Mobility in the economic powerhouse of historic Cambridge – a need for infrastructure vision and bold implementation

May 2017 is a crucial time for transport in Cambridge. Because the transport issues that are being considered and decided now, as well as the transport infrastructure schemes that are being implemented this month, will have huge implications for the development of this unique city. A city that is both a national heritage jewel and also an economic powerhouse, hugely important to the economy of the whole UK.

Following the agreement of the local authorities in the area to the setting up of a higher-level Combined Authority, part of the government’s devolution agenda, a new Mayor for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough was elected on 4th May. The new Mayor, James Palmer, has responsibility for leading on planning, allocating and delivering a new annual fund of £20 million for the next 30 years to support economic growth, development of local infrastructure and jobs: this will include new transport infrastructure. He has now announced that he will be launching a feasibility study into a light rail and underground transport scheme for Cambridge. These concepts had previously been considered too expensive by the board of the Greater Cambridge City Deal, an earlier devolved budget for a family of transport infrastructure projects that is currently being planned in detail after lengthy consultation.

Secondly, the current Cambridge railway station is being supplemented by a new Cambridge North station situated quite near several extensive business parks, including the well-known Cambridge Science Park, on the northern edge of the city. This opens on Sunday 21st May, and will have four trains an hour to London and regular services to Cambridge and Ely, for onward connections, and to Norwich.

This follows the opening in August 2011 of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which improved journey reliability significantly for certain journeys. The lengthy northern section reduced travel times between the communities north west of Cambridge and the Cambridge Science Park, while the southern section links Cambridge station to the huge Addenbrooke’s Hospital site, to a Park & Ride site (one of 5 such for the immediate Cambridge vicinity) and to major new urban communities to the south of the city.

These developments are important because Cambridge is unique, with both major opportunities and significant challenges. It has a hugely growing economy through being a centre of innovation in several high-tech ‘knowledge’ industries such as biopharmacy, semiconductors and software: LSH's UK Vitality Index 2017 has given it the best prospects for economic growth of any UK city outside London. Several major international companies have either relocated there or established major labs there (e.g. Microsoft Research and AstraZeneca).

It has large new business and technology hubs either within the city area (e.g. CB1 at Cambridge Station, and Cambridge Biomedical Campus adjacent to Addenbrooke’s Hospital) or situated in the surrounding countryside (e.g. Granta Park, Cambridge Research Park, and Wellcome Genome Campus). It has new towns being built around it, such as Northstowe and Cambourne. It has a city centre dominated both by the beautiful historic University with its unique Colleges, and by major green areas; and whilst this has created a huge tourist economy it also means very narrow streets and no space for road expansion. This leads not just to traffic ‘pinch points’ but to lengthy lines of congestion in various areas all over the city. Some of these deliver huge delays for transport services in key 'normal' sections of what are otherwise ‘rapid transit’ public transport corridors with bus-only roads, guided busways and other bus priority. Similar extremely lengthy traffic queues appear in peak hours on the major approach roads to and from the city, while the dispersed pattern of business hubs in the city area makes motor travel around it often both essential but also very challenging.

At the same time Cambridge has a huge and unique cycling culture, with cycling more important than for any other city in England, and with one in four Cambridge residents cycling to work. It has articulate and well-informed interest groups both for residents and business interests, including Smarter Cambridge Transport, Cambridge Ahead, and Cambridge Cycling Campaign. And of course a huge capacity for creating ideas, including in possible transport solutions.

An example from elsewhere that is perhaps relevant for Cambridge is Perugia, the regional capital of Umbria, Italy, which I had cause to visit earlier this year. This is a major centre for the arts, has a historic city centre situated on a hill, a unique cultural heritage and two universities. In 1971 bold decisions were taken to make the centre traffic free and to build major mobility infrastructure: a network of escalators, some underground and emerging spectacularly into parts of Perugia’s ancient heritage. These access the city centre from car parks and public transport stations. Later, in 2008, it opened a 7-station automated people mover (Minimetrò) linking the east side of the city centre with the rail station, western suburbs, and major car parks, and including a lengthy underground section. Some aspects of the delivery could be criticised - for instance the people mover has no station in the city centre itself - but the vision and implementation has produced good results, with over 10,000 passengers on the Minimetrò per day, for instance.

So what’s needed for Cambridge? The Vision needs to be bold and imaginative, and covering not just travel within Cambridge but also links to Oxford, another major ‘city of ideas’, through a rapid progression of firm plans and then delivery of the Bedford - Cambridge section of the East-West Rail concept.

