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.

Smart futures for urban transport: making it work for travellers and cities

Change isn’t coming – it is already here. Transformative technological change (allied with social change – the transition to a sharing economy in particular) is shifting the ground beneath our feet as big city transport authorities. Three areas in particular stand out. Firstly, the explosion of data which means that citizens can be far better informed as travellers about their options but also potentially have a greater say over decisions on transport. The planners evaluating the options for new services, infrastructure and facilities will also be far better informed about the implications of different options. Secondly, new vehicle technologies will mean that vehicles are smarter, greener and better connected. There is also the potential for them to become more autonomous. Thirdly, new means of paying for access to transport alongside new business models open up the potential for Mobility as a Service – where travellers can buy packages of mobility that can be used across all modes (including bike hire, car hire and taxis).

Better informed decision making, both individually and collectively, as well as transport systems which are smarter and cleaner, offers an exciting prospect. However, there’s more to getting the best from this smart future than just letting technology rip. For example the growth in the taxi market, fuelled by new business models, is bringing benefits to consumers but at the expense of growing traffic congestion. Who will ensure that those on the wrong side of the digital divide can still get around? How can we ensure that technology plays its full role in improving air quality and tackling carbon emissions?

Much of the debate on what we call ‘smart futures’ tends to be focussed on excitement around the technology itself. However, technology should not be an end in itself. It should be about making individual journeys easier whilst also serving wider public policy goals for cities – like cleaner air, inclusive growth and urban environments that people want to visit, invest in, live in and work in.

This is where the Urban Transport Group, and its members come in, and it’s what ‘Our Vision for Smart Futures’ that we launched today is all about.

A vision that commits us to recognising the pace of change and the benefits it can bring in the way that we work and operate; making sure that change makes travel simpler and easier whilst ensuring that change does not leave behind any sector of society or community or leads to unintended consequences that damage cities as a whole (such as more traffic congestion)

I hope that this vision statement will help remind national government, Transportation Network Companies and the tech sector that to get the best from smart futures we need a broader dialogue on smart futures on transport, one in which public sector transport authorities and wider city region government is integral.

Follow this link to download a copy of ‘Our Vision for Smart Futures‘.