Consumer technology has radically changed how people live their lives. Take the example of how people navigate the road network: in the space of a few short years, drivers went from purchasing printed maps annually, to replacing them with satnavs that needed to be updated regularly, to replacing satnavs with free apps on their phones that show traffic conditions in real-time and, increasingly, predict what conditions may be later on.
Transport authorities have always gathered rich and complex data. We once collected this manually at great expensive and with a significant time-lag. We now do so in real-time, from ticketing and other systems, and make travel information freely and openly available to developers and others who use it to bring new products and services to our customers.
If we ask the right questions of that data, we can transform how people travel.
Data can help us obtain every ounce of capacity from the transport networks we have, helping to spread peak demand in public transport and roads and encouraging even more people to leave their cars at home and take public transport, walk or cycle.
Urban Transport Group members across the country are using the data they generate to improve the service they offer, and we are taking care not to get lost in data for data’s sake. It is being used for a clear purpose – to improve delivery for customers and help with investment decisions.
The report we have published today highlights some of the key questions we as transport authorities have to answer:
- who is best placed to hold, develop and share our data?
- how do we protect customers’ privacy?
- how do we ensure the data is of the highest quality?
- what skills do we need to develop to make the most of the data we generate?
We also call on national policy to keep pace through the Bus Services Bill and Modern Transport Bill, for example by, ensuring that the government clarifies ownership of bus supply data, including over fares, routes, frequencies, real-time data and other measures of service performance.
It also marks a new era within Urban Transport Group. We have established a smart-futures professional network, which will bring together our members to answer strategic and technical questions raised by big data.
One thing is certain: harnessing technology will never actually be “done”. And in any case, it isn’t the technology that matters. It is the purpose to which it is put we are interested in.
Through close co-operation and new partnerships with the technology and other sectors, we will ensure that we draw upon the data at our disposal to improve journeys for customers and plan our urban transport networks more effectively.
Vernon Everitt is Board member on Smart Futures for Urban Transport Group.