In many spheres of life we are living in a ‘digital by default’ world where city dwellers in the UK are, to varying degrees, entering into an era of smart cities. An era where digital technologies offer the potential to improve the environment, drive efficiencies, accelerate growth and increase citizen engagement.
How joined up and efficient transport and mobility operates may be considered a key measure of how ‘smart’ a city is. Parking is at the heart of this equation and also one of the most challenging aspects to address. Some 39 million daily journeys begin and end at a parking space.
So, perhaps it is no wonder that we spend up to four days a year looking for one! Whilst growing interest in shared mobility along with demographic and societal change should be reducing car ownership, car use has actually risen for the first time in four years.
According to the RAC Report on Motoring 2018, there was a net increase of 9% in motorists using their cars compared with 2017. There are a host of other challenges to contend with in the digital age. We need to have multiple apps on our phones to be compatible with app-based operators who are ironically trying to make parking hassle free. Confusing road signs detail a complex array of time and tariff details, rarely in any machine readable format, which today’s connected vehicles and navigation apps could lap up to make our journeys and parking more efficient.
The Government has been making a concerted effort to improve mobility across a range of initiatives, most notably in its Future of Mobility Urban Strategy. Alongside encouraging more healthy modes of transport, it has a lot to say about supporting innovation, particularly in the area of improving the way we use and make accessible data to streamline mobility.
Furthermore, last year’s North Highlands Local Transport Data Discovery called for the DfT to sponsor projects that could support better local transport services and streamline and digitise traffic regulation orders (TROs).
To make improvements in our TRO system, which is managed differently by each local authority, there was a need to understand both the problems and best practices: in other words, the ‘state of the nation’. So, spurred on by the Highland report, the British Parking Association (BPA) worked with DfT, GeoPlace and Ordnance Survey to undertake a nationwide ‘TRO Discovery’ project to do just this.
Over the course of the TRO Discovery, the team spoke to more than 200 people in 92 organisations throughout the public and private sector. We revealed 400 authorities across Great Britain producing 53,300 TRO and Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) every year to manage their road networks, with a projected cost of £126.4m.
An outline of the findings and recommendations is available online from GeoPlace, which led on the user research (https://www.geoplace.co.uk/trodiscovery). In summary, the findings can be categorised under four themes:
Data: Respondents had issues and concerns over the lack of available data, how up to date or accurate it was and the fact that it was rarely open and machine-readable
Legislation: The time taken, level of bureaucracy and cost to advertise in local media were cited as major concerns
Future of Mobility: For TROs to work better in today’s digital world, respondents wanted the ability to produce dynamic TROs that were recognisable by connected and automated vehicles (CAV)
Consistency: The need for local authorities to produce and make available TROs with more consistency, and be more transparent about the process.
The project also produced some great outputs to start the process of informing improvements in the TRO system. We produced a publication to guide all users of TROs on the process and legislation behind TROs with advice on how to move outdated paper-based systems towards digital platforms (https://www.britishparking.co.uk/TRO-Discovery-Project).
Perhaps the most useful starting point to bring TROs into the modern era was the Draft Data Model, which was produced to interface with all existing traffic management data models. The model covers:
The DfT is currently exploring piloting the model later this year with a number of local authorities, which have expressed an interest in digitising their TROs, to validate the model and ensure it is fit for purpose. Furthermore, the DfT’s Transport Technology Forum, hosted by the BPA, also includes a Smarter Parking Group for whom the digitisation of TROs is a focus of activity.
The Discovery work has set the foundation for the DfT to start a legislative review of TRO legislation. This review (or ‘Alpha Stage) will take place over 16 weeks to produce a set of proposals for legislative change on TROs that meets current and future user needs, and enables the provision of digital TRO data, which can be processed and stored using means such as the Draft Data Model. The Alpha stage will constantly have an eye on the future by considering how users and their needs may change due to new forms of mobility.
So, where is this all heading? Ideally, towards a vision for the future outlined in the TRO Discovery User Research where order-making authorities can make orders for other parties with less bureaucracy, and can manage their own networks more efficiently. Consultees and others who will be impacted could be made aware in advance of changes that will affect them and understand how to contribute to TROs where appropriate. Data users could have access to high quality, timely and accurate TRO and TTRO data so they can apply it for purposes such as reliable navigation and provision of digital services.
The DfT is keen to continue their engagement with stakeholders to support the design of the proposals. Please contact TROAlpha@dft.gov.uk to get involved.
Julian O’Kelly is head of technology, innovation and research at the British Parking Association
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