Improving mobility through innovation

Read the original Local Transport Today article here

The world of mobility is changing. As consumers are presented with more information and choices from which to select their travel requirements, there is a growing emergence of mobility being provided as a service. Intelligent Transport and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) are taking off around the UK and Europe, but to date, there is little to suggest that the exciting talk of ground-breaking innovation is any more than that, in the public sector at least.

One of the many obstacles to widespread MaaS integration here in the UK is that the public sector is simply not ready, predominantly due to a lack of resources or an over-reliance on antiquated legacy systems. Transport operators, infrastructure owners, local authorities and the consultancies that serve them are struggling to compete with these disruptive changes in transport. CAVs (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles), MaaS, air quality initiatives and Intelligent Mobility (IM) programmes all require huge amounts of real-time data and the ability to answer complex questions at a glance. The sector lacks the skills and experience to deliver the underlying digital platforms and consumer-facing functions required to serve their customers or realise their investment in ‘smart’ programmes.

One area in particular in which the transport industry has historically lagged behind other sectors is in maximising the value of so-called big data – critical to the successful implementation of any intelligent transport system – despite a relative maturity in the availability of open transport data. There appears to be a constant ‘reinventing of the wheel’ as local authorities try to create data and functionality platforms to serve these so-called ‘smart’ programmes. Dated and restrictive procurement procedures, combined with unrealistic expectations around IP and resale rights have all but blocked many ‘X As A Service’ models that could have delivered far greater functionality at far lower cost.

The market is further confused by companies over-charging for simple data services (such as re-packaging open data) and in some cases for access to the organisation’s own data. The result is stifling growth whilst public money is being wasted on consultancy and half-baked technical developments when it should be going towards real innovation and improvement. There is a clear need to level the playing field for the public sector and enable all local authorities to embrace the IM and Smart City programmes they aspire to.

Journey planning, for example, is a commoditised product in this day and age yet remains in the dark ages for many local authorities, no longer reflecting the way people want to travel. The sector needs a new approach to intelligent journey planning – one that can not only predict and react to live conditions, but also one that can be tailored to best serve the region; lift-share schemes, cycle schemes, autonomous vehicles, congestion and healthy living aspirations are rarely considered. In essence, a journey planner that truly personalises to the needs of the individual; not one which equates personalisation of the customer experience to the ability to save a previous journey.

The recently announced government Air Quality Policy Plan for local authorities is another good example of opportunity for innovation being smothered by a frustrating lack of technological capability. With a deadline of March 2018 set for authorities to outline how they propose to implement local air quality plans, and an available fund running to millions, the government has suggested exploration of initiatives including changes to road layouts and greater public transport use.

The problem however that almost all local authorities will face is that they lack the current capability to obtain and usefully analyse the data that would, and should, drive success for these initiatives. And herein lies the frustration: it’s not that the technology doesn’t exist – it does – but rather that the current public sector model will inevitably see funds going into consultancy or wheel-reinventing rather than innovation.

There is one solution for both abovementioned challenges – journey planning and air quality – and it lies with a company, Zipabout, which aims to disrupt current public sector IM models. The Zipabout data platform consumes air quality data and national transport and weather models supplemented with local inputs (such as UTMC, parking sensors and local environment sensors) to create a dynamic predictive model of the entire UK transport network and its impact on air quality.

With this technology in their arsenal, local authorities would be able to accurately predict air quality levels down to a city block detail and, for example, re-route cyclists and pedestrians around the worst hit areas, divert traffic or incentivise public transport usage in real-time. Unlike other disparate journey planning systems or analytics programmes, the data is shared with the problem owner, enabling planning, measuring ROI and identifying pain-points in the network. What’s more, the platform will be available without any licence fee to any local authority or publicly funded regional body who wish to enable Intelligent Mobility, Smart City Transport and MaaS in their area.