Intelligent Transport Conference 2017: top five lessons for urban transport

With the Intelligent Transport Conference finished for another year, we take a look at the top five lessons to be learnt in the urban transport industry…

traffic control

The passenger comes first: these are the words that were at the very heart of the discussion in every aspect of this year’s Intelligent Transport Conference.

From methods of paying for travel and receiving information, to collecting and utilising data effectively, and even preparing for a future where mobility is a service, the speakers and panellists proved undoubtedly that passenger experience and security is at the heart of even the most cutting-edge developments in urban transport today.

Also abundantly clear is how well-aligned the industry is on the challenges it is facing. Keeping public transport accessible for everyone plays a huge part in what the future holds, and operators, authorities and technology vendors alike realise that collaboration is key in achieving this. In some instances, technology advances may hinder rather than help, for example, in the case of elderly passengers who don’t know how to get the most out of a smartphone. How can operators and authorities keep the trust of those at a technological disadvantage?

1. Foster passenger trust

As Louise Coward, Insight Manager at Transport Focus, explained during her case study session in the Smart Ticketing & Payments stream, passengers from all walks of life have the same mobility requirements, but the way they are met may need to be different.

A young, tech-savvy traveller would most naturally look towards a smartphone to plan and book a journey, whereas an older passenger would expect to be able to buy a paper ticket on the day of travel, or equivalent.

The most logical answer is to educate all passengers on how to adapt to smarter solutions. Doing this effectively begins with app development, and ends with operator staff; during her presentation, Coward explained that passengers without technological know-how don’t want to hear horror stories of smart ticketing, payments and travel planning gone awry. Instead, naturally, they require assurance and guidance that the direction operators are nudging them towards is a quicker, more efficient way to travel than what they’re used to.

Having more passengers adopt technology as the future of mobility is key to the development of new solutions; more passenger interaction means more passenger data.

2. Build using data

The importance of protecting intelligent transport from cyber-attacks

The Intelligent Transport Conference made it clear that data is the tool with which the next generation of personalised mobility solutions are being developed. Personalised services can only be built by the collection, analysis and use of vast amounts of passenger data.

Transport for London (TfL), whose Head of Technology Development, Tim Carman, spoke to the plenary at the conference, is one of the leaders in this field. Highlighting the early success of TfL’s ‘top-up on the go’ scheme, deployed through the TfL app, Carman explained how the collection of passenger data is allowing passengers to avoid awkward ‘low balance’ messages at ticket gates.

By analysing transaction and travel times and methods, Mobility-as-a-Service can be the bright future of urban transport that the industry hopes it will be.

However, as useful as it is as a tool, there are a number of issues surrounding data collection and usage, from upcoming regulation like GDPR, to ethical issues regarding the right to anonymity.

3. Customer first, revenue later

The MaaS panel ‘Winning over the consumer to trust MaaS’ combined these the top two issues, highlighting that it’s crucial for customers to know that their data is safe and secure, as well as being used responsibly by urban transport operators and authorities.

A recent study has shown that 90 per cent of consumers lack trust in the security of connected IoT devices, so it is key for developers to show customers that their solutions are safe to use, especially as they become increasingly all-in-one and account-based. While the commoditisation of data might look like a relatively untapped gold mine for technology companies and operators, they must be considerate, and keep the passenger at the forefront of the discussion.

Indeed, it seems as though MaaS Global is managing to do this in the development of new solutions, as demonstrated by Kaj Pyyhtia’s explanation of the company’s outlook whilst developing Whim – why charge operators extortionate fees to use a MaaS platform, when an increase in revenue will naturally follow on from improving the customer experience? New solutions should be built upon a foundation of passenger needs, and actually solve problems rather than create them.

4. Collaboration is key

Arrangements between operators, authorities and technology developers and suppliers need to be amiable to ensure that the right solutions are being developed for the real problems being faced by the industry. Technology vendors and suppliers should be working with their counterparts in an affordable way to develop solutions that truly improve the passenger experience.

As mentioned above, a huge part of this is making passenger experience the primary incentive; seeing eye-to-eye on industry issues, and disregarding profiteering, is the main route to fruitful collaboration, and lays the groundwork to build solutions that will both serve the passenger and make good business sense.

Adopting this kind of business model requires a certain amount of patience, which in today’s corporate world might be hard to come across, but the positive impact it can have on the industry cannot be understated.

5. Globalisation is coming to urban transport

Urban areas are growing, and links to cities and borders are better than ever. What was once local is now increasingly national, and from there, more international. To support this, public transport systems and infrastructure need to become more seamless, and leave behind the siloed approach they have become stuck with.

Again, collaboration sits at the heart of this effort, especially in countries like the US where not only are transport operators fragmented, so is the governance surrounding its operation.

Information sharing is vitally important to the further development of a more seamless world, whether it is information about safety, governance, business models, or alternative energy. The future of urban transport is now intrinsically linked to the future of global transport, and only a collaborative, open-minded approach can ensure the industry progresses as it needs to.