All Aboard: How data and technology can solve our Transport woes


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I’m not embarrassed to admit that I love data. In fact to be more specific, I love transport data. The more we travel, the more data and information we demand. And, the more we create.

Yet on average, in the UK, our journey times across our towns and cities have increased in duration by around 20% in the last ten years. Our transport systems are already creaking under huge pressures. And with populations continuing to increase, those pressures are only going to increase.

By 2050, over 70% of our global population will live in cities. That’s about a 20% increase from today. Take a minute to think about what that might mean for you?

Your daily commute. 20% longer? 20% busier? What about getting across the city for a meeting, or to meet friends? What about impacts on air quality, smog, pollution, the natural environment, green spaces? What about your physical and mental health?

The more time we spend travelling means we have less time for work, rest and play. We need to do better with how we design transport services to help people move around our towns and cities. We can use technology and data to help. But we need to work differently in three ways:

Firstly, organisations need to open their data:

Open Data is a technology concept that explains how organisations make openly available data and information about their business and how it works. Its typically non-personal, non-commercially sensitive data, often aggregated. Third parties are able to access the data, facilitating innovation, developing solutions for customers, whilst also providing transparency to stakeholders.

In transport, London is the best global example we have of a successful open data strategy. TfL makes available openly a huge range of data about the services it runs. Data includes schedules, timetables, fares, stop and station locations, even real time live arrivals data. This means partners can access it and innovate with it.

TfL acknowledged early in its digital journey that its strength is as a public sector transport authiority, NOT and technology company. NOT an app developer. By making their data open, it allowed third parties to access and innovate, and so Citymapper was born.

Secondly, we need more collaboration, less competition:

Open data strategies work best when solutions are developed in collaboration.

Most people will agree that societies and communities are improved with more cyclists. Less congestion, less pollution, healthier people, the societal benefits are endless.

The dockless bikes craze seems to be expanding rapidly across all of our cities. A clever fusion of the humble bike, with the smart phone in our pockets, creates new never-before-seen data sets. These dockless bike companies are beginning to share their data with a range of organisations, including taxi and ride share companies, and local transport authorities.But crucially, they are sharing their data with city planners.

These companies understand the most popular routes, the common cycle journeys people make, navigation paths through cities, and even how they transition into other modes of transport. Planners can use this data to inform how they make investment decisions, using the data to shape how they build more cycle lanes or areas, bike parking areas, and even bus lanes.

We need more collaboration like this in transport. That’s collaboration between government and the private sector, between startups and corporates, between data owners and data users, and even between competing transport operators.

Thirdly, we need to build what customers want:

As we lead busier and more connected lives, our expectations continue to grow. The pressure on transport service providers to meet our needs increases. We demand that transport works for us, and fits around our lives. Transport is a necessity, not a luxury item. As populations increase, so the demands increase. And the pressures on transport operators to meet our needs increases too.

Imagine a situation where none of us owns, or leases, our own cars. Instead we pay a third party provider a fee that covers all of our transport needs, public and private. One flat rate monthly fee for all our tube, train, tram, bus, bike, taxi, ride sharing, car clubs, car hire, autonomous pods and more. We could all be members of the same transport club.

This concept is called Mobility as a Service. And whilst its been in other countries for a number of years, we haven’t seen an implementation in the UK until recently. In Birmingham its now possible to purchase this Netflix style subscription service for all your public and private transport needs. All powered by open data.

So, transport tech and data can help us solve some of our biggest societal problems. Its not just about whizzy new apps and platforms. Transport data can help improve sustainability, improve our wellbeing, reduce pollution, reduce congestion, aid social mobility, and even help grow our economies.

If it can do all of that, how can you not love transport data??

This blog feature is based on the transcript of Neil’s recent presentation at PwC UK Alumni Live which you can watch here:


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TRANSPORT Smart Class, North of England 2018

On July 11th we will be casting a spotlight over the North of England, hosting our speakers discussions on how the latest digital innovations can help overcome the transport and mobility challenges faced by city-regions of the Northern Powerhouse and beyond.


   Manchester, UK

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