Using data to decide transport investment

Martin Tugwell

Martin Tugwell of the Transport Systems Catapult explains how intelligent mobility will turn business models on their head.

Transport is never far from the popular news headlines and it’s clear to me that the pressure on transport authorities to balance their revenue books continues. 

Economic growth will create greater demand for transport services, exacerbating the pressure on transport authorities and operators as they deliver their services. 

A successful transport system is fundamental to enabling sustainable economic growth: securing the long-term business model for transport is therefore a challenge that the next Government cannot ignore. It is a challenge that the wider transport sector is already responding to. 

If there is a lesson to be learnt from other business sectors it is that transport cannot afford to only innovate within the existing paradigm or business model.

Fundamentally transport is a socio-technical system: one in which the individual is at the heart of innovation. It is clear that new technology and innovation are challenging traditional approaches to transport. They bring new entrants into the sector: companies that are offering user-centric solutions to the transport challenges faced by individuals and businesses alike. 

Such changes are symptomatic of a more fundamental shift in the way transport is viewed by society, with the emphasis increasingly on enabling access to services as opposed to ownership of a particular mode of transport. There is a growing need for the provision of personalised services that are valued and trusted by us: the consumer of transport. As a consequence we are likely to see further disruption to the traditional business model as a consequence of technology enabled innovation.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from other business sectors it is that transport cannot afford to only innovate within the existing paradigm or business model. Whilst it’s important to continue to encourage the existing innovation activity across the transport sector, we must also be open to embracing new solutions – including ideas from other business sectors.

Catapult's four targets

1. Automated transport systems – as part of which the Catapult is delivering the prototype autonomous pods that will be trialled in Milton Keynes

2. Information exploitation – exploring the opportunities that exist to realise added value through the application of data to enable intelligent mobility

3. Modelling and visualisation – stretching the boundaries of current modelling techniques through the use of ideas from other business sector, including the computer game sector

4. Customer experience – leading a strategic programme of work across transport modes, with the focus on enabling user-centric solutions to be developed on a system-wide basis.

At the same time our technology enabled society is generating a huge amount of data that captures our use of transport services. Never before have we had access to such a rich insight into how, as consumers, we make use of the available transport options.

More could be, and needs to be done to share information more widely. A better understanding of transport consumer needs and requirements will benefit decision making. Collaboration amongst those who collect data is critical, as is the acknowledgement that infrastructure operators and service providers may not always be the best placed to provide consumer facing information.

Ultimately the key to success in the transport sector lies in having a stronger user-centric focus that has a systems approach at its heart – Intelligent Mobility: enabling the effective and efficient movement of people and goods.

The Transport Systems Catapult represents an investment by the UK in establishing a centre of excellence that champions Intelligent Mobility. The Catapult exists to help accelerate the application of technology enabled innovation, with a particular emphasis on providing the support that enables new ideas to cross the ‘valley of death’ and be implemented. Success will not only help the UK remain economically competitive, it offers the opportunity for UK based businesses to capture a larger share of a global market for Intelligent Mobility market estimated to be worth £900bn per annum by 2025.

Based in Milton Keynes the Transport Systems Catapult forms part of the wider Catapult programme established with the support of Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board). Whilst the Catapult is a new concept for the UK, there are similar facilities in many of the leading economies around the world. Set up as a private company limited by guarantee, the Catapult has been established to act as a facilitator and enabler for the widespread application of UK research and development.

Fundamental to the Catapult’s approach is the emphasis given to collaborative working with partners across the transport sector – from academia, through start-up and SMEs, to major private sector companies. 

The UK has to be successful in addressing the challenges facing our transport system. As a catalyst for the application of technology enabled innovation the Transport Systems Catapult will have a key role to play in that regard: ultimately though realising the potential of Intelligent Mobility will require collaborative working at all levels in order to deliver a truly transformative systems approach to transport.

Martin Tugwell is the head of the Transport Systems Catapult at the Technology Strategy Board