Smarter technology making transport cleaner, greener and more accessible

Speech regarding modern technology and solving transport problems, includes Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Smart Cities and Open Data.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Baroness Kramer

Good morning.

I’d like to start by thanking Stephen [Joseph] for inviting me to speak today (18 December 2013) and Ruth [Chapple] and the team at the Campaign for Better Transport for organising this event.

I’m delighted to be here.

We certainly couldn’t wish for a more fitting location.

The London Transport Museum houses an unrivalled collection which tells the story of how transport developed – not just in London, but in Britain, and indeed across the globe.

The beautifully-restored vehicles are the stars of the show, but there is so much more to see.

So many fascinating displays which vividly illustrate the history of transport in this city.

Considering the theme of our discussion today (17 December 2013), I want to highlight one advertising poster from the collection, designed by Heinz Zinram in 1965 - and which you can see projected behind me.

The first panel shows a street congested with cars.

The second panel shows the drivers and passengers out of their cars, and standing together on the street.

And the third shows the same 69 people travelling by bus on a street free of congestion.

The message may be simple, but it’s also powerful:

That we can move many more people on our existing transport infrastructure, but only if we make better use of capacity, and find ways to travel more efficiently.

That message is even more relevant today than it was 48 years ago.

Perhaps if we were going to update the poster for the digital age, rather than picture a bus, we could use a smartphone.

Because smart technology has enormous potential to improve the way we plan and deliver transport today, so we can keep Britain moving in a more manageable and sustainable way.

Since the poster was designed, demand for travel in this country has more than doubled.

And it shows no sign of slowing down.

Our growing population is putting increasing pressure on an already congested transport system.

So to secure long term economic growth, we have to plan ahead to meet rising demand.

That’s why between 2015 and 2020 we will invest £70 billion in our transport infrastructure.

We are building new schemes like HS2 and Crossrail that will add significant capacity to the rail network.

And we are investing to get the best from our existing infrastructure.

For example, by electrifying over 850 miles of railway.

Together, the steps we are taking will add 120,000 new places on peak time trains by the end of the decade.

We are also investing £28 billion by 2021 to improve our road network, including smart motorways.

And we are accelerating the development of greener transport, with £500 million announced earlier this year to support ultra low-emission vehicles.

But the challenge is not just to invest.

It’s to invest wisely.

To make the best use of developing technologies.

We need to think more carefully about how we use transport; how different types of transport connect with one another; and how best to improve those links.

This is where smart technologies have a critical role to play.

By using data better, we can make better use of existing capacity.

For example, real time monitoring of the road and rail network helps ease congestion by giving people alternative routes.

Smart technology can make public transport more convenient by providing information that joins up bus, tube and train timetables.

Live ‘countdown’ information makes it easier for people to plan their journeys.

Social media also gives operators immediate feedback on the services they provide.

And smart technology can cut costs by reducing journey times.

For all these reasons, the government is developing a framework that will encourage the take up of smart technologies right across transport.

Of course, this will take time.

But in the shorter term, we are supporting the roll out of smart projects around the country.

For example, we are investing over £170 million through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Among the schemes to benefit is the ‘Growing Smarter Travel’ scheme in Crewe, which is using data to reshape the bus network, encourage more cycling and walking, and reduce traffic congestion.

The Smart Cities programme will support new initiatives in nine major cities across the UK.

Here in the south east, we are working with the rail industry to get most commuters using smart tickets – including contactless bank cards - within 3 years.

And we are publishing real time, Open Data for trains, buses and the strategic road network.

In fact the most downloaded and re-used data currently released by the government is transport data.

This unprecedented surge in information has sparked the creativity of developers who have produced hundreds of transport apps that are improving millions of people’s journeys.

Web-based products are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

For example, Transport for London has been developing a web system that provides a comprehensive picture of all the transport options open to users.

Instead of checking lots of different websites, people will be able to see at a glance when their next bus arrives, how many bikes are in the nearest docking station, and whether trains are running on time.

Smart technologies also have the potential to make transport much more accessible.

While there have been significant improvements in recent years, the fact is we need to do more.

For example, half of all rail stations are still inaccessible for people with mobility problems.

One of the difficulties they face is not knowing which stations they can use.

We can learn from France, where Open Street mappers have conducted extensive and detailed analysis of station accessibility.

Transport for London’s ‘Accessible App’ competition demonstrates another approach.

This showcased the potential for high quality, accessible, apps to help people move around the city.

It also demonstrated the industry’s appetite to deliver innovative smart travel products.

I want us to harness that appetite, and move more quickly to improve access across the transport network.

That’s why the government’s Open Data strategy confirms our commitment to go further and faster in releasing transport data.

From this month we will be publishing Transport Direct’s accessibility data covering rail, bus and coach services across the country.

But we must also be aware that pumping out more data, and designing ever-more advanced apps is only part of the answer.

We need to remember that 19% of families with at least one disabled member live in relative income poverty.

For them, smartphones may be too expensive or difficult to use.

So audio and visual announcements have an important role to play in helping bus passengers.

Although I understand that these systems come at a cost, several local operators - such as Reading Buses, and Go North East – provide passengers with on-board audio visual announcements.

Nottingham City Transport has invested over £5 million this year in new buses with AV announcements.

And at least five other authorities are increasing AV systems as part of the Department’s £70 million ‘Better Bus Area’ fund.

Given the obvious benefits of this technology, I am planning to write to bus industry leaders shortly to examine the scope to develop simpler and more affordable audio-visual systems for buses, as well as looking at new smartphone options.

The challenge for bus operators is to use improved data to help improve services for all passengers.

So I look forward to working with the industry to take this agenda forward in the weeks and months ahead.

And if there are further steps you think we can take, I’d be very interested to hear from you.

So to conclude.

This is a time of huge change and opportunity.

But while we are making a record investment in our transport infrastructure, smart technologies give us new options to manage networks more efficiently.

Of all the major public services, none is more dependent on real time data than transport.

And transport also has the greatest potential to benefit from smart technology in the future.

So I welcome the launch of the Smarter Travel Business Forum.

And I wish you every success for the future.

I’m sure you will play an influential part in bringing technology companies together, and maximising the benefits of their work.

So much has changed since Heinz Zinram designed his poster in 1965.

The world is much more crowded and complex.

And overall demand for transport has soared.

But we can still learn from his central message.

We have to be smart.

Smart about investment.

Smart about technology.

And smart about working together.

Thank you.

Published 18 December 2013