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

Our blueprint for urban transport can deliver transformational change

Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus and Chair of the Urban Transport Group, offers his thoughts on our new report – Policy Futures for urban transport.

Over the coming few weeks the major political parties will be getting together to debate their policies for the next few years. Ensuring our urban economies can grow in a sustainable and inclusive way has to be a key part of those debates. We believe modern and efficient transport networks can be the link between policy objectives and delivered results.

Very few other services brings together – or facilitates the success of – the goals of many government departments and agencies. The Urban Transport Group calculated that in 2014 local bus services alone contributed to the policy goals of half of all government departments and 46 policy goals of those departments (41 outside of the DfT).

That’s why we are launching our latest Policy Futures vision – a blueprint that can lead to transformational change for everything from economic development, social mobility and inclusion through to creating the cities we will need for the future.

At its heart, the Policy Futures vision requires a national framework that brings together government and civil service at the national level with the urban transport authorities delivering services in their local areas. Potentially, the barriers between departments and agencies can be lessened so that the benefits that joined-up transport thinking might be realised – in such disparate policy areas such as health, employment and education.

Not only that, a national framework could also deliver real economic and budgetary goals – funding decisions for transport schemes and infrastructure can be streamlined and made more efficient enabling transport authorities to have more control over a more stable funding regime. A more focussed transport framework will unlock additional job opportunities by helping people get into work and increase the skills base of the population by easing access to education and training.

The Policy Futures vision has 16 specific policy changes we would like to see implemented – I won’t list them here, but we will be on hand at the Labour and Conservative party conferences to explain them in detail.

Our member authorities deliver vital urban transport services for millions of people  in the UK – and we hope to make their voices, and the voices of our members heard this party conference season.

 

Seven things I learnt at our last mile freight summit

Here’s seven things I learned at the Freight in the Cities Summit, which we sponsored, in Birmingham yesterday on the last mile challenge.

My presentation to the event can be downloaded here and you can find a freight hub on our website here.

  1. Air quality concerns, and the implications for freight and logistics, is looming large with a new and potentially more far reaching government air quality strategy pending. It could drive greater efficiency, push some low end providers out of the market, and lead to faster uptake of cleaner vehicles.
  2. Freight and logistics has become far more central in city region transport planning and strategies than was the case ten years ago. To a particularly striking extent in the West Midlands where it maps onto how the region sits in terms of manufacturing and also on the UK’s strategic rail and road routes as well as the region’s role on new vehicle technologies and background urban air quality, urban realm and congestion reduction objective.
  3. Instant deliveries is reshaping the freight and logistics landscape again – and fast. From meal deliveries within the hour by Deliveroo et al to deliver within the hour to same day deliveries from big retail and internet giants. As well as more cyclists and vans whizzing around to ‘instantly deliver’, this also means more demand for in-city logistics depots and hubs for them to operate out of. All of which has potential implications for congestion, air quality and the urban realm.
  4. The future of the city centre is truck free. That’s not environmentalists saying it or cycle activists – that was logistics giant UPS. Indeed they have already done this in Hamburg where a container is dropped off in city centre as a base for onwards cycle logistics deliveries.
  5. Consolidation centres (where multiple freight consignments are trunked into a single distribution centre on the urban fringe and then consolidated for delivery to city centre locations using the fewest and most environmentally appropriate vehicles) have been the big idea on urban freight for some time. Unfortunately it’s been more about the idea rather than projects on the ground in the UK. However the conference heard about two examples of real and working schemes. One in Southampton which focuses on the public sector getting its act together to consolidate deliveries to healthcare, education and council facilities. The other in Paris where because there is one (state owned) logistics company which dominates the market the economics of consolidation centres work. Already up and running in Paris the same approach will now be rolled out to every other major French city. The challenge in the UK is the logistics market is not monopolised enough for it to make straight up commercial sense for any of the big players to do it alone or in consort. It feels like it will need more sticks and carrots from either local and/or national government to tip the balance. Tighter air quality regimes may also help.
  6. As the aspirations for cleaner air, a better urban realm and more active travel increase there are big challenges ahead in reconciling how to serve these ‘cities for people’ with the deliveries they need to function, alongside maintaining access for buses, taxis and other road vehicles. We are going to need a much broader conversation about the urban places and streets of the future which brings together the transport planners, with the place makers and those piloting and investing in urban economies. This is a conversation that needs to include the freight and logistics sector at an early stage rather than as a later bolt on.
  7. There’s lots of scope for more freight by inland waterways in some cities. London has shown the way by protecting wharves from property development so that the Thames remains the UK’s hardest working urban river. The same trick could be repeated to some extent in other cities particularly for containers, aggregates and construction traffic. The FTA have been doing some good work here – their recent ‘Lessons from the Thames’ report is well worth a look.  Watch out too for a conference they will be running later in the year on potential for more freight by water in the North.