The vision also needs to be robust, taking into account the interests and needs of all key stakeholder groups in the city. Intelligent Mobility needs to be a centrepiece of this vision, with the use of ‘big data’, Internet of Things and smart technology firmly at its heart: automated vehicles should also be a key part of this. As has been pointed out by David Metz in his book ‘Travel Fast or Smart?’ this may require new tools for assessing business cases. The DfT’s WebTAG has been criticised as giving too high a priority to physical transport infrastructure - important though this is for Cambridge, as this article stresses - compared to the infrastructure needed to maximise the value from digital technologies. Thirdly, the vision must be backed up by ambitious and creative but firmly realistic finance and delivery plans. The hugely healthy Cambridge economy must surely be capable of facilitating a successful response to this particular challenge.

Lastly, planning and delivery must have attention to detail and must cover all aspects that users need. The new bus and cycle routes to Cambridge North Station from the north-west and from the northern city suburbs throughout the day, and from the northern villages at peak times, using a new extension to the northern section of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, are much to be welcomed. However, whilst there is good car parking (450 spaces – more than at Cambridge station), my understanding is that there are no improvements to traffic priority from adjoining main roads leading to the station access road, so I fear that there will be significant traffic congestion on its approach, as there is in that area at present.

On the delivery side publicity by transport operators prior to the 21st May opening date could be described as ‘patchy’, though there has been extensive coverage in the local press, and Greater Anglia, the train operator managing the station, has had good pre-start coverage on its website. But good passenger information, and consistency between what the user sees in different media, are essential if transport improvement schemes are not to lead to travellers' frustration and ultimately to them changing to alternative modes. I’ll be covering that particular topic at a more general level in a forthcoming blog post.

 

MaaS and removing traveller 'Pain Points': building Trust through the User Experience

I spent a very useful day earlier this week at a hotel on the outskirts of Loughborough – a less-than-straightforward place to get to from my Cambridge base – at a well-attended, indeed over-subscribed, workshop on Mobility as a Service. This was organised by IMPART, the Transport Systems Catapult-supported Intelligent Mobility Partnership: this links four leading UK University research teams in the Midlands. The focus of this excellent day was ‘Designing with Users at the Centre of the Proposition’.

MaaS is by now a well-known concept: a flagship article in The Economist in October last year brought it to the attention of a wide audience outside the ‘Intelligent Mobility’ community. It’s a one-stop shop for a personalised package of mobility services; made possible by Big Data, by the Internet of Things, by huge increases in devices’ processing power and in the number and spread of smart devices themselves, and by the sharing economy – in short by ‘technology’. But it seems that perhaps there isn't yet agreement on its rationale. It should make money for the MaaS service providers and could well grow the market for transport operators’ services, so there’s a business proposition. It might result in reduced congestion, in journey time-savings, in more use of healthy travel modes as a by-product, and indirectly in both better air quality and more human-friendly city centres, so there’s a public policy proposition. It should make different types of travel easier, faster (over the whole journey), more convenient and quite possibly cheaper for its users, so there’s a consumer proposition, but which of these is really going to drive its implementation?

However, what is clear is that it cannot succeed without satisfying – indeed delighting – users, which is one reason why user-centred design is so fundamental. But what came over in the wide variety of excellent presentations during the day was the big spread of different types of users and at different places and different times. The research commissioned by the Transport Systems Catapult for its ‘Traveller Needs and UK Capability Study’ in 2015 identified five distinct ‘traveller types’: yet it was clear to me from discussions at this week’s MaaS Workshop that many participants believed that the same person can be a different traveller type in different situations. And that only reinforces the view that there are a huge variety of different traveller needs that MaaS must meet if it is to succeed.

While the Workshop covered UK developments in MaaS itself – and there was an excellent presentation from Transport for the West Midlands about the very exciting MaaS implementation that’s due to be launched there later this year (read about what it will involve at http://whimapp.com/uk/), many of the presentations were about aspects of ‘pre-MaaS’. By this I mean journey features that must be got right if MaaS is to succeed. Elements of a journey where if the traveller travels in the way that MaaS makes feasible – i.e. a variety of modes in a week at different times and places, but ALSO within the same journey – he or she will have ‘Pain Points’. Overcoming those different personal ‘Pain Points’ in a journey was touched on again and again throughout the day.

