Joining the dots on data, transport, health and air quality

Data has been all over the media recently, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the upcoming changes to data protection rules. And here at the Urban Transport Group we’ve been talking about transport data for some time: our Getting Smart on Data report identifies some of the issues and barriers for transport authorities to capitalise on emerging data sources, and our Data Hub and associated Number Crunch report analyse trends in the transport sector.

The Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at Leeds University recently held a workshop exploring how new and emerging data sources can help to support policy making in relation to transport, health and air quality – connections we at UTG have been exploring. Health has been rising up the transport policy agenda in recent years, accelerated by the forward thinking Healthy Streets approach emerging from Transport for London. And air quality is a pressing challenge for city regions, as they are mandated by Government to reduce levels of air pollution in the shortest possible time frame. The recent joint inquiry by four House of Commons Select Committees into the Government’s failure to improve air quality in the UK shows just how serious this has become.

The ITS event included outputs from the EU Horizon 2020 project ‘EMPOWER’, which explores how people can be encouraged to make more sustainable transport trips through incentives. This has been trialled in Newcastle, along with six other European cities, using their ‘Go Smarter’ App, and has generated positive results for participants and useful data and insight for the City Council.

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Challenges yet opportunities

All of this got me thinking about the role of transport authorities, the issues they face, and the opportunities data presents for them:

  • Local and city region authorities can undoubtedly benefit from this deluge of data, but often lack the resource and capabilities to deal with and fully capitalise on large volumes of data that are coming from these new and emerging sources.
  • Data quality remains an issue even where you have transport tracking data, as entries can be missed where participants turn off trackers. However, tracking data can be really useful for filling in the gaps in other data sets, such as trip lengths for smart card journeys made with only one tap in or out.
  • The focus so far has largely been on personal travel and exposure to air pollution. Our recent report ‘White Van Cities’ showed that vans now make up 15% of traffic in urban areas and contribute 30% of harmful NO­2 emissions – yet we know little about the cause of this rise in van traffic, for example, what’s in these vans. We need to examine ways of using new and emerging data sources to explore non passenger transport as well.
  • Making the case for investments in transport, which deliver benefits for health, can be challenging, but there are ways to push the agenda forward. Newcastle City Council has established a Healthy Streets Board which will help to deliver transport and health improvements.

So what are we doing at UTG?

Following our 2016 Getting Smart on Data report, we set up a group to look at some of the challenges facing transport authorities relating to emerging data. These include:

  • Sharing and integration;
  • Ownership and privacy;
  • Quality and standards; and
  • Skills, capabilities and capacities.

We have also developed our own online, interactive Data Hub, which brings together a range of data sources on a host of transport topics and allows you to generate your own bespoke analysis, graphics and charts.

On health, we are working with public health and transport expert Dr Adrian Davis to renew and re-launch the Health and Wellbeing hub on our website, with the aim of being the UK’s best online resource on the connections between transport and health.

We are also focusing on promoting the Healthy Streets approach, pioneered by Transport for London, outside of the capital. The brainchild of public health and transport specialist Lucy Saunders, Healthy Streets is a system of policies and strategies to deliver healthier, more inclusive cities where people choose to walk, cycle and use public transport. As part of this, we will be looking at developing resources and learning opportunities as well as sponsoring the 2018 Healthy Streets conference, on 12th October.

Clare Linton is a Researcher at the Urban Transport Group

Taxi! – Issues and Options for City Region Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Policy

I have now been at UTG for 18 months and over that time I have been getting to grips and grappling with the complicated picture around taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs). And it is COMPLICATED! Our new report goes into much of the detail around the legislative and policy framework and makes the case for city regions to take a more strategic approach to this area. But I’ll break down some of the key points here.

