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


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

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.

Spring Walking Weekend 2

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

How will the National Infrastructure Assessment shape the future of urban transport?


When the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was established back in 2015, researchers such as myself took note. This non-ministerial Government department is charged with producing a key document, the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA). To be published once in every Parliament, the NIA will analyse the UK’s long-term economic infrastructure needs for the next three decades, including transport, and set out recommendations for how these needs should be met. What’s not to like?

I was therefore delighted to be invited to a recent ‘Future Cities Transport’ workshop, hosted by NIC and the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS Leeds). With topics such as ‘addressing urban transport pressure with a sustainable vision for future mobility in cities’ and ‘how we better integrate transport and housing’ on the agenda, this seemed like my kind of workshop!

The aim of the workshop was to test and hone the NIC’s thinking prior to the publication of the NIA this summer. Bringing together national, regional and local policy and decision makers, with academics and Commissioners, the event was a high profile opportunity to hear about the forthcoming assessment and feedback into those plans – with participants asked to respond to questions from the organisers.

So how might the NIA shape the future of urban transport?

We’re unlikely to know until we see the full document later this year, but a number of aspects from the discussions and the presentation of the NIC’s vision for transport were particularly refreshing to hear.

Bus was highlighted as a key component of future urban mobility, which is deeply encouraging as this mode of transport is often overlooked. Despite recent rapid declines in patronage, 70% of public transport trips are made by bus – as we outlined in our recent ‘Number Crunch’ report, which explores some of the trends emerging in travel behaviours.

There was a lengthy discussion on what can be done to increase the attractiveness of the bus, with consensus emerging around the need for better integration with other transport modes and improvements in information for users.


National Infrastructure Image workshop

Another interesting dimension was the discussion around autonomous vehicles, which – rather unusually given the usual focus around tech – was framed in the context of sustainability. The point was made that autonomous vehicles need to be electric (otherwise we’ll be replacing like for like) and that they should feed passengers into public transport networks rather than replace them. Sensible thinking.

Connecting housing and transport is another key aim of the NIC, along with improving wellbeing through high quality placemaking. And it was good to hear that the NIA will be considering the potential interactions between its infrastructure recommendations and housing supply. These connections are something we at the Urban Transport Group will be taking a closer look at in the coming months, in our forthcoming report about Transit-Oriented Development.

There’s undoubtedly further thinking to be done between now and the publication of the NIA, but it should help to set national strategic priorities for government, while ensuring that projects and decisions remain devolved to local and regional governments. And we’ll be on hand to further analyse those transport recommendations once they’re available. Until then, I’ll have to wait patiently.

Clare Linton is a Researcher at the Urban Transport Group