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NR Live Lab’s innovative approach set to enhance travel in the West Midlands

A £2.65m Network Resilience programme has been developed to help keep the West Midlands moving. This summary of the ‘Seven Ps’ outlines the chief aims of the project

22 November 2021
Rachel Maclean MP [centre] visits the NR Live Lab. Deborah Fox, TfWM Head of Demand Management [left]. Giles Perkins, WSP Head of Future Mobility [right].
Rachel Maclean MP [centre] visits the NR Live Lab. Deborah Fox, TfWM Head of Demand Management [left]. Giles Perkins, WSP Head of Future Mobility [right].
 

In January 2019 the Network Resilience Live Lab (NR Live Lab) project was named one of eight projects selected for the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme. Nine local authorities and their partners are working across eight innovative projects to develop new SMART approaches across communications, materials, energy solutions and mobility.

Supported by a £2.65 million grant from the Department for Transport as part of the ADEPT Live Labs programme, the NR Live Lab project is about driving innovation, supporting sustainability and improving the safety of the region’s transport network users; the core values of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM’s) Network Resilience directorate.

For the successful delivery of the project, four parallel workstreams contain numerous dependencies and inter-relationships between them, rather than being independent of one another.

A technical understanding and operational capability has formed between the first two work streams, with data from fixed assets (workstream 1) being analysed by processes developed for Workstream 2. The project also explores a deeper understanding of network customers via segmentation and personas developed within Workstream 3, which will combine with the deployment of assets and modelling. Workstream 4 seeks to embed learning within TfWM and ADEPT, through upskilling and knowledge dissemination.

As the project closes, this review will examine several areas of the project under the following marketing principles: product; price; place; people; promotion; processes; and physical evidence.

Product

Deployment of a number of non-invasive, road-based sensors, capitalising on video analytics to create a new 24/7/365 data set. The Regional Transport Coordination Centre (RTCC) has been introduced in the West Midlands with a key objective of supporting better, intelligence led, data driven, decision making. The RTCC acts a hub for real time transport information across the wider West Midlands, operating across all modes of transport. A short scale trial was carried out in 2019 on the A34 North to inform the NR Live Lab, which saw the installation of eight static automated traffic counters (SATC).

The objective of the trial was to deploy video-based road sensors along routes with the capability of providing near real time data categories including car counts, average speed and journey time across multiple points, car classification breakdown and average emissions. The intention was to then input these data streams into a data engine for further interrogation so as to determine temporally, seasonally and geographically ‘normalised’ information into the RTCC. Using this, the intention was further to alert the RTCC to abnormal conditions and enable timely intervention.

From this early understanding, considerable progress has been made in the NR Live Lab. Considerable benefits were realised during the Covid-19 pandemic, incorporating the data into dashboards to assist essential travel around the network. 

In partnership with West Midlands Police and TfWM’s principal CCTV contractor, Total Integrated Solutions Ltd. (TIS), 69 SATCs have now been installed across 12 roads on the West Midlands Key Route Network. As part of the process, TfWM also now benefits from journey times and vehicle counts on a further 58 existing Police SATC on these routes providing joined up point to point data. 

This access to data has enabled TfWM to develop early-stage services for clients. Personas developed (see Promotion) also provide service potential, in informing clients of best use of campaign budgets to reach customers most likely to respond positively.

Price

Establishing the business case for deployment of additional fixed assets against manual counting and the justification for ongoing maintenance of fixed assets. 

The NR Live Lab budget included one-off capital investment in the setup and development of the analytics systems. Some costs were to meet requirements of the ADEPT Live Labs programme, such as sharing knowledge.

The ongoing costs will include a minimal maintenance cost for the fixed assets and refreshes of segmentation and personas. Use of Amazon Web Services servers can be spread across multiple projects.

