My night at NEF – CAVs, data, carbon and the future of transport

Took part in a Chatham House roundtable at the New Economics Foundation last night which, mostly ended up exploring the fault lines between a vision of the future of transport centered on moving as rapidly as possible to the vast majority of journeys being made by electric, shared and autonomous cars – and those who thought that vision was either unachievable or highly undesirable, or both.

It made me think this (or in some cases steal the thoughts of others)…

  1. There is a big gulf between those who see transport from a tech / venture capital perspective and those whose background is in wider urban and transport policy. Indeed they are very rarely in the same rooms together. The former look at transport from the outside and they see one vehicle dominates – the car. So that’s where the heroic engineering and renumerative opportunity lies for transforming transportation – and at a global scale. With that clear objective set then everyithing else is about cracking any problems that lie in the way to the goal of fixing the car (ie making it electric and autonomous). And given the amount of money at stake, their faith in technology and their own abilities – they are confident that all problems can, should and will be cracked. The people from a wider urban and transport policy perspective see cities and their transport network as complex systems of which the car is one element – an element which is problematic per se. So you don’t start with the car as the be all and the end all of transport policy because that clearly makes no sense. The global nature of the ambitions of the tech / venture capitalists also makes the gulf even wider as what might work on the empty straight roads of 1950s US suburbia might struggle with being the answer to the future of transport on the constricted road network of European cities with their roots in the 1500s. However is there somewhere within this zone of mutual incomprehension for a space for thinking about how tech could fit with where the reality of the transport needs of denser older major cities where space for any kind of road vehicle is becoming steadily more constrained and where there is a wider vision for healthier streets?
  2. Is the above a first world problem in that it would be easier to establish a whole new mobility system based on the tech / venture capitalists view that the future is about electric, shared, autonomous cars in newer, or even new, cities in developing countries – where city layout, politics and regulation could be more receptive?
  3. In the Eighties there was a brain drain into a deregulated financial sector which ultimately gave us the crash and the strange and frightening world we now live in. Is there now an equivalent brain drain into a tech sector which was never regulated in the first place? And are we living with the consequences of that right now from fake news, and election meddling to lack of control over our personal data and the rise of unregulated internet monopolies? If so what do we do about it? In Estonia the Government uses secure technology to hold citizen’s personal data for them in a way that makes public services easier to use and cheaper to provide. In London there’s talk of cities establishing something that sounds similar – city data trusts. Could these approaches be part of the answer? Or at least part of a more urgent debate?
  4. The carbon footprint of the energy sector is transforming for the better with amazing rapidity in the UK but the same is not true for transport. Will the pressure increase for this to change? At the same time (and there’s a lot of fog of war here) the shift to electric vehicles seems to be picking up pace dragging even the more reluctant elements of the automobile sector with it. Will that lead to panic by Government over loss of fuel duty revenues and could that lead them to react by seeking to slow the shift?
  5. One more on CAVs. One of the big emerging obstacles to full CAVs that the techies / venture capitalists will need to crack if their dream is to be realised is attitudinal. As in just because people could do something that technology allows them to do  – they might not actually want to do it. So, for example, if CAVs need to be shared (given that if everyone had their own nobody would be able to move very far in them without being stuck in a traffic jam) then how do you get round the fact that if there’s one thing that people hate its being in a small space (like a lift) with strangers (even if its only for a minute). Are people really going to want to make the beloved lift experience into their day to day travel experience?

Jonathan Bray





2016 in transport

2016 has been a rollercoaster year in politics, entertainment and sports. We’ve had a referendum, a change of government, and a US election, to name just a few things. For me, this has been my first year at UTG (I joined in May), I’ve learned so much and lots of interesting things have been going on. So, I’m going to try and wrap up the big things that have happened in transport into this post.

Internally, it’s been a big year at UTG. In January 2016, Transport for London became full members, and what had been pteg became the Urban Transport Group. And since then we’ve gone from strength to strength, drawing in new policy areas such as taxis and private hire vehicles, and tackling big questions, like the value of emerging data for transport and the role of transport in delivering inclusive growth.

The Buses Bill

The Buses Bill has been a big theme in transport this year, with its passage through the House of Lords, and looks set to move into the House of Commons next year. The Buses Bill will make it easier for local transport authorities to franchise networks of buses, allowing bus services to be provided as they are in London elsewhere. This will deliver improvements for passengers and integration of ticketing. You can find out more about our work on the Buses Bill here including our Bus Services Bill FAQs.



