The future of transport: Challenges and opportunities in disruptive times
Never have public transport authorities and operators actively dissuaded people from using their services, but this is a reality we faced in 2020. While the pandemic has been occupying much of our attention, the UK is also transitioning through Brexit.
Transport in the UK has undoubtedly been impacted by COVID-19 and Brexit. This critical infrastructure has faced these challenges head-on and is now looking ahead to new opportunities. On October 15, I participated in an insightful webinar on this topic with representatives from across the UK transport industry: Network Rail, TfL, Highways England, and transport consultancy TRL.
Here is a summary of the Q&A. If you'd like more, you can watch the full webinar.
Question 1: Where are we now?
While each organization has its own priorities and business challenges, what unites them is their need for speed and agility to transition to new working models without disrupting operations.
James Dean, Network Rail: Despite lower-than-normal ridership, Network Rail customers still demand a safe, clean and reliable railway. This requires adaptive, innovative thinking to evaluate the product itself and how to sell it, in order to deliver great customer service and rebuild trust.
Simon Reed, TfL: The exploitation of data is the key to making informed decisions. TfL is examining historical data to anticipate delays and predict the punctuality of their trains.
Jacqui Allen, Highways England: The current situation is challenging for Highways England as well. Delivering road upgrades despite lockdowns, limitations and a public that is somewhat distrustful of public transport has been a struggle. Despite this, there’s a need to push past the fatigue and embrace true agility in order to succeed.
Paul Campion, TRL: Many organizations are surprised at how effective the transition to a “work from home” model was. Transport consultancy TRL sees a need to research and develop new technologies and services to support transport users and rebuild the economy as the effects of the pandemic and Brexit continue to be felt.
Question 2: What opportunities lie ahead?
For all our panelists, ensuring a stable and environmentally friendly future is the key. Each of them is looking toward digital technologies and innovation to remove operational constraints.
Paul: COVID-19 revealed latent demand for alternative modes of transport such as walking and cycling. A societal discussion needs to take place in order to balance supply and demand and make smart travel choices that minimize the carbon footprint.
Jacqui: Digital roads and connected vehicles have the opportunity to provide more accurate travel times, create more visibility in the supply chain and help manage aging assets, all while reducing carbon emissions.
Question 3: What have we learned?
One interesting theme that emerged was the idea of consumer behavior.
Simon: Since the public was discouraged from using public transport, there has been no follow-up advice, which has led to sustained lower use. Organizations must effectively communicate and stay connected with customers in order to understand their needs, manage the narrative and encourage responsible use of their services.
James: In order to be the back bone of change, public transport providers must have the agility to quickly adapt to changing dynamics.
James Dean, Westcoast Mainline Route Director at Network Rail
Paul Campion, CEO of TRL and Executive Member for ITS (UK)
Simon Reed, Head of Technology and Data, Transport for London
Jacqui Allen, Sponsorship and Development Director at Highways England
Jennie Martin, Secretary General at ITS (UK)
Clearly, digital technologies have a role to play in addressing these challenges and opportunities.