Lessons Learnt – changing industry standards. Joint funding has provided a greater roll out of equipment that enhances police and TfWM transport intelligence, while reducing costs to the public purse through a reduction in the total amount of SATCs deployed. The improved communication, workflow and understanding of the different organisational priorities will also enable further joint initiatives. The data will also support a reduction in costs and enhanced efficiencies and productivity for transport assessments and modelling. Provision of standard data will enable a focus on the analytics and recommendations rather than data processing, increasing consistency and the ability to undertake analysis in-house, reducing capital outlay on projects.

Place

Gaining a deep understanding of customer behaviour and attitudes to travel options to enable highly focused marketing and communications to influence travel habits. The granular or traveller personas work stream allowed a deep understanding of travel behaviours of all travellers, for all journeys including the propensity to uptake new services and technologies and propensity to change travel behaviour. Introductory sessions on the personas have been held with a range of internal and external stakeholders.

We wanted to help network customers make the best travel choices as we head into the COVID-19 recovery.

The ADEPT project has provided the opportunity to work with Local Authority Partners and Operators in the development of the personas and subsequent dissemination. This is a new ‘pathway’ into user-centric service design, marketing and delivery – which will be demonstrated through the Solihull trial on A34 South, by using the learning of the personas development, the content of the extensive 14 personas – we will be better able to design mobility products and services; and have the knowledge of how to communicate and market these products, to all citizens of the West Midlands.

TfWM has undertaken an ambitious trial at this year’s Highways UK, using exciting technology to underpin a data driven approach to travel demand management. TfWM, working with Immense Simulations, trialled the modelling using approximate origins of attendees to the event, to attempt to understand the impact on the surrounding network. There was monitoring of actual traffic volumes and public transport usage during the event. Learning from this trial will be used to refine the skills and tools developed during the NR Live Lab project for use in future events in the area.

People

Partnership with West Midlands Police – consultation process and consideration of privacy and ethics. Having liaised with West Midlands Police on the aforementioned SATC trial on A34 North, it became clear that the deployment of assets capable of gathering such data sets provided advantages to both TfWM as well as West Midlands Police. Following a mapping exercise of existing and proposed sites, it was possible to identify mutually beneficial sites.

This close working ensured no duplication, shared intelligence, reduced cost and increased capability. The opportunity to work together required the support of legal agreements to capture the working methods, areas of responsibility and to refer as a baseline for future developments. West Midlands Police led on the public and other stakeholder consultation, enabling TfWM to focus resource on deployment of assets. The consultation process for the deployment of cameras is a robust, well-established process undertaken by West Midlands Police, bolstered to include the privacy and ethics implications of the data use now being undertaken. 

Support from an external consultancy (Amazon Web Services Professional Services) that upskills existing talent via innovating, can deliver cost effective outputs. This work was delivered through agile project delivery with the data provider, QRO, and with the support of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Professional Services to help TfWM design a secure, scalable and stable data architecture. This is the basis of the TfWM “Data Engine”, a vast transport data processing and analytics capability. The work of TfWM has demonstrated how bringing in an external consultancy, in this case Amazon Web Services Professional Services, can upskill the existing talent, can deliver outputs that are cost effective and deliver for the long-term, via innovating.

One point of note is that the Human Intelligence team learned was how to use qualitative research techniques to inform effective travel demand management. Building on the extensive quantitative data used for the segmentation exercise, the personas are based on rich qualitative data gathered as part of the NR Live Lab project. Through extensive qualitative research (in-depth interviews, travel diaries and ethnographic market research) we now have, through the 14 Traveller personas an enhanced understanding of how citizens receive and process information, what their preferences are and how and what travelling decisions they make and their needs in terms of the design of future mobility solutions.

Promotion

Marketing and communications – Marketing approaches. For the traveller personas, TfWM teamed up with Connected Places Catapult and strategic marketing agency Trinity McQueen to develop deeper traveller personas to aid the development of segmentation and personas and support TfWM in better understanding citizens through data and research and use this to provide mobility services that they want and need.

