Now is the time for transport technology, conference hears

March 05 2020

The Department for Transport’s Chief Scientific Adviser has told the Transport Technology Forum that there has “never been a better time to be in Government from a transport and technology point of view.”

Opening the TTF Annual Conference in Bristol, Professor Phil Blythe (pictured) said investment in science is growing, but the ITS industry needs to provide good use cases and evidence to inform where we go next.

Prof Blyth believes we are on the cusp of a revolution with unprecedented rapid advancement of technology.  Vehicles, infrastructure, travellers and cities will be fully connected, he said, and urged everyone to gather data to help inform decisions.

“The word I would use, if it is a word, is de-siloisation,” he said.  “How we use data to make transport better.”  He asked for feedback to tell the DfT what more they can do to make things better.

Among the issues his team is studying are automation – and looking beyond the hype – plus cleaner transport and demand management.  Much work is going on to understand trends –  with fewer young people buying cars, what does that mean for PT and shared economy?

He added that he “cannot emphasise enough how big decarbonisation is”, explaining, “It’s important because transport is a sector which has not decarbonised well, thanks to a combination of more cars and heavier cars.  33 per cent of domestic emissions come from transport, and of that 86 per cent is from road transport.”

As well as electromobility, Prof Blythe explained to the 140-strong audience that hydrogen is coming up the agenda, especially for heavier vehicles.  Furthermore, the transition to net zero emissions can only happen through close cooperation between government and industry.  “Government will use all the levers it has at its disposal to make it happen,” he promised.

Rounding up, Prof Blyth underlined that his role is not just about delivery and regulation of services, but also creating a shop window for the industrial strategy.  “We put kit out there,” he said, “to help international sales.  Why would people elsewhere buy it if we don’t use it ourselves?”

And he added that there is a key political agenda to support so-called left-behind places.  “With better connectivity and larger radius of economic activity, people can improve their lives,” he said.

The Conference continued to talk about less-connected places with the DfT’s Deputy Director Anthony Ferguson pointing out that rural transport is very important to the new Government.  “Look at the places ministers represent,” he said.  “It doesn’t mean they don’t think about cities, but they are giving equal importance to addressing rural areas as well.”

Mr Ferguson added that money invested in transport technology pilot solutions is showing really good returns, but now we have to do them on a bigger scale.  “On a corridor by corridor basis is interesting,” he said, “But on a network level you see the benefits.”

He threw his weight behind the UK’s bid to host the 2024 ITS World Congress, saying it will be a “fantastic opportunity that sets a four-year agenda,” adding, “It gives us something to work towards.”

The conference also heard from the DfT’s ITS Lead Darren Capes who summarised the four pillars of his work – signal phase and timing, smarter asset management, opening up Local Authority data and smarter parking.

“We are building a connected vehicle data strategy,” he said.  “What data is out there that is useful and can form the basis of better-connected systems.  We are at the data gathering stage to help shape government policy – and we need industry to help us with that.”

From Local Authorities, Jackie Davies of Bristol City Council said the authority is interested in machine learning and AI, particularly in new methods of automated incident detection but that a lack of staff time to process data to inform new approaches to traffic management is a problem, and new methods of data processing are therefore also of interest.  Nige Williams of Transport for Greater Manchester flagged up open parking data in Manchester, creating a platform for data feeds from all parking operators.  He stressed the importance of standards and said in future they would bring in all Local Authority Traffic Regulation Orders regardless of data formats and present in unified format on platform without extra work for Authorities.

The Transport Technology Forum is supported by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK and the conference is sponsored by City Science, Dynniq, PTV, Aimsun, Vaisala and Waysphere.  It is organised by Arup and backed by ITS (UK).

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