It is an inescapable truth that travel, and by association our transport networks, are at the heart of our daily lives. As users of transport, we all have individual experiences and feelings about our future requirements. This means there will, hopefully, always be a role for transport planners in helping shape the future!
Each of us makes travel choices every day, even if it is only to do exactly what we did the day before. However, some of our choices are subject to nuances that significantly influence our decisions. Our choice of mode for a trip to a nearby city may differ depending on: whether the journey is for business or pleasure; whether we are travelling on our own or with family; or whether we are carrying bulky luggage or travelling light.
A host of external factors influence our travel choices. The sudden downpour that happens during a shopping trip might make one question the wisdom of walking into the town centre that day.
One question that often goes unasked by consumers of transport is: “Who is it that ‘owns’ our trip?” We might consider a flight across the Atlantic as being a trip with a particular airline. Yet our opinions about that flight may be determined by experiences of the journey to the airport, how easy it was to find our way from the car park to the terminal; and our time walking through the terminal itself.
Our view of the flight would actually be an amalgam of experiences that add up to the whole journey, not just the flight itself. Many of those experiences will not be within the airline’s control. So who does own that journey?
It is clear that traditional considerations of travel demand and the travel choices are an over-simplification when compared with the reality of how our transport choices and networks operate. Our choices are not constant, our transport networks do not operate in splendid isolation of one another, and our decisions are not always logical or rational.
In the past the tools and techniques at our disposal were not capable of taking into account such variety, but the emergence of the digital economy and information technology has been a game changer, often in ways that could not have been envisaged.
Is it really just seven years since the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, stood up and introduced the world to the iPhone? Who among us had heard of ‘apps’, or had even an inkling of the extent to which the technology would influence and shape social behaviour – selfie anyone? The iPhone is a prime example of how technological innovation has empowered the consumer.
‘Big Data’ allows an insight into a range of everyday activities. The exponential growth in computing power means we can analyse and investigate linkages that previously went unobserved. Improved access to information not only widens the choices available to us, but also raises our expectations of the level of service we expect from transport infrastructure and service providers.
There is much to praise in how our transport system has responded to the challenges it faces. And yet our approach to transport planning, our understanding of future transport requirements of our consumers, and our ability to deliver a truly seamless journey, have all failed to keep pace with rising consumer expectation.
The growth in travel, which is an inevitable consequence of a growing population and a healthy economy, serves to increase the pressure on our transport infrastructure and services.
‘Intelligent Mobility’ offers us the opportunity to bring about a fundamental shift in our approach in order to respond to those pressures. Intelligent Mobility is about facilitating innovation in a way that supports a user-focused approach to transport.
Transport Systems Catapult has been established as the UK’s centre of excellence for Intelligent Mobility. We work with communities and decision-makers to help define the challenges facing the transport system. We also engage with businesses, entrepreneurs and the UK’s leading academic research institutions to facilitate solutions that are end user focused.
In this way, Catapult aims to facilitate solutions as well as creating capability within the UK that can compete in a global market which will be worth £900bn a year by 2025.
Travel is a derived demand: Intelligent Mobility enables new insight into the nature of that demand and, through collaborative working, offers the opportunity to harness innovation as a means of shaping the future of our transport system.
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