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‘.



Capitalising on emerging data by TfL’s Vernon Everitt, Managing Director for Customers, Communication and Technology

Consumer technology has radically changed how people live their lives. Take the example of how people navigate the road network: in the space of a few short years, drivers went from purchasing printed maps annually, to replacing them with satnavs that needed to be updated regularly, to replacing satnavs with free apps on their phones that show traffic conditions in real-time and, increasingly, predict what conditions may be later on.

Transport authorities have always gathered rich and complex data. We once collected this manually at great expensive and with a significant time-lag. We now do so in real-time, from ticketing and other systems, and make travel information freely and openly available to developers and others who use it to bring new products and services to our customers.

If we ask the right questions of that data, we can transform how people travel.

Data can help us obtain every ounce of capacity from the transport networks we have, helping to spread peak demand in public transport and roads and encouraging even more people to leave their cars at home and take public transport, walk or cycle.

Urban Transport Group members across the country are using the data they generate to improve the service they offer, and we are taking care not to get lost in data for data’s sake. It is being used for a clear purpose – to improve delivery for customers and help with investment decisions.

The report we have published today highlights some of the key questions we as transport authorities have to answer:

  • who is best placed to hold, develop and share our data?
  • how do we protect customers’ privacy?
  • how do we ensure the data is of the highest quality?
  • what skills do we need to develop to make the most of the data we generate?

We also call on national policy to keep pace through the Bus Services Bill and Modern Transport Bill, for example by, ensuring that the government clarifies ownership of bus supply data, including over fares, routes, frequencies, real-time data and other measures of service performance.

It also marks a new era within Urban Transport Group. We have established a smart-futures professional network, which will bring together our members to answer strategic and technical questions raised by big data.

One thing is certain: harnessing technology will never actually be “done”. And in any case, it isn’t the technology that matters. It is the purpose to which it is put we are interested in.

Through close co-operation and new partnerships with the technology and other sectors, we will ensure that we draw upon the data at our disposal to improve journeys for customers and plan our urban transport networks more effectively.

Vernon Everitt is Board member on Smart Futures for Urban Transport Group.