Speech

Transport times conference

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

Explores future transport choices including government plans for technology, data sharing, sustainable travel and smart ticketing.

This event is very much about the shape of things to come - about what transport might look like in the years ahead. We all know that predicting the future can be a hazardous business. None other than the eminent scientist William Kelvin predicted there was no future for radio and that heavier than air flying machines were an impossibility. In 1943 the then chairman of IBM forecast that there would be a world market for just 5 computers in total. Despite those risks, I think it’s worth speculating about what might lie beyond the horizon for the transport sector. I believe that technology has huge potential to deliver a smarter more efficient transport system in the years to come. I’m sure everyone here will agree that improving our transport system can provide immense benefits for our economy and our quality of life. But our options for making transport better aren’t confined to new road and rail links, or renewing and upgrading existing infrastructure, important as those are.

It is clear that the future of transport goes well beyond, tarmac, concrete and steel. New technology gives us the chance to look afresh at problems that have beset the transport system for decades, to approach these seemingly intractable issues from a different angle. As well as the obvious benefits technology can deliver in making our transport system safer, greener and more reliable, a world of smarter travel is one where demand can be more accurately predicted and capacity can be used more efficiently. A smarter system can improve the end-to-end travel experience, delivering more seamless connections between different operators and different modes. It can help spread demand more evenly across the day, a prize sought by transport operators probably for as long as mean and women have been travelling. And it can give transport users much better information flows, empowering them in a way unparalleled in our history. Today, millions of people carry smart phones in their pocket with computing power which would have filled a small room not so long ago. That fact provides all of us who care about improving our transport system with huge opportunities. The DfT’s Transport Direct service is used by 20 million people a year, providing door to door journey planning from 30 million locations in the UK, alongside other travel information. And it’s available via the internet, mobile channels, digital TV and numerous third party sites. Internet and mobile phone applications are opening up new channels for consumers to communicate and collaborate across the economy. Whether it’s the ‘tube buddy’ application I have on my blackberry showing me the indicator board for High Barnet tube station, or Google maps on GPS making it easier for pedestrians to get around, this all adds up to empowered consumers. And empowered consumers are exactly what this government wants to see more of - consumers who know their rights and demand them; who drive the development of new products and services; and who can use the new tools and information at their disposal to get the best deals and access the smartest form of travel. That’s why we have demonstrated our commitment to transparency through our open data policy which has broadened access to a whole range of data sets held by public bodies.

Transparency and data sharing will enable the public to better scrutinise government at both local and national levels. But it will also encourage innovation by dynamic small businesses and provide the public with exciting new services. We have already released key central datasets such as NaPTAN, the comprehensive directory of every public transport location. This has spawned new apps, such as the one that alerts you when you are near your destination railway station. Now, I recognise that there are significant issues to be overcome with broadening access to transport data, most of which is owned by the private sector. However, I think that if we can find a way to resolve these issues in a way which is fair to the people who have invested in the relevant systems, it will be well worth the effort. Opening up and engaging more closely with the entrepreneurs out there hungry to turn transport data into attractive and innovative products for consumers could generate very major benefits for transport operators - namely more customers. In particular, I see this as a real opportunity for the rail industry. I hope that an early demonstration of the decisive industry leadership Sir Roy McNulty recently called for in his study of the railways will be a move towards a much more open approach to data on fares and timetabling.

But no speech on smarter travel would be complete without a look at ITS. The label Intelligent Transport System can embrace systems as diverse as in-car satnav to traffic signals. Or it could be advanced applications that provide travellers with real-time data on everything from bus and train times to traffic updates on delays, accidents and road-works. ITS can help to improve road safety and provide an early warning system for drivers. It can ease traffic congestion and lower journey times, reduce fuel consumption and cut air pollution. ITS can even play a role in the rapid mass evacuation of people in urban centres when there are natural disasters or terrorist threats. The UK has been an early adopter of ITS technologies and is a world leader in using them to support policy goals. One example is our work on managed motorways and hard shoulder running.

Then there is Urban Traffic Management and Control - UTMC - which was developed by the DfT to help urban local authorities engage with the ITS, smart travel agenda. UTMC allows for the sharing of relevant information between individual ITS applications from traffic signal controls to air quality monitoring and car park management. UTMC is now being used by over 100 local authorities.

I should also highlight the new National Traffic Information Service, which we expect to go live in September. Building on the services currently provided by the National Traffic Control Centre, this will collect data from roadside technology and provide intelligence on the state of the network. And it will do this through a range of information channels like local and national radio, Google maps, over 300 partner websites.

