instead of curbing people's ability to adapt by talking about sustenance fees, we should focus on the ability of modern technology to raise the earning capacity of the society as a whole. We must not take technological development simply as something limited to the better industrial processes and therefore will lead to job losses. We know it will also create new job opportunities, and we also know that we do not know which ones. But we can trust it will happen. We are all ready seeing that in government technological level is creating different jobs. It is also creating people's opportunities to use their assets to earn some additional revenues. If we do not call it a job, you can call it a service. How you will deal with it in the future environment, this is another question, but these new jobs are coming.

A lot of disputes around the mobility package are based on the fears towards excessive administrative burden and also the difficulties regarding surveillance. Comprehensive digital solutions could undermine those fears. I think again that since digital solutions are transparent and easy to run, they could undermine those fears. I sincerely hope that the paperless approach will dominate the transport sector quite soon, and frankly, I am astonished it does not. Yes, I am. We have had technologies available to us for I believe 20 years to have already gone more digital in traffic management, yet we have not. Yes, again it does bring job losses, but also time saved for all of us. Please allow me to conclude here by saying that modern technology has given us the opportunity to make drastic beneficial changes in the transport sector, and let us make the best use of it! Let us not fear the future, let us not try to brush under the carpet the fact that we do not know where we will be in 15 years' time. Nobody does. The problem of course is that in the 20th century thinking of the transport sector, we knew that the horse and the cart would probably be out of use by the end of the century, mostly they are. Now we do not exactly know what exactly will be out of use in 10 or 15 years time, but the cycle for innovation is much shorter. Which means that everything we use today is totally obsolete in 10 years' time, you have in your pocket machinery which in 15 years, people will demonstrate what the Stone Age was like. And their 21st century is radically different from the 20th century. Which makes it even more difficult for public sectors trying to intervene in not only creating legislative space or permissive legislative environments – to be part of it, they absolutely need to be hands-off. And we are quite bad in Europe about being hands-off. But we need to be. Because there are a hundred ideas out there, and one or two will be successful. And if we threw our public support behind the wrong one, among the 98 or 99 ones, we are actually skewing ourselves off the main road of the future. So therefore I am very much insisting that we should not try to do things ourselves. We should try to understand what kind of legal environment is needed and then we should leave the rest for R&D, which we can support neutrally – market-neutrally – and then the rest should be actually organized and done by as much by private sectors as possible. Our experience shows that as soon governments come in and start throwing their weight behind one or another technology, if it was the wrong one, it was simply spending money unnecessarily, but it is actually even worse if it was the right one, because then those who attempted to get private sector to invest need to follow those who decided to invest publicly. And that is a horrible thing. We do not have all that pocket money for it. Thank you for listening.