Firstly, there are taxis, legislatively known as hackney carriages, which may or may not be the black cab style. These can be hailed in the street or picked up at ranks, as well as booked. Then there are PHVs, sometimes known as minicabs, which must be booked, and cannot use ranks or be hailed on street. More recently, a series of app-based operators have emerged, sometimes referred to as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), and these operate under PHV legislation. There has been huge growth in PHV numbers, associated with TNCs, with a 45% increase in PHV licences in the West Midlands over the last two years and there is now one PHV for every 100 people in London.

So there are taxis, PHVs, TNCS which are kind of PHVs… Following?

Then there is the question of who licenses these? In England, outside London, local authorities license taxis, PHVs, their drivers and operators. However, in our city regions, combined authorities often take strategic transport decisions. Therefore, within a combined authority region you can end up with different prices and policies in neighbouring authorities as the illustration below demonstrates. And these vehicles can operate wherever they like. This is further complicated by the fact that licensing officers are only able to conduct enforcement activities on vehicles licensed in their own area.

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In London, TfL are the licensing authority and the strategic transport body, which means that there are common standards across the city region. In addition, this means that the licensing regime can be used to help achieve wider policy goals, such as improving air quality by imposing emission standards on licensed taxis and PHVs.

And the taxi and PH sectors can contribute to a number of public policy goals including:

  • Social inclusion – taxis and PHVs are a vital lifeline to those with additional mobility requirements and often low income groups working shifts rely on taxi or PH when other public transport options are not available
  • Air quality and carbon emissions – the taxi and PH fleet contribute to emissions but policy measures can be used to reduce their impact
  • Congestion – large numbers of taxis and PHVs can contribute to traffic, but also reduce the need to own and use private cars, which could help reduce congestion
  • Public safety – taxis and PH can help people get home at night when other public transport options might not be available, and this also supports the night time economy
  • Employment – the taxi and PH sectors provide employment opportunities, with 367,000 people employed as drivers in England and Wales.

However, it’s not all rosy. New TNC models have been questioned over the ethics of their approaches, particularly with regards to workers’ rights. And rapid growth in PHV numbers has led to challenges for policy and decision makers. The legislation that governs the licensing of the taxi and PH sectors in England is from 1847 and 1976 respectively. This legislation needs updating to meet the current challenges in the sector. And city region transport authorities have the opportunity to take a more strategic approach to the taxi and PH sectors in order to allow them to contribute to wider public policy goals. Our new report sets out the case for this and you can find it here.

We are also supporting the UITP Taxi Conference in London on 7th and 8th December, find out more and register here.

Super-charged cycling

A couple of weeks ago, we (me and Tom) went out for a cycle. What’s so special about that I hear you say? Well, we were riding E-bikes, the pair of E-bikes pictured below to be precise. We went out for a lunchtime ride along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway to test out these bikes with a difference, and we had a beautifully sunny day for it too!

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So, the bikes we were riding were Emu electric bikes, with an integrated frame battery and several different modes for electric assistance. From ‘Eco’ which just gave you a little assistance on the hills to ‘BOOST’ mode, which had me flying up the fairly steep hill out of Bradford on the return trip. As well as testing out the powered modes, Tom wanted to see how they bikes performed with the electrics off. They are heavier than normal bikes but still enjoyable to ride. He’s still smiling at the top of the hill in the picture below.

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Riding along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway was enjoyable, it’s great to see commitment to delivering high quality cycle infrastructure. And it’s fantastic that Bradford is hosting the Cycle City Active City Conference this week too, really putting West Yorkshire on the map for its commitment to active travel.

The thing that struck me most about riding the E-bike was, that even after more than 2 hours of cycling, I didn’t feel hot and bothered. I felt like I’d been for a brisk walk but not a 2 hour, 28km ride. I loved it!

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For me, that’s where the beauty of E-bikes lies. You can ride a reasonable distance, for example to work, without having to wear special clothes or shower when you get to work. They are more inclusive, you don’t need to be particularly physically fit to ride an E-bike and the electric technology is transferable to hand-cycles, tricycles and cargo bikes. And, if this is coupled with enhanced cycling infrastructure, we really could super charge the cycling revolution.

You can find out more about Active Travel on our website.