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‘.

 

 

A week at UTG – Friday

The small team of staff at the Urban Transport Group has a big job to do in making the case for urban transport, in providing thought leadership on the future of the sector and in supporting our professional network so that our members can do more for less. You can find out more about how we do this here. However this week we thought we would show what this all means in terms of what we get up to at UTG in a typical week. This is using what we did Monday – Friday last week and we’ll be posting each day. Hopefully it will give an insight into the inner workings of the Urban Transport Group.

Why are we doing this now? In some ways, with general election purdah the week has not been typical with fewer meetings with Government. However, our Senior Economist, Pedro Abrantes, is leaving us soon so it seemed like a good opportunity to capture some of the things that he does. We are not advertising for a new Senior Economist but we are recruiting for a new post of Assistant Director so if you like the sound of our team then why not check out the ad?

It’s the last day of the week and the office is quiet with Tom out at a conference, Jonathan off to Montreal and Pedro at University in the afternoon. We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about the day-to-day workings of the Urban Transport group through over this week. Keep following our blog and Twitter feed for more of what we’re up to.

Pedro:

UTG Finance group takes place in a month so it was time to get in touch with the group Chair (Dave Daughney, Head of Finance at TfGM) to go over a few outstanding actions. We’re hoping to put together some figures comparing changes in transport authority funding and concessionary spending (our members’ single largest financial commitment) over the past ten years but there are still a few colleagues we need to collect information from.

I also spent some time preparing for a telephone call the following week about Transport Scotland’s call for evidence to inform its National Transport Strategy. Colleagues from SPT are planning to respond and have asked for our thoughts. It turns out we’ve produced quite a lot of relevant material, not least our recent response to the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission.

In the afternoon, I headed over to Sheffield for the last lecture of the year. The topic was the history of the public sector, and in particular what factors explain the decision of a country to introduce a permanent income tax. It turns out the UK was the first country in the world to do so, all the way back in 1842! Total tax revenue was less than 5% of GDP back then and has grown to 20-30% of GDP amongst developed countries. One explanation for this growth is the increased urbanisation and the pressure of public services (cue: transport infrastructure) which this has brought about. Which I think is what we’ve been saying all along…

Nicely rounding off the week, I bumped into Tim Foster on the train. He’s the Head of Economic Evidence at Transport for the North and we managed to catch up on a few things, including the latest developments with TfN’s Strategic Transport Plan. Exciting times ahead!

Tom:

Today I went back to Bradford for the second day of the conference. It was a prompt start with the international breakfast briefing providing us with inspiration on schemes that are happening around the world.

The key themes coming through the conferences seemed to be how do we secure funding for our plans, and how do we make sure that there is political buy in for what we are trying to achieve. This was met with presentations on how we can move to normalise cycling and walking, and indeed how this is going to be vital in keeping our towns and cities moving.

Off for the weekend now, where I might have to get my own bike out after all this talk!

Clare:

I was in the office first thing but then headed out to a hospital appointment for a few hours. It wasn’t totally wasted time though as there was a documentary on the TV in the waiting room called A1 Britain’s Longest Road!

Once I got back to the office I was mainly working on the taxis report again, which is starting to come together, though redrafting reports always takes longer than you expect!

I had a few comms related things to take care of, including some writing these blog posts and tweeting about how our members, in this case Tyne & Wear and Transport for London have been exchanging experience and sharing best practice.

I’m off camping for the weekend now, I hope the weather stays dry!

Jonathan:

On route to Montreal today for the world’s largest public transport event – the UITP’s bi-annual congress.

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On Saturday will be at all day meeting of UITP’s transport and economics commission. Great opportunity to learn from other countries about new and innovative ways of finding funding for public transport schemes given constraints on public spending.

On Sunday will be at the UITP’s taxi commission which will also be useful given taxis are at the frontline in terms of transformative technological change and new business modes. Will also be key in firming up the details of the UITP international taxi conference that we will be hosting in London in December.

So my week in the life of UTG has been a seven day week!

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Saila:

Well last nights’ second Eurovision semi-final discovered one of my favourites – Romania.  Who would have thought yodelling and rapping would work?  Only in Eurovision.

Today I posted Jonathan’s latest Passenger Transport Article on our website and then on our blog.

I also sorted out interview rooms for the Assistant Director post for June.

At lunch time I attended the retirement presentation of one of WYCA’s longest serving employees. Needless to say there were many tales of a bygone era told and plenty of photos with 1980’s fashions from the days that the former PTE, Metro was located in Wakefield.

This afternoon I sorted out a flyer for the upcoming Brexit seminar in June with our Brussels Team, answered a flurry of emails from Jonathan, and nearly sorted out that air quality teleconference with the Board, progressed on a new public health icon for the website, and sorted out Finance group arrangements for the June meeting.

Then I fixed another couple of meetings before heading home.

Looking forward to the Eurovision final tomorrow night!