Facing up to the transport challenge

ICTJon Lindberg, Intellect Transport Programme manager, writes about the role of ICT in transport and the effect the spending review will have on the industry

While major spending cuts stole the headlines after the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced, it was heartening to see transport acknowledged as “vital” in support of the national economic recovery. The Secretary of State believes that in the “last few years, Britain has suffered a near-catastrophic breakdown in sustainability” of its transport system and has earmarked £30 billion for capital investment in transport over four years.

How can this investment be used to best effect to tackle the problems of a system that’s over crowded, too expensive and too strained to meet not only today’s needs but also those of tomorrow and beyond?

Realising the potential
There are no panaceas to the problems our transport system is facing, that much at least is clear: too many factors play a part in making transport sustainable in every sense of the word. But there is an area that is too often overlooked.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have the potential to dramatically improve the efficiency of all parts of the transport system. ICT is already an integral part of the transport system and delivers many benefits but harnessing its true potential will be essential if we are to create a world-leading transport system that drives the economic efficiency of UK plc and contributes significantly to the green agenda.

A recent study by academics at the London School of Economics in partnership with the think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation Fund (ITIF), found that an intelligent approach to ICT in transport would not only deliver increased driver safety, improved operational performance, enhanced mobility and reduced congestion, but also boost productivity and expand economic growth. For example, where deployed:
• adaptive traffic signal control has resulted in decreasing delays by 20 per cent and vehicle emissions by 5 per cent
• ramp metering has contributed to an approximately 10 per cent reduction in journey time
• active traffic management, including measures such as hard shoulder running, has contributed around a 10 per cent reduction in emissions.

The Department for Transport’s recent spending review settlement identified the management of assets as an area where improvements need to be made; the ICT industry has a solution for that. The Highways Agency’s Managed Motorways programme is an excellent example of where technology is deployed not only to extend the life of physical assets, but also to get more throughput at lower costs than road building or widening. Similarly, traffic control systems keep traffic moving and provide vital feedback on the performance of the road network. By joining all these systems up with other sources of data, relevant authorities can make more informed decisions to manage congestion and lower their running costs and costs to UK plc.

Taking advantage of the immediate availability of accurate traffic information, the integration of satellite, communications and software technologies will allow for better planning to minimise bottle necks by diverting traffic to reduce congestion. Furthermore, new cloud computing and mobile communications technologies can introduce even greater efficiencies in the back office through on-demand IT services and shared services; and by introducing more customer oriented channels of communication using smart phones and other mobile devices.

Existing initiatives and technologies such as smart ticketing and journey planning improve transport accessibility and the experience of travelling. But these solutions need to go further to enhance the performance of the transport network.

Exploiting ICT

Many transport authorities and operators face the same tough times as the Department for Transport, which needs to “reduce administrative costs by one third, saving over £100 million a year by 2014-15”. Efficiency savings need to be found, processes need to be streamlined and transformed, and sweating assets longer is a must. Capital and resource spending will be carefully scrutinised moving forward; ICT will not be exempt from this scrutiny. A review of ICT in transport should therefore be carried out with the aim of maximising benefits through the sweating and sharing of assets as well as promoting interoperability across the sector and scaling systems.

At Intellect, the trade association for the technology industry in the UK, we have identified a number of recommendations that government and operators should consider for improving the use of ICT to drive savings and improve service delivery. These recommendations, aimed at government, transport authorities and operators cover both better and wider use of ICT in transport and better approaches to investment where it is most needed:

Get more out of what you've got
1. Enable access to transport data in real time to third party developers who can deliver personalised, customer-oriented services to citizens quickly and cheaply. Curtail spending on presentation of information and focus on making standardised information available.
2. Rationalise existing ICT assets to remove duplication and share across organisations where applicable.
3. Encourage sweating and reuse where possible and make sure future procurements can facilitate reuse, sharing and change management.
Streamline the way you do business to cut costs
4. Incentivise a move towards interoperable ICT systems to facilitate the standardisation and sharing of information, taking advantage of thinking and developments in the wider government approach to ICT.
5. Use ICT to create efficiencies and savings in wider operations in transport, for example, resource management to extend the life and use of physical assets; and business change programmes to automate processes.
Take advantage of the industry’s expertise
6. Promote early engagement with industry on strategy, projects and business cases to realise the full ICT potential in transport to ensure continued improvement of the transport system.
7. Engage more closely with industry to improve approaches to project evaluation and procurement.
8. Take advantage of both the domestic and international expertise in the industry and the solutions being deployed and tested elsewhere across the world.

Jon Lindberg is the Intellect Transport Programme manager. Intellect’s Transport Group informs stakeholders of the contributions that technology can make to transport systems/services, offers a forum for members to learn about and discuss developments in the sector, and seeks to optimise the trading environment. Intellect is the UK Trade body for the IT, telecoms and electronics industries representing over 750 organisations from SMEs to multinationals.

For more information
Web: www.intellectuk.org

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