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Public transport data and the next steps for better operations

Ticketer Group CEO Andy Monshaw tells Intelligent Transport how improved understanding of the data available to operators is set to transform the public transport industry, bring back passengers after the pandemic and enable better decision making across the sector.

The public transport sector has undergone a sea change in recent years, coming to increasingly rely on information and data to better understand the movement of passengers and their habits. Now, as swaths of the world’s cities look to re-open after the pandemic, that information and the requirements for using it are more important than they’ve ever been.

“The data is pretty startling on the economic side – if you look at passenger numbers  pre-pandemic compared to during the height of the pandemic and the lockdowns, the number of buses being run only went down about 10 per cent. However, the number of passengers went down 80 per cent,” explains Andy Monshaw, CEO at Ticketer Group. “It’s really looking at all of the other factors that play into ridership, which is going to be critical; if you can take one route or one bus out of the system, that’s a lot of money saved for an operator. Our operators are all asking these questions and they have the data required to answer them, but they don’t have the analytics yet.”

Speaking to Monshaw, it’s clear that the analytics are the crux of the matter here. Yet more often than not, they are a missing part of the jigsaw for transport operators in that they’re unavailable due to lack of resource – whether that resource be expertise, time or otherwise.

“There is a skills gap in public transport. In the last 18 months, transport operators have done an incredible job with what they have, but they recognise the need for improvement. Operators are really trying to be efficient and effective, but having a data analyst or dedicated data science team is a luxury that they simply cannot afford.”

Outside of this, the industry is also missing what Monshaw – whose IT and data expertise outside of transport have seen him work at giants like IBM – describes as “the basics”. He argues that true progress cannot be made, such as operators finding the right intersection of operational and passenger data for use in their decision making, without basics like data governance and standards in place. Monshaw explains that too many operators have decentralised systems across their organisation, offering the example of not integrating data and systems across routing, scheduling and running maintenance out of the depot. On one hand, there is some level of flexibility built into this, offering departments the opportunity to run in the way they choose, but, says Monshaw, at an organisational level, it means that operators lack the level of data maturity needed to start doing mass aggregation and analytics.

“You see that the operators know the questions they need to answer in order to make themselves more efficient and effective,” says Monshaw, “but these issues require a tremendous amount of manual work to get all of the information and data for operators to be able to produce the results.”

For Monshaw and Ticketer Group, establishing standards is a big part of the route forward for simpler transport operations. If public transport operators are all, broadly, facing the same challenges, why aren’t the answers to those challenges also broadly the same?

“Right now, picking two best of breed devices can lead to complicated back-office setups to connect one to the other,” explains Monshaw. “Through the ITxPT standard, we’re asking, why can’t those devices be plug and play? Whether it’s  cameras for passenger counting, security and safety measures, or analytics for electric bus fleets, we need to see that data being standardised and automatically integrated into the back office.”

Once you understand the issues facing operators, the obvious question to ask ; “what next?”. For Ticketer Group, the answer sounds simple but comprehensive – set up a central data repository for operators to access that takes the manual work out of getting the most from their data, enabling them to get back to what they do best.

“Our strategy is fairly straightforward, because we already have a phenomenal amount of this type of data in our back office, from where tickets are bought to where buses are at any given moment,” explains Monshaw. “With this information, you have two choices: you can have it exported out to a data scientist or third party in the mobility ecosystem, or you can create an API layer where the time-to-value for all of this analysis is really fast. With this you can create a self-service portal, even with natural language capabilities, so that operators of all sizes can do it. We have a saying inside Ticketer Group: we’re in the business of helping the operators operate. It’s a simple thought, but the operators should be able to rely on us to do what we can to create the environment where they can leverage all of this information.”

Under Monshaw’s leadership, Ticketer Group is already off to a good start with this strategy, with Monshaw on a mission to speak to all of the vendor’s more than 600 operators, having already validated the idea of the data repository with operators through “dozens and dozens” of conversations. It’s a significant step forward in removing barriers to entry to better public transport not just for passengers, but for operators and authorities, too.

In this vein, Ticketer has announced a partnership with demand-response technology company Via. Monshaw explains that Via’s UK uptake has been slower than anticipated owing to hardware integration complexity on services, which in turn resulted in difficulties integrating demand-responsive and fixed-route services. The need for separate hardware to better coordinate the two service types simply proves too expensive; the partnership between the two firms looks to solve the issues of both complexity and expense.

“What we announced together was actually very straightforward,” Monshaw says. “It’s a platform that offers passengers the chance to plan, book and pay for transport – whether DRT or fixed route – from one app. On the operator side, it enables them to make data-driven decisions about whether to run DRT or conventional services for that route based on demand.”

Not only this, the platform also integrates information that is useful for bus drivers, such as how many people they can expect to pick up at the next stop based on bookings, and as an extension, whether they should wait a few minutes to ensure everyone that booked is on board before leaving, reducing the risk for passengers having to face a longer wait for the next bus. It also integrates the same payment options as conventional services, like QR codes, more closely aligning the two types of services for a more singular passenger experience.

For Monshaw, this is an example of the type of integration the public transport sector needs to see more broadly, and the first of many that he and Ticketer Group are planning. Key to wider integration is better data sharing, and with the UK’s Bus Open Data Service (BODS), progress has been made to ensure that essential data is open to passengers and developers alike. However, what about data that isn’t necessarily legislated for by BODS? How can operators, whether public or private, be encouraged to take the initiative and be more open?

For Monshaw, the answer is simple – though he acknowledges that if everything were as simple as it sounds, we wouldn’t be having this conversation: “Operators need to see value from being more open. Today, the value is slowly being accrued, but I think the reason that data sharing has seen slower uptake than expected is that not every company has the technology needed to do it. Authorities have been great at investing in operators to enable them to adopt that technology and then generate the information. From there, the operators really need to see the value for them, in increasing ridership and revenue, from sharing the data they’re generating with developers and third parties.”

There’s a word of warning here too, about the nature of competition and keeping up with the pace of innovation; those that don’t risk being left behind. Monshaw believes that the opportunities for better integration and use of data are significant enough to drive higher margins for operators. There’s not just an operational angle at play here, but an economical one that could be the difference between success and failure in the long term.

“Where there are multiple operators competing for the same passengers, those that innovate faster will drive a better experience at a lower cost and, thereby, the macroeconomic forces will take hold and people will move to that operator. It’s the same as in any other industry. This industry is ready for it, the tools are there, the data’s there, and we’re doing the things we need to do to enhance our capabilities to deliver,” concludes Monshaw.

Biography

Andy was appointed Group CEO for the Ticketer Group in November 2020. He has spent the last 37 years in various high tech businesses and boards, with roles across finance, sales and most recently as CEO of NGA HR. He has been lucky enough to live Paris, Tokyo, New York, and for the last 2 years, London. He has a real passion for people – customers, partners, and the whole Ticketer and FARA team who make the magic happen. 

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