Transport for London chief highlights digital innovation as crucial to network's success

TfL commissioner Mike Brown speaking at the European CIO Conference 2017 in London.

Transport for London’s (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown has highlighted how digital innovation is the “salvation” for the capital’s transport network and has urged those working in the industry to come forward with ideas that will keep the TfL at the forefront of an ever-increasing technological world.

Speaking at the European CIO Conference 2017, hosted by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering in London on 1 December 2017, Brown told the audience how keeping London moving was proving more of a challenge with 27 million journeys being made daily on some form of service ran by the network. 

By the end of the decade, the Department for Transport’s resource budget will be slashed by 37% and as part of these cuts TfL’s operational budget of almost £700m a year will be wiped out out before the end of the decade. The network will therefore be forced to fund its services through more technological innovations aimed at saving costs to the general running of services. 

Brown said: “We are always hoping to make the most of technological changes what with tighter financial resources and higher expectations of users, so we have got to think of new ways on how we tackle transport challenges. TfL is always looking to go further and channel UK entrepreneurship to make London easier, safer and less polluted.

"Next year we will become the only major European city without a subsidised transport network, therefore our message to potential industry partners is we are up for a discussion as we don't know all the technology out there so lets try some things out that can give us greater value for money and more benefits for our customers. Only by working closely with the industry can we keep up with the astonishing change in technology and continue to develop the pipeline of people needed with the right skills for the benefit of this great city.”

TfL’s commissioner explained to delegates at the conference about how TfL has transformed, particularly in the last decade with innovations like digital intelligence systems that tell maintenance teams whenever trains are starting to breakdown or if any assets at stations like escalators maybe becoming faulty. The company has also released a mobile ticketing app for Oyster card users in London which allows customers to manage their travel fares and payments and also started using drones for vital track maintenance work which previously was an extremely labour-intensive procedure. 

Moving forward, Brown highlighted how he wanted his organisation to remain inclusive to everyone with TfL presenting new opportunities for those who possess skills and knowledge for today's digital world.

“We want to tap into all the knowledge within our communities that can add to the way we work,” Brown said. “In the past graduates would probably think joining us would mean being stuck out near Uxbridge fiddling around with the track while freezing at night and dressed in something orange but the range of skills and opportunities are quite different to before. We are now able to promote more diverse types of opportunities and if we don’t offer jobs to people from all different backgrounds then there will simply not be enough people to deliver all the change required.”

The TfL chief was keen to stress that improvements were being made across the network, including on the roads with buses fitted with new cutting-edge technology that prevent them from exceeding speed limits and trials for emergency braking systems that automatically apply the brakes whenever in a time of danger. It was advancements like these which Brown believed had made TfL “be seen as a good foundation for market innovators”. The commissioner also revealed that five top car manufacturers had been in touch for discussions about testing electric vehicles and London was the only world city they had all contacted.

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