Data-driven transport: driving towards the future

The future of the UK’s transport infrastructure is on the move. The average passenger is producing transportation data with every journey.

A myriad of GPS systems and personal trackers detailing where we go and how we get there is being gathered by the services that we use for our trips, from public roads and rail networks to local buses and ride-sharing apps.

Managing this public network of daily journeys is a hard task, and will only grow tougher as population levels increase. As populations grow, so does the need for transportation. City centres become gridlocked, air pumped full of noxious car fumes, and public transport buckles under increased demand.

Data-driven innovation: A transportation utopia

How do local management teams administer to these seemingly insurmountable problems? The answer may well lie within the way transportation data is managed. Innovations in the way transport data is used could well lead us into a utopia of congestion-free roads and punctual rail services.

Digital data is changing the ways in which we inhabit and interact with the world around us. It’s changing the way our cities are run, how we produce our food and how we live our lives. It’s a digital commodity which, when used correctly, can drive great social change and have an effect upon many facets of modern life.

The concept of data collection has faced a rough time of things in recent months, partly due to a series of high-profile cases regarding usage reported by the nation’s media. However, usage of digital data can be more progressive than a pariah; one that drives innovations in a variety of industries.

Transportation data is being collected all around us; from reports on the most frequently used bus routes, to speed cameras mapping areas where motorists put their foot down. The ways in which this data is used has the potential to revolutionise our transport infrastructure. Imagine live road-mapping to ease congestion and reroute traffic around busy areas, or docked bicycles offering a cheaper and healthier alternative for commuters. It is estimated that data-enabled innovations in transport may be worth £900bn by 2025. (

“Data harvested from an increasing number of sensors and other data-points, blended with GPS technology, can provide real-time mapping to aid smoother inner-city travel” – Miranda Sharp, Head of Ordnance Survey’s Innovation & Outreach

In the UK, a number of data-driven transportation schemes are already underway across the country. A Transport for the North led programme targeting the North of England’s major cities aims to overhaul the passenger experience through the use of customer data; analysing information on how customers pay for and use the current services to improve the ways in which people interact with the North’s rail networks.

Innovation isn’t limited to UK rail either. Smart parking trials in some northern areas are aiming to improve the ways in which motorists’ source, access and ultimately pay for parking spaces across a city centre. In many cases, drivers are charged for the amount of time they’re actually parked in the bay, rather than by the hour: ensuring a cheaper, fairer system for all.

In the West Midlands, as part of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s investments in 5G technology, Jaguar Land Rover are testing the use of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars will be heavily reliant on a plethora of data streams for navigating around a city autonomously, using data to replicate the reactions of a human being.

Elsewhere, trialling bike-share services are using the data gathered from riders to target areas of high utilisation and demand, ensuring there are more bikes for customers to access. 

An open data network

The transport ecosystems of the future will be increasingly reliant on an open network of data, provided both by consumers and businesses.

The transportation of the modern age, from ride-hailing apps to autonomous vehicles are built on open-source data and APIs. Continued innovation and development in the sector, therefore, is also beholden to the continued open accessibility of passenger journey data.

Utilising the data available, councils and stakeholders will be able to predict passenger needs before they occur, responding to issues before the public is affected; such as rerouting rush hour traffic around a roadworks site or providing alternative journey options for cancelled rail services.

The possibilities are almost endless. In working together, public and private transportation stakeholders can develop a series of services that really benefit the passenger, and put the customer back in control of their own journeys. Data-driven innovations in the sector have the potential to create multiple on-demand services, constantly updating and responding to new information as it happens in a similar way to other sectors.


All Photos: Shutterstock

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