Debating with data

Data Hub computer image

What is Data? A character from Star Trek? Or is it factual information or numbers that can be used to help inform decision making?

Both are correct, of course. But in an era where disinformation and ‘fake news’ are playing an increasingly key role in driving geopolitical crises, it’s more important than ever that we all strive for higher standards of data and the presentation of that data. This is particularly key for the world of transport.

That’s why in July 2017, the Urban Transport Group launched the Data Hub – an online, interactive tool allowing users to create bespoke visualisations of key transport data. This unique tool has proved very popular, with thousands of people visiting the hub to explore data and produce their own visualisations to help support the work that they’re doing on transport.

Back in July 2017 whilst I was at Nexus, I was working on the early stages of developing a new Bus Strategy for the region. Seeking the data to support statements in the draft, the Data Hub was able to instantly present to me the trends of bus patronage and bus trips per head for Tyne and Wear. Previously, such a task would have required trawling though spreadsheets for hours on end to get the data I wanted. The Urban Transport Group has recognised that transport planners and policy makers from across its membership were likely doing the same tasks and so the Data Hub was born, turning long spreadsheets into usable data for everyone.

When I joined Urban Transport Group on secondment earlier this year, it was clear to me that the organisation did not want to rest on its laurels. Driven by the positive experiences and constructive feedback from users, overseeing an upgrade to the Data Hub became one of my main jobs.

Select, visualise and share

The upgrade has involved two key elements. The first was working with engineers AECOM to carry out upgrades, including the introduction of Geocharts (or maps) to allow data to be paired with maps and the ability for users to add their own data to charts. The Data Hub, once loaded, should also now be faster too when creating new visualisations.

The second key upgrade was the significant expansion of data that was on offer. From station entry and exit data to road safety statistics, I have spent the last few months trawling through some of the Department for Transport’s and Office of Rail and Road’s largest and greatest datasets, bringing them together in a more presentable and useable format.

Ultimately, we believe that this work has expanded the ability to ‘select’ the transport data you’re interested in, ‘visualise’ that data in graphs, charts and maps, and to ‘share’ it on websites, social media or in presentations.

Data Hub infographic 2018

This isn’t the end though, and there are lots more exciting developments in the pipeline as we continue to evolve the tool – including even more data sets (from beyond just the UK city regions) and the ability for our members to capitalise on the software behind the Data Hub.

This has been a thoroughly enlightening project to work on. I never knew there was so much excellent data on city region transport out there and I’m pleased the Data Hub will be able to raise the profile of this data.

All that is left to say, is to ask you to head over to the refreshed Data Hub and to get stuck into the new data that is available and explore the new functions we’ve added. Visualising this data and presenting it to others will help you sell your message and continue to make the case for investment in transport with accurate, informed analysis. Go on, give your work the integrity and substance that is so often lacking in today’s key debates and discussion. Debate with data!

Stephen Bellamy is Business Development Officer – Policy at Nexus, and oversaw the upgrade work to the Data Hub whilst on secondment to Urban Transport Group

University challenge: How can cities & academics work more closely on transport?

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What will autonomous vehicles mean for our cities? Will Mobility as a Service (MaaS) change behaviour? How can we reduce the negative impacts of transport on public health?

These are questions that both transport authorities and academic institutions are often exploring. The trouble is – more often than not – they’re being explored in isolation, with the two types of organisation not talking to one another. Yet there is potentially a great deal of value for both parties in establishing closer working relationships on transport issues.

In response to this challenge, we’ve developed a new briefing note which explains how some city region transport authorities have successfully gone about partnering with academic institutions and the benefits that have arisen.

There are a number of different ways that transport authorities and universities can work together. These include

  • Student projects, both undergraduate and masters dissertations, and PhD projects;
  • Student placements;
  • Collaboration on bespoke projects;
  • Framework or partnership agreements;
  • Secondments; and
  • Providing challenges and case studies / test beds for projects, such as those funded through the EU Horizon 2020 programme

Transport for London (TfL) has relationships and partnerships with a range of UK and international academic institutions. To manage these relationships it has established a governance framework, covering issues like data protection and intellectual property. One example is TfL’s long standing partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has resulted in the development of an algorithm to estimate where people using TfL’s bus network alight. Masters students undertake placements at TfL, spending several months conducting research for their dissertations and gaining valuable business experience.

South Yorkshire PTE worked with the University of Sheffield on a bespoke project to analyse bus real time information. This generated insight that can be used to improve service planning and delivery. This case study was highlighted in our 2016 report ‘Getting Smart on Data’.

EU funded Horizon 2020 projects offer another way for transport authorities to work with academic institutions. For example, Transport for Greater Manchester has been part of MaaS4EU, a three year project which aims to address the challenges and barriers to MaaS.

These are just a few examples of how collaboration between transport authorities and universities can deliver new insight and understanding, improve services and promote careers in transport to the professionals of the future. We hope this briefing offers a useful beginning… a ‘starter for 10’ if you like.

Clare Linton is a Researcher at the Urban Transport Group

The inside story of our new data tool

One of my main roles over the last year and a bit has been to develop a new way of collecting and representing data across the Urban Transport Group. This work has always been an important part of what we do, as comparative data allows you to put things into context, not only seeing what is happening in your own area but also how this compares with what is going on in similar places across the country (and potentially further afield).

Having easy access to high quality data is vital for making informed decisions, whatever industry you are in, and transport draws on data from a number of different areas, including population and economic changes, changes to the way people travel and also to the environment. This is why we started collecting comparative data almost ten years ago, and is also why we wanted to get more output for the effort that we were putting in.

My aim was to turn a long spreadsheet into something much more usable to more enable people to extract value from the data, encourage them to use it more often, raise the profile of the data, and increase the range of analysis that was possible.

From this, our data tool was born.

We decided that the best way to raise awareness and encourage more people to use the data available was to develop an interactive tool. This would make the data easier to access and also put it into a more friendly visual representation.

The tool takes trusted transport (and wider relevant data on populations and economies) and puts it into a more accessible format, taking it out of a spreadsheet and allowing you to instantly make visualisations.

The ability to select the variables that you are interested in and produce a visually attractive output in seconds will be a major help in allowing people to answer transport questions quickly. The fact that you can then download the visual or the data, or share it on social media means that you can also use the information for your own work.

We hope to add further developments to the data tool over the coming months, mainly the ability to represent data spatially, and also increasing the amount of data within the tool.