Connecting people and places through data-driven urban mobility
Meera Nayyar, Head of Open Data, Travel and Environment Data and Statistics at the Department for Transport, discusses the importance of data when designing an efficient and attractive public transport system, as well as the key role that data plays in supporting the delivery of greener transportation and the creation of the 15-minute city.
Can you tell us more about your job role within the Department of Transport (DfT)?
Our aim is to improve passenger journeys through the use of high-quality data, while setting the foundations for integrated open transit initiatives and future data/ticketing integrations”
I lead the Open Data Team, and we work with the UK Government, businesses and technologists to provide journey planning, place-making and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) solutions to people and customers – whatever word you may choose to describe them – to help them to make healthier travel decisions and navigate public transport more easily, as well as to support them to have a great day once they arrive at their destination.
Essentially, our aim is to improve passenger journeys through the use of high-quality data, while setting the foundations for integrated open transit initiatives and future data/ticketing integrations. We aim to enable open and accurate bus data, in order to improve compliance and data sharing processes across the transport industry.
Why do you think data is so important in establishing an efficient and attractive transport system?
Data is important because it’s the oil that reduces the cognitive complexity of navigating public, active and shared travel networks that are healthier and better for the environment. Data analysis tools enable operators and authorities to better understand key information, which is important to delivering efficient transport. In addition, with a journey sometimes requiring multiple modes and a little more planning than if we were to simply walk or drive the entire trip, data and journey planning technology can help to knit together what can otherwise be quite a fragmented and disjointed network.
How has data supported the creation of the 15-minute city and what contribution does this have in delivering greener transport?
The idea of the 15-minute city is that people should be able to fulfil all of their needs within their community – be it to live, work, socialise, exercise, learn or create – within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride. So, this might involve being able to easily access homes and gardens, places of work or study, healthcare, grocery stores or places of leisure. Look at spaces like Birch, where stately homes become places for the community. I’d like to see more of this in the future – a Birch for every region.
By using data to analyse these key behavioural trends in passenger journeys, we can better provide solutions that can help people to choose more sustainable modes of transport and, thus, support the realisation of the 15-minute city”
In order to achieve the 15-minute city, more work needs to be done to make journeys feel faster, cleaner and quicker for passengers, particularly on public transport, and we need to maximise the quality of travel time as much as minimising the quantity. In a review of 17 studies, we’ve found that waiting is considered to drag a journey, with commuters finding a minute of waiting to be equivalent to three minutes of travelling.
On the other hand, cleaner transport vehicles have been found to be associated with shorter journeys, as identified in a trial on Dutch train carriages where the travel time was perceived as shorter when the train was clean.
By using data to analyse these key behavioural trends in passenger journeys, we can better provide solutions that can help people to choose more sustainable modes of transport and, thus, support the realisation of the 15-minute city.
How will this impact the passenger experience?
One of the things that I get really excited about is when I see amazing open air shared spaces being used to entertain the community and crowds. For people and passengers, I think that technology and transport is an intermediary that helps them get to the place/location where they need to be. But, if the technology can go one step further and tell them what community events and activities will be taking place in their desired destination once they arrive, even better. It helps to make that journey more enjoyable and ensure that passengers have an amazing day when they arrive at their destination.
Can you identify the top three mobility trends over the past year, as well as any future trends that you hope to see?
In the last year, first of all, I think that some of the most exciting things that we have seen happening is more people using active and shared modes of travel, such as walking and cycling, but also the rise of roller blades and e-scooters. In some instances, it has been combined with shared mass transport – such as buses and trains etc. or, even more excitingly, the boat.
I’ve enjoyed seeing how technology has enabled people to easily get on-board with active, shared and public transport and, as a result, engage more with their community”
Secondly, I’ve also enjoyed seeing more investment in green transport – so, electric vehicles – and higher specifications, particularly for buses, to both make the public transport experience better for the planet, as well as for the people. This has been particularly true for Transport for London (TfL), but also in Liverpool, where the likes of Arriva were one of the first investors in green buses. The launch of the Elizabeth Line – which is both green and high spec – was also very exciting!
Finally, a third trend that I’ve enjoyed seeing is how technology has enabled people to easily get on-board with active, shared and public transport and, as a result, engage more with their community. So, more use of the likes of Apple Maps and journey planning technological solutions. This has shown that technology can really help to enhance the experience and be a useful source of information, although it shouldn’t be the main show.
If I were to identify three future trends that I would like to see more of going forward, firstly, it would be a greater connection between transport and place/community making – so, journey planning technology enabling more public participation in events, activities, decision-making (using QR codes) and community chat. I’d also like technology to link to activity trackers, so that people can see their step counts when they’re creating a journey plan, or the emissions associated with that journey.
I would like to see… a greater connection between transport and place/community making – so, journey planning technology enabling more public participation in events, activities, decision-making (using QR codes) and community chat”
Then, building upon the theme of the 15-minute city, I’d like to see a resurgence of our communities, villages and high streets. We’ve made great progress in investing in walking and cycling infrastructure, so that people are spending more time in their communities (and less time in their cars). But, in a second phase, we need to think more about shared workspaces and greater provision of multi-functional shared spaces to enhance communities and do things that are good for people. More street markets, open air theatres and festivals, I say! Additionally, creating better links between retail and transport – for example, stores can give people incentives to use in their local stores and village high streets through journey planning apps. And then, when on the high street, providing services that nudge people towards healthier behaviours, so more plant-based and organic options, more creative options, more arts and crafts!
Finally, building on the theme of being kind to people and the planet, I would like to see the continued rise of active travel – subject to it being safe and people wearing helmets. But, where a vehicle is needed, more green vehicles that are kinder to the environment. Looking into using more hydrogen, solar or electric-powered vehicles, but also boats. Can we make more use of river travel, for example? I’d also like to see clearer use cases for each mode of transport – so, walking, cycling and scooters etc. for short local journeys; while buses or river travel for longer local journeys; trains for inter-city journeys; and cars/electric vehicles (EVs) for travel to rural areas.
What is the significance of open data in enabling transport services to be fully integrated through Mobility-as-a-Service?
It’s huge! If people are going to use active, shared and public transport and be able to plan and pay for it on a handheld device, then data is the foundation or the enabler.
What role do you think data will play in the future development of urban transport innovation?
We need to use data to not only enhance the profitability of businesses, but to create a kinder world that is good for the planet and good for people. This has to be the future. The rise of the 15-minute city”
In the future, I think that nudging people towards walking and cycling, high-quality maps and provision of activity and emissions data will be vital to encouraging behaviour change. Data and technology can be used to provide well-being, communication and productivity prompts, which will be key to ensuring that time spent using active, shared or public transport is perceived to be of high quality.
Overall, I think that, in the future, it will be key to make sure that data, digital and technology solutions enable not only navigation of transport, but also connect people and place, in order to create communities. We need to use data to not only enhance the profitability of businesses, but to create a kinder world that is good for the planet and good for people. This has to be the future. The rise of the 15-minute city.
Meera Nayyar is the Head of Open Data, Travel and Environment Data and Statistics at the Department for Transport (DfT). In this role, she leads the Open Buses Team and a digital transformation programme to open up data about local bus services and public transport across England. Their portfolio includes a range of projects covering customer experience, digital and data, insights and analytics, behavioural change and place making/urban design. Prior to this, Meera worked with HMRC, where she delivered projects to open up revaluation data and digitally transform the business rates appeals system.
Accessibility, Air Quality, Alternative Power, Journey Planning, Mobility Services, Multimodality, Passenger Experience, Public Transport, Sustainable Urban Transport, Travel & Passenger Information