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Using data and technology to reimagine transport

In the third of our Reopen, Recover, Reimagine series, Nitish Bakshi, a Technical manager in Atkins’ Intelligent Mobility and Smart Technology practice, looks at the important role that data and technology can play in helping us reimagine our transport network

Nitish Bakshi
06 July 2020
Nitish Bakshi is a Technical manager in Atkins’ Intelligent Mobility and Smart Technology practice
Nitish Bakshi is a Technical manager in Atkins’ Intelligent Mobility and Smart Technology practice


The response to Covid-19, both globally and more so in the UK, has been the perfect example of data-driven decision-making. Transport data formed a key part of this intelligence, with the monitoring of the movement of people and goods, and its impact of lockdown, being core to the Government’s daily briefings.

The last three months have seen an unparalleled real-time application of data-driven-decision making.  The basis of the UK Government’s response and action plan to tackle the Covid-19 crisis is like that of many other countries; it is built on scientific evidence and underpinned by the availability and analysis of extensive data. 

We have also seen a large increase in the penetration of digital services and the user acceptance of digital solutions. One example is how even farm shops have now started connecting to their customers through digital channels, and have pivoted their business models to ensure that they maintain customer touchpoints and expand their customer base.

The wide adoption of grocery delivery serves as a good reminder of how even some basic transactions have now moved to digital channels.

The hospitality industry was one of the most COVID-affected sectors, but food delivery services such as JustEat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats provided some respite as they have seen a benefit through alternative sources of revenue. There was also a significant growth in the number of restaurants and pubs providing new online delivery services.

As we gradually reopen from the lockdown and move into the recover and reimagine phases, we must continue to build on these trends and ensure that data and technology play an even more important role in how we reimagine the mobility ecosystem. 

The use of technology provides the opportunity to increase the reach of services to a large user base, and the ability to be agile in delivery and iterate solutions rapidly. Using data and data analytics to support decision-making and network monitoring will enable better prediction and minimise the risk of unknown

The use of technology provides the opportunity to increase the reach of services to a large user base, and the ability to be agile in delivery and iterate solutions rapidly.

Using data and data analytics to support decision-making and network monitoring will enable better prediction and minimise the risk of unknowns.

We are at a critical juncture where the tide can turn either way; we can either continue the positive strides made towards promoting sustainable travel choices or, we could revert to a path of high carbon energy dependency.

Should the latter happen, it would undermine many of our decarbonisation, congestion, air quality and healthy lifestyle targets. 

Though the focus needs to be on supporting a rapid economic recovery, there is a risk that future mobility solutions and services will have to take the back seat whilst we focus on getting things back together quickly.

Transport authorities, governments and transport operators must use this as an opportunity to speed up solutions that would not only support the short-term recovery but also enable us to reimagine transport in the long-term. 

Data could provide the tool that authorities and operators need to have a better and real-time view of the network and to react quickly as circumstances change.

Technology also has the potential to promote sustainable behaviours and support a green recovery. 

Whilst it can sometimes be difficult to understand the role of data and technology in this process; we have broken this down into three key areas, all of which are important in ensuring a smooth transition to a new normal and building user confidence.

Gather insight

It is essential that transport operators and local authorities continue to build accurate and insightful real-time information of the network. This would improve network management and help react effectively to relaxation in lockdown conditions, infection rates and usage patterns across the network.  

  • Network monitoring: Having a clear and detailed picture of the network in terms of capacity, journey times, key routes and congestion through developing real-time systems. Authorities should look at combining existing information with new data sources such as mobile phone data and artificial intelligence cameras to fill gaps. It is also important to explore if and how transport authorities and operators can derive further insights from existing datasets through better integration and correlation. 

  • Capacity management: Social distancing is here to stay at least until we find a vaccine, and we have not designed mass transit systems to maintain social distances. But digital solutions, such as passenger counting systems onboard mass transit modes, can help in ensuring adequate supply is in place by smoothing activity through providing transparent information to users. Such systems will not only serve the purpose in the short-term but in the long run, will help us assemble a more resilient network. 

Keep informed

We need to address the anxiety around users having information about the capacity, cleanliness and sanitisation of the services to help them rebuild trust in public transport and sustainable modes.  This will help to keep the user informed and help them feel in control of their journeys and hence support the transition back into the network. 

  • Customer Information: There is a strong user sentiment that safety in public transport modes is a major concern. Information about capacity, last cleaning and other associated information can help play a vital role. With the number and frequency of changes occurring, it becomes even more critical to provide accurate and up-to-date information to users through proper and trusted channels. The key is to ensure that we integrate these customer information channels and make them available to a wide audience and third parties. This would ensure the information reaches a broader customer base and there is a single version of the truth across different platforms.

  • Real-time updates and disruption information: Building on customer information is key to keep users informed as they make their journeys. In a time where the situation is changing rapidly, it is important to provide information to customers about their journeys to ease travel anxiety.\

Make it easy

One of the main arguments of promoting sustainable choices among users is to make sustainable mode choices as easy as using private cars. This is especially true in the current scenario where a lot of changes in lifestyle have happened and we could consider that after almost three months in lockdown people are starting afresh. 

  • Digital delivery of services: Building on the increased dependency and uptake of digital solutions, starting to accelerate the delivery of more services through digital means should be a key focus. Digital services have a higher penetration rate, react better to changes and thus provide a more agile tool. Transport authorities should focus on the roll-out of digital services not only to their users but also take the digital transformation journey themselves such as providing open data platforms, integrated ticketing and payment solutions, real-time information services and smart parking solutions.

  • Smart ticketing (Contactless/Account-Based): Reducing the handling of cash and maintaining social distance could be a challenge on public transport modes. We should deploy Smart Ticketing solutions to minimise this.  This would also increase throughput and help to reduce queuing and congestion at stations and bus stops. 

  • Mobility as a Service: Many have often viewed MaaS as a solution with the potential to compete against the convenience and ease of travelling through private cars. Faced with a situation where the trends show that people would be more willing to pick up their car keys instead of using sustainable modes, it becomes even more important to accelerate the journey towards MaaS adoption. All the solutions detailed above form the foundations of the steps required to build a MaaS system. It is essential that transport authorities and operators explore further how they could enable seamless and integrated travel within their network which would make it easier for users to navigate a complex mobility ecosystem and provide them with confidence to use mass transit modes.

  • Accelerating autonomy: Speeding up the deployment of autonomous systems could further minimise the need for social contact. We should also look at freight deliveries as one of the first use cases for the potential deployment of autonomous solutions, i.e. we could specifically explore last-mile deliveries. Local Authorities should further explore how we can use autonomous vehicles to deliver certain services such as demand-responsive shuttles or utility vehicles.  These would not only provide short-term benefits but would also test the deployment of automated vehicles in real-world scenarios further supporting the R&D into autonomous vehicles. 

These solutions not only have the potential to help us quickly recover from the current Covid-19 crisis, but they can also support bringing back the numbers and increase the confidence required to sustain Public Transport. They can also help us reimagine and support the evolution of mobility in our cities by keeping a customer-centric view of how to make travel easier whilst seizing the opportunity we now have, to build a stronger and smarter transport network. 

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