Innovative technology is an essential building block for a smart transport future. But so too is changing behaviour. And here I’m talking about the things we can do to persuade, incentivise and nudge people in the direction of smarter travel choices:

  • making public transport a more attractive option
  • promoting the use of car sharing schemes and car clubs; encouraging people to swap the short car trip for a walk or a bike ride
  • making it easier for people to cut down on work-related travel and commuting through things like home-working and the use of communications tools such as video-conferencing

By enabling and empowering people to make more sustainable, smarter transport choices we can help address traffic congestion and its knock on cost effects for business and industry. Not just that, we can also make a difference on issues like obesity, air quality and noise. In other words, smarter choice measures are good for the economy, the environment and for our health. Research has demonstrated that these programmes can be relatively inexpensive to implement and provide excellent value for money. The sustainable travel town project run by the previous government indicated that smarter choices programmes could deliver a:

  • 9% reduction in car trips
  • 10 to 22% increase in bus trips per person
  • 26 to 30% increase in cycle trips per person
  • 10 to 13% increase in walking trips per person

This success of this programme was one of the key drivers behind the decision to establish the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Projects aimed at nudging people towards healthier and more sustainable transport decisions are prime candidates for support from this new £560 million fund. The inclusion of revenue as well as capital funding is deliberately aimed at making it easier for local authorities to include smarter travel projects in their bids since these will often require both types of funding. Of course the urgent need to put the public finances back in order has put pressure on transport budgets at both a national and local level. But we hope the LTSF will help. We’ve made major efforts to keep the allocation process for the fund as light touch as possible to address the longstanding concerns about the complex bidding process for schemes under the previous government. We’ve also carried out a radical simplification of transport funding streams to cut admin costs for local government and give locally elected councillors much more say over how to allocate resources. That said, there can be no doubt that the record deficit the Coalition inherited has meant we have had to make some very tough decisions. But the government has given priority to investment in transport, with £30 billion allocated in the CSR period. And we have also tried to minimise the impact of cuts on the area at the heart of this conference today (26 May 2011) - smart and integrated ticketing.

Ever since I bought my first Oyster card, I’ve been an huge enthusiast for smart ticketing. I think Oyster helped transform people’s attitude to public transport in the capital and demonstrated how popular these schemes can be. The government wants to see smart and integrated ticketing rolled out more widely across the country. Our stated ambition is to see to enable most public transport journeys in the country to be made using smart ticketing by the end of 2014. We’re making some real progress towards that goal. A growing number of ITSO-compliant smart ticketing schemes are in operation or development across England. The Scottish and Welsh national schemes are also ITSO-compliant. We have provided £20 million of grant funding to the nine biggest urban areas in England outside of London to help to roll out the infrastructure needed. We also continue to offer a BSOG incentive of 8% for operators with operational ITSO smart systems on their buses. A number of the biggest bus operators are rolling out smart ticketing and obligations on smart ticketing are being included in newly tendered rail franchises. We are also working with TfL to deliver new ITSO compatible smart readers across the London Oyster estate. On top of these measures and initiatives we are working with the transport industry on the development of e-purses and will support the development of commercial agreements between partners to improve integration and compatibility between smart ticketing schemes. An excellent example of productive partnership is provided by PLUSBUS, where bus and train operators are working with their local communities to deliver a successful rail-bus integrated product. This is now available in over 280 rail-served towns and cities across Britain. We’re working with Journey Solutions, ITSO and bus and train operators to investigate whether PLUSBUS might be made available as an ITSO smart product. From seamless travel to convenience of use, I genuinely believe that smart and integrated ticketing offers a revolution in the way we travel. It can allow more sophisticated fare pricing, which can enable people to make smarter choices about when they travel. Last week’s McNulty report highlights the way in which ‘intelligent ticketing’ could have a part to play in helping to make better use of capacity by spreading demand more evenly over the day. Contrary to what you might read in the papers, this doesn’t have to be all stick and no carrot. The sort of products being developed by the companies represented in this room can give us the opportunity to reward and incentivise off-peak travel. The smart technology you are developing can enable us to modernise the season ticket - largely unchanged for decades - so that it adapts to the reality of 21st century working life where many people, especially women, simply no longer fit the standard 9 to 5, Monday to Friday stereotype.

In conclusion, when it comes to smarter ticketing technology, I’m a real enthusiast. I believe that the work now underway by people in this room and across the transport sector has the potential to transform the way we travel and enhance our quality of life. That’s why I am so pleased to have had this chance to speak at this conference today (26 May 2011) and that’s why I look forward to hearing your views and taking your questions.

Thank you