“Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It’s time to start thinking.” This quote, attributed to Ernest Rutherford — known as the “father” of nuclear physics –, implies the need for creativity in the face of financial adversity.
Council staff attending the Digital Transport Exchange conference in Oxford (7th July 2017) were in agreement that public-private partnerships are essential to securing the funding that can deliver innovation in the passenger transport sector. Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes are authorities already taking that approach as they seek to realise their smart city visions.
One of the big challenges requiring partnership working at the moment, is the integration of transport data from multiple sources at a national scale. It is a challenge being addressed by a few companies in the UK, but building consistency and reliability into up-to-the-minute information is a complex task that hasn’t yet been completed. Crowdsourcing real-time data from mobile devices is part of our strategy to contribute to this and will support the collaborative effort to improve the travelling experience by creating new datasets from the hundreds of individual mobile devices, all transmitting data.
Making an efficient use of current transport infrastructure is another goal that might be achieved through public-private partnership working within the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept. It is clear that a lot of thinking and effort is being put into working out whether this model of accessing ‘transport by subscription’ is more than just industry hype. TfWM in particular, with Whim, are working with MaaS Global, a Finnish mobility technology company to defining how the concept will translate into the UK and our unique transport network.
“Is MaaS hype or is it an opportunity? I don’t think we have the answer yet, but in the West Midlands we are proud to be the area that is going to try it first.”
Transport for the West Midland’s Managing Director, Laura Shoaf
Back at the event in Oxford, there was plenty of opportunity to look into the future of autonomous vehicles, their cybersecurity threats, and how they will work alongside public transport to cover the last mile as Uber have demonstrated alongside the Night Tube in London.
To what extent these collaborations will all be effective remains to be seen, but there is no question that local authority budget cuts are creating new types of partnerships to be explored. It’s up to those responsible for transport provision to make an effective strategic plan to tackle these challenges and then seek to execute them with commercial companies that can demonstrate capability, and a willingness to try new approaches.