Big data, open data, transport data, it’s all in vogue! On my second day at UTG we held a workshop with the Future Cities Catapult to discuss emerging data and transport, to try and tease out the opportunities and challenges around maximising the potential of transport data. Following this, we produced our ‘Getting Smart on Data’ report, which offers some recommendations of ways to overcome some of these challenges and barriers in order to utilise the wealth of emerging data.

Air Quality

Air quality has been making headlines this year, particularly as the health implications of NOx and particulate emissions become ever more apparent. Some European cities have been making bold statement to address air pollution, with Paris banning cars and making public transport free to use during high pollution events. Sadiq Khan has made significant promises to tackle air pollution in London, including doubling funding to tackle the problem and Clean Air Zones are being imposed on a number of English cities, so this issue looks likely to remain at the top of transport agendas for some time to come.

Inclusive growth

Theresa May has made it clear that her government intends to deliver inclusive growth, including through the establishment of the Inclusive Growth Economy Unit in October 2016. Inclusive Growth has been on the agenda for other organisations, with the RSA opening the Inclusive Growth Commission. Inclusivity and transport is an area that UTG have been exploring for a long time, including examining the role for transport in accessing employment, the importance of transport for young people and the role transport plays in economic development. Check out our response to the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission to find out more.

Party conferences

As UTG, we attend both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. This year, we asked people to share their priorities for transport in cities, and you can read these blog posts to find out more about what came up at Labour and the Conservatives. There were many common themes across both conferences, with people asking for better cycling infrastructure, improved public transport and raising concerns about air quality, amongst many others.


What’s clear is that there are many different challenges facing the transport system, but transport also offers wider social and economic opportunities. Let’s see what 2017 has to offer.

Five key takeaways on emerging data for transport

Uber app

Urban Transport Group and the Future Cities Catapult recently held a ‘Getting Smart on Data’ workshop, looking at the potential of emerging data in transport. On just my second day as a researcher with the UTG, it was a truly fascinating event and a dive head long into this dynamic area in transport. We bought together stakeholders from multiple transport authorities, from a range of roles including IT and transport modellers and planners, with representatives from industry and academia, to engage in conversations and shape the debate about the role of emerging data for transport.

Here are my five key takeaways from the day.

  1. Data is EVERYWHERE

We are generating data all the time, whether through our use of smart ticketing, our spending patterns, or location data from our phones. 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years. A growing volume of this data is at the disposal of the transport sector, however much remains inaccessible. In addition, the data that is being generated is diverse, diffuse and is being held and generated by numerous individuals and organisations, which creates barriers.

  1. Opening up is important

There has been a drive for increasing openness in data, with the UK Government opening up vast amounts of data through and many other organisations following suit. This allows people to come into the market and gain added value from this data, for example, over 5,000 developers have registered for to use the TfL open data resulting in the development of hundreds of apps, tools and services. This is generating benefits for users of transport and enhancing the customer experience.

  1. But protecting people’s personal data is also critical

Individuals retain rights to data protection and it is important that developments in using emerging data adhere to existing and new regulation on this. This will be particularly prominent in transport, where personal data is collected through smart cards and other mechanisms, and in exploring options for utilising mobile data in transport, as this can take the form of sensitive personal information about travel patterns.

  1. The opportunities are massive

The potential of using new data sources for transport planning and modelling is huge, with mobile data in particular providing an invaluable resource for understanding people’s mobility behaviour. This holds promise for transport authorities to tap into emerging data, for improving analysis and generating new insight.

  1. The sector needs to keep pace and skill up

While the opportunities arising from emerging data sets are vast, the skills required may be missing from the traditional transport planning and modelling communities and they will need to explore ways of up skilling and drawing in new talent from the data and coding communities in order to fully exploit these opportunities. The pace of innovation in emerging data is fast, so the transport sector needs to work hard to keep up.

The event set me thinking about how much data I generate on a daily basis, whether through the location services on my smartphone or using my smart card on the bus and my contactless payment card for my shopping. Personally, I think questions around trust, security and transparency are key to managing and capitalising on the vast swathes of data that have, and will, emerge and making the best use of them for improving transport planning, modelling and services.

This is an exciting area so watch this space for more!

To find out more about data in cities by visiting the Future Cities Catapult website.