Local Transport Today is the authoritative, independent journal for transport decision makers. Analysis, Comment & News on Transport Policy, Planning, Finance and Delivery since 1989.

Data & Modelling 2017

Juliana O'Rourke



This year's Data and Modelling publication brings together thoughts from three events in the Modelling World series: Modelling Tomorrow's World, run in November 2016 in partnership with the Transport Systems Catapult, Modelling World Middle East 2017, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in February 2017, and themes and ideas to be discussed at this year's Modelling World in London, to be held on June 14 for the 12th successful year. 

It is published at a time of unprecedented change in transport: with government, industry and academia responding to the need for insight and analysis by launching new studies and research projects into future mobility.  

New scenarios for travel demand forecasting will be developed in a mobility study being conducted by the Government Office for Science: The Future of Mobility study is due for completion next summer.  A new 32-page report, to be released in July 2017 by  Data and Modelling publisher Landor LINKS, will map Mobility as a Service developments in the UK, surveying the organisations providing technology and data to enable MaaS, and looking at plans to pilot MaaS in towns and cities. TravelSpirit, a foundation set up last year to promote MaaS applications using open source principles (with ‘partners’ including Transport for Greater Manchester, Transport for the West Midlands, the DfT, BT, and consultant Steer Davies Gleave), has released a new report that illustrates why app-based Mobility as a Service products should be open rather than proprietary systems, in order to maximise the benefits they bring society. 

Data and modelling responses to this horizon of change will figure prominently in future, and there are several views as to how. As Professor Greg Marsden explains in this issue (page 11): ‘It is the range, scale and nature of the uncertainties that should pre-occupy the discussion about the need for new models, rather than a concern with rapidity of change. I will suggest that decision-making processes need to accept that there does indeed exist a range of potentially different, yet still plausible, futures for how we get around in order for the focus of model development to address these challenges in a meaningful way.’ Modelling World Chair Tom van Vuren (page 7) is aware of the challenges facing modellers: ‘I expect our greatest challenge will be a more open debate about model results and their interpretation in decision-making.’ But there is also great opportunity, as James Gleave says on page 23: ‘Transport planning is perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of it, and the opportunities posed by change and innovation in other sectors.’

Modelling World 2017, along with Data & Modelling 2017, is focusing on many of the questions that are being thrown up by technological, economic and societal disruption. I hope that you enjoy this issue, and look forward to seeing you at Modelling World on June 14 in London.

Juliana O’Rourke
Editor, and Modelling World Programme Director

1:  Modelling Policy and issues

It is easy to get carried away by the projected challenges of transport futures with a substantial change in available modes, new ways of consuming mobility, and general uncertainty in economic parameters. New models for MaaS, new models for connected autonomous vehicles, and new models for car-sharing rather than car ownership?

However, our main focus as modellers should be to advise decision-makers right now, and on projects and policies that are determined by today’s needs and technologies rather than tomorrow’s. There are sufficient challenges in responding to criticisms of the current model approaches for these questions – particularly related to the wide range and uncertainties around future scenarios, our ability to quantify these as inputs, our reliance on previously observed trends in behaviour that may render such models irrelevant and the way we present results from our models to aid decision-makers.

In this section, practitioners and academics muse on how well we are currently equipped to answer today’s, let alone tomorrow’s questions, and the way in which models and modellers should evolve to retain their relevance. As Greg Marsden concludes: ‘What matters is not the rapidity, but the breadth and scale of the changes to how society operates, and the kind of mobility systems that might exist to support these changes.’

2: Modelling disruptive technologies

Disruptive technologies are just around the corner! Some of them we are certain will materialise, and cause upset to long-held trends in transport supply and demand. Others are more speculative, and may founder on issues of cost or implementation. Nevertheless, we need to model and forecast their impacts so that we can decide both their value and how best to manage the disruption these new technologies will cause. Modelling Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, Mobility-as-a-Service, Hyperloops and other innovations in Intelligent Mobility need to be managed with  great ingenuity and a systematic approach, as discussed in this section. They will also call for new ways of dealing with the many unknowns about impacts of these disrupters, and the behavioural changes they may induce. Uncertainty is at the centre of these forecasts, and reducing this to manageable proportions requires faster models, with fewer errors and biases, and a fresh approach to decision-making support.

3: Data and visualisation

There have been major technological advances in the capture and storage of data, in the potential to monitor both human behaviour and the physical world, and in the possibilities to track and triangulate diverse data sets. 

Alongside this there is ongoing social change in how we plan movements, network socially, use mobile devices, and accept to provide personal details for commercial, registration and governmental transactions.  We now have access to large quantities of data that either were not specifically captured for transport applications but which have relevance to its understanding, and have been archived to preserve historical ‘pictures’ of transport patterns, but without an analytical method in mind. Transport modellers want to understand what big-data can offer, and how predictive transport modelling change as a result? Hand in hand with access to data goes visualisation: the use of interactive visualisation to present large complex datasets allows the viewer to comprehend and analyse data that would otherwise be impenetrable. Patterns, trends and anomalies that remain difficult to identify when studied using numerical analytical tools alone can be much more easily spotted. Data is highly suited to visualisation, which fits well with move towards more public participation in transport and planning activity.

4: Knowledge-sharing and open thinking

For the past 25 years the organisations and networks that make up Landor LINKS have supported knowledge-sharing and progress across the transport and urban development sectors. We have built active and engaged networks of industry experts, practitioners, policy-makers, academics and community organisations, and have created an intellectual and skills mix as rich and complex as the issues we explore. 

Knowledge-sharing, open thinking and the dissemination of findings from research projects and of practical experience within individual authorities and organisations, is a critical element in improving outcomes for society and the capabilities of specialists involved in key professional areas. 

Increasingly, core sectors overlap with a range of associated specialist areas ranging from sustainable mobility and place-making to modelling and smarter travel choices. In this section, we continue this tradition of openness and sharing. We look at some of the broader, more collaborative thinking that is already taking place across the sector, and in the world of data and visualisation (see page 50). Plus we think ahead to how lessons might be learned from developing countries, and look forward to the Research into Practice workshop at Modelling World 2017, which will enable us explore how the transport modelling community in the ‘real’ world can interact with those in ‘ivory’ towers; and to reflect on the structure of our working lives and organisations, and hear the highlights from current graduate research.

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