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What does ‘smarter mobility’ really mean?

The core of being smart is in the intelligent and creative use of data. This will make transport more accessible, adaptable, predictable and above all, more sustainable. So how can we best harness data to unlock the new mobility? It’s as easy as LTP, says IBM’s Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper, IBM
 

A common theme among many futuristic views of our personal mobility is the way in which data will be used to make transportation smarter. But do we all agree what ‘smarter’ actually means? For myself, the real significance of smarter transport is in changing the relationships between citizens, transport providers and the state. It will impact all our professional lives – notably in the ways in which we deploy our resources, and how we operate and measure our organisations. The core of being smart though, is in the intelligent and creative use of data. This will make transport more accessible, adaptable, predictable and above all, more sustainable. 

To achieve a smarter transport model, based on a high level of information exchange, several key elements must first come together: 

  • a critical and almost perfect mass of data which can be turned into knowledge;

  • an audience which can interact with, and benefit from this knowledge;

  • a fundamental multifaceted trust between provider and consumer.

External factors (such as carbon reduction, sustainability and congestion reduction) will serve to act as economic and cultural drivers for such change.  And alongside this a set of accounting measures for a new commercial paradigm that the market can consume will need to be set out.

Finally, the world of transport for both the provider and consumer must unreservedly embrace the true idea of mobility. By this I mean the removal of barriers between transport silos, in order to facilitate seamless journeys in the best available way, irrespective of mode. 

The move to such intelligent mobility is not inevitable. It will require seeding and nurturing as it grows in scope and uptake.  The end-game could be described in the following way: the consignment (be it a person or a package), seamlessly reaches a destination based upon the most efficient travel outcome at that time, according to the travel rules prescribed by the user. The use of rules is required because travel outcomes will be based upon three criteria: 

n Current and intended location: L

n The time now, and the time by which it is desired to arrive at destination: T

n ‘Prioritised Preferences’ or the ‘value for money' driver – How fast, how much, and in what style: P

This LTP quotient will, I believe, set the trend for the next generation of interactions between a transport provider and its customer’s needs.


  Travel behaviour


A starting point that we can see today is how new and smarter use of data already enables a change in traveller behaviour. This then influences transport providers in what they provide, creating new business platforms – and is likely to challenge established legislation and regulatory constraints too.

The new paradigm is evident in the use of data from personal smartphones and the bi-directional relationship that sees the constant flow of information between the device and a service provider.  The service provider aggregates data from multiple sources, and then provides personalized, and immediate, information back to the device.  Since the device is a wallet, and a translator too, the citizen can travel unimpeded by traditional barriers, and with unprecedented quality of information.

An early example of this bi-directional information exchange is a pilot which IBM has been running in conjunction with the California Department of Transportation and the University of California, Berkeley.  The Smarter Traveller project is based upon a predictive and analytic traffic tool, helping transportation agencies and city planners proactively design, manage and optimise transportation systems to handle more seamlessly the ever-increasing traffic that results from population growth and increasing urbanisation.

Where and how information gets processed and personalised underlines the need to collaborate across boundaries.  The collaboration can take various forms and crosses multiple elements:

  • different transport modes sharing service information;

  • regulators encouraging integrated operations between transport modes;

  • collaborative planning of infrastructure, for example the design of inter-modal hubs to aid the flow and interchange of passengers;

  • information flow across boundaries via the on-going growth of the Internet of Things and the use of new information to improve use and management of transport and infrastructure assets;

  • cross-industry collaboration. Structural engineers collaborating with IT engineers, city planners and transport providers to improve the design of transport infrastructure, to be adaptive to changes in demand or in environmental conditions;

  • embracing social media such as use of Twitter feeds to alert maintenance engineers to changes in service status, to collect customer satisfaction information, or to generate demand via a personal link to the customer.

Once such data collaboration has been agreed, the next step is to provide a place in which to store and analyse the data, and turn it into something useful. Some call this 'Intelligent Information. This is really tailored and trusted knowledge. And the crucial consequence is the actions this disseminated and personalised knowledge leads to. For example, trust with users, suppliers and partners will lead to improved customer satisfaction, brand-loyalty and wider adoption of the services.

‘Smartness’ also lies in the analysis of all the available data, and creation of information which drives new business insight, and then brings the right parties together to act upon it. Possible outcomes for the service providers include predictive maintenance schedules, improved asset utilisation profiles, and safety vs. cost vs. risk models which may be constantly updated using real-time information.  From a citizen viewpoint what is delivered is a new sense of freedom not dependent on a specific mode of transport.

The business paradigm that underpins all this needs defining and explaining. To that end IBM has invested in a new Laboratory based in Dublin, and is actively working with academic partners such as the Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction to identify how new and old smart-enabled infrastructures can be better designed, used, managed and re-cycled. 

For transport providers the ability to seamlessly predict demand and then manage supply accordingly increases efficiency, improves asset utilisation and can boost customer satisfaction.  To benefit society as a whole, we might aim to reduce road congestion by providing travellers with personalised integrated journey planners as an incentive to using public transport. In doing so, this might also increase walking rates, with a corresponding impact upon public health. A potential investor in such a scheme might therefore be the Department of Health.  In such a scenario, data can be transformed into knowledge which may then be used to track benefits accruing to multiple stake-holders. All-in-all, this concept has massive future value to a number of different agencies and interests.

Quality and service

Measuring a service provider's reputation in this context, with regard to quality of service and value for money, will be based on many factors. Such opinions will shape how providers package and price transport services. A ‘total journey’ offer may become the normal expectation for example and, instead of a car journey from A to B, the option would be offered of a car club from the village to the parkway station, then a train into the city followed by a cab to the destination, all paid for via one ticket, supplied by one provider.

There are some consequential issues to address. From an end-user perspective, the need to share one’s status, preferences, location and intentions could have drawbacks.

Participating organisations must be made aware of what happens to their data and have confidence that the service they receive in return gives them the value they expect. Government legislators will need to provide a robust regulatory and legal framework that will support a fair and equitable use of this information. In a follow up article I will explore these themes in a little more detail.  

I believe that a number of factors are coming together that will create new opportunities and enhanced outcomes, as well as new ways of measuring output, success and satisfaction.

Yet I also foresee many challenges occurring, which if not managed appropriately, will hamper the true potential of the age of smarter transportation and the ‘move to mobility’ which it entails. The prize of harnessing all the information and insight now available is a much more sustainable, efficient and effective transport system.

Chris Cooper is IBM Industry Architect for Travel & Transportation: coopecj@uk.ibm.com

Hear him at Modelling World 2012


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