Learning from the NR Live Lab via targeting of messages and interventions, this research explored in greater depth the values, attitudes, motivations, lifestyles and needs of individuals and understand the role of culture, society, consumer trends and technology innovation in their mobility decisions.The NR Live Lab also uses a combination of newsletters, speaking opportunities and events, digital communication and reporting to get its message across to stakeholders and those who might wish to replicate or learn from its findings. 

A pilot communications campaign is currently in delivery with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and TfWM working closely with Arcadis UK Consulting Ltd and Livecrowd. This is to test the impact of promotions on the travelling public.

The key focus of the campaign, using new tools available through the NR Live Lab, is to encourage people travelling on the A34 South to change their travel behaviour i.e. choose a different mode to the private car (re-mode), change the time/day they travel (re-time) or not travel if possible (re-think, i.e. working from home and supporting the local high street), in support of the existing #netzerosolihull campaign. A geo-fence around the chosen area will enable targeting of chosen personas via social media and the evaluation of what happened as a result.

Processes

Supplying the data volume to deep learn standard travel patterns and therefore support more accurate traffic modelling. The installation of fixed cameras is now complete and providing a large volume of valuable data (4.5 million data points per day) to the analytics workstream. This data is now being used across the authority to better understand traffic-flow and the impact of events and interruptions with a view to informing network transport policy and decision-making. 

The data analytics work, consisted of data flow architecture and then the aggregation of the data to enable the provision of real-time, operational and strategic insights. The data from the SATCs is provided encrypted, with the vehicle registration number “hashed” to ensure it cannot be used by anyone outside of West Midlands Police to know the actual vehicle details. Primarily, the data collected is aggregated to journeys along roads, captured within time bins to view the changes through the AM, PM and inter-peaks throughout the day. The SATC data is now providing updates to the Operations Dashboard every 15 minutes of: Counts at locations across the Key Route Network, and Journey Times and speeds on the Key Route Network.

The processes for utilising all of the outputs of the NR Live Lab in real world applications are still in development. The project is helping modal specialists to join up their operational inputs to help the network customer and managed demand. The communications campaign (see promotions) is helping specialists to understand their role in interpreting and applying data and personas in a campaign.

Physical Evidence

Efficiencies gained by working collaboratively across the public sector. The key outcomes of this project is that it has been possible to deploy road-based assets with relative pace, ensuring partner engagement, legislative compliance and taking advantage of win/win opportunities. By working collaboratively across the public sector, including TfWM, West Midlands Police and the seven Local Authorities, it has been possible to complete installations across 12 routes, four more than originally predicted, and within budget. The closer working of public sector bodies is a key aim of the West Midlands Combined Authority. It is recognised that working in siloes serves to increase costs, reduce understanding between organisations and can be detrimental in the perception of the public.

Best-practice documentation is also being utilised in further sensor roll out, as part of the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle trials in the West Midlands, the introduction of 5G Internet of Things sensors and a host of smart city projects where the intersection of data, sensors, security and privacy ethics is a vital consideration.

Benefits realisation

Identifying the tangible benefits and outcomes to ensure an operational legacy, that can be realised from the successful innovation trials completed by the Live Lab. We want to ensure the operational legacy of the NR Live Lab, by identifying and assessing tangible benefits and outcomes that can be realised from the successful innovation trials completed by the NR Live Lab.

The benefits realisation commission, being delivered by Arcadis and IBI Group, has four key components. Best-practice documentation is also being utilised in further sensor roll out, as part of the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle trials in the West Midlands, the introduction of 5G Internet of Things sensors and a host of smart city projects where the intersection of data, sensors, security and privacy ethics is a vital consideration.

What the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport says: “The UK is paving the way when it comes to the future of transport and the development of cutting edge technology and I’m delighted to see this being embedded in the West Midlands area through the Adept Live Labs project. Reducing traffic will cut transport emissions and improve air quality, making our communities healthier, better places to live. That’s why supporting innovation is a priority for this Government, as we look to solve the complex challenge of decarbonising transport and achieving net zero by 2050.”

 
 
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