At the start of this post I wrote that the Workshop location was not the easiest place for me to access. It’s a long, tedious and indirect drive, so I wasn’t happy with that mode of travel. But getting there instead by train to Loughborough by the ‘normal’ route, changing trains at Leicester, would have involved getting in my car at 0515 to drive to the nearest station with car parking! So I used my trusted ‘Google Maps’ app to find another way that would allow me to leave home an hour later and still make the start of the Workshop.

“Drive to Ely station; train to Melton Mowbray, direct bus to Loughborough town centre, another bus to the hotel” became apparent as a solution. This, of course, was an inter-urban journey which MaaS will not be able to deal with until region-wide MaaS services have appeared (and these may be both complex to develop and have poor business cases), but one immediately-obvious ‘Pain Point’ that will be relevant for MaaS was town centre interchange. And, in the case of my journey, this was particularly so in Loughborough, with alternative bus stops, lack of clarity as to whether Uber is available there, and a partially pedestrianised town centre with - to the visitor’s untrained eyes - no obviously clear taxi ranks. How was I to change vehicles in Loughborough town centre and what was I to do if things went wrong so that the journey plan shown on ‘Google Maps’ on my smartphone didn’t work?

Well, things did go wrong – not badly, but enough to make me miss the start of the Workshop. My bus from Melton Mowbray was scheduled to follow-on from another bus working which got stuck in traffic in the town. So it left my stop in the town centre 10 minutes late and this was too much time to make up on the journey to Loughborough. I realised later that to have got to the Workshop in time I should have got off the first bus near the entrance to Loughborough town centre and changed there to another one for the hotel, but that was a different scenario from my ‘Google Maps’ plan. Getting alerts and interchange instructions to the user on their smart device, in a trust-building way, and so removing that particular Pain Point is going to be one of the real challenges for developers of MaaS offerings. And no doubt more will emerge as the MaaS concept gains more traction.

There are several bus stops in Loughborough Town Centre (and those shown here are just a selection). But which do I need right now, and how do I navigate to it?

MaaS – the new concept set to disrupt UK bus operators’ markets – fast on the way towards becoming reality

While the Buses Bill, launched two months ago, has had a lot of publicity, not a lot has been written about one aspect of it - the release of data. We know that a growing amount of real-time data is already being let out by operators: Arriva, for instance, started to release their real-time data for incorporation in Google Maps' journey planning last year. However, what is perhaps most significant is that the Bill specifically states that Fares Data will be required to be released, as Open Data.

When the idea of bus operators releasing fares data was mooted 10 years ago, and the DfT commissioned the building of a FareXchange data specification - as part of its then 'Transport Direct' programme - there was some measure of opposition from within the industry because of the perceived market power it might give to those able to exploit it. And at that time the data management challenges involved in transferring data on all bus fares were also seen as huge. So the idea was quietly put on the shelf (and eventually, under the Conservative-led coalition, Transport Direct itself was also put down).

But now both the general technological environment and the policy appetite for a wide release of transport data are very different. Last summer the Transport Systems Catapult published the report of its 'Traveller Needs and UK Capability Study'. This cited the opening up and release of data by transport operators and other stakeholders as a necessary requirement to give the UK a lead in Intelligent Mobility. In our view, those organisations which understand how, and have the capacity, to aggregate large amounts of transport data will have significant commercial leverage.

Another piece of legislation announced in the Queen's Speech in May was the Modern Transport Bill. Maybe drones and spaceports are not of much interest to the bus industry, but driverless vehicles, as mentioned in our previous blog post in May, should be. Before too long they will form a part of transport networks, and when they become available for hire they will potentially be both a complement and a threat to existing bus networks.

The latest development is Mobility as a Service (MaaS). In simple terms this is a 'one-stop' shop for a package of transport service - done through a simple payment mechanism where both purchase and delivery are managed digitally. It has been a very hot topic internationally for about 20 months now, is recognised as having the potential to give huge consumer benefits, and many developments are in hand worldwide to make it a reality. The Transport Systems Catapult has just last Friday (8th July) published an important report on the opportunities for MaaS in the UK, commissioned by the DfT - you can download it at https://ts.catapult.org.uk/news-events-gallery/news/new-report-sets-different-future-travel/.

 

A step towards MaaS: Xerox have produced a Mobility Companion pilot phone app for Go Denver that enables users to create and pay for combined multimodal trips from Point A to Point B based on pre-set preferences.

The report is framed heavily in terms of a reference architecture - and therefore largely avoids some significant issues like geographical coverage, application to rural areas, heterogeneity of mode types, user-led-design, physical interchange, interface with non-digital transport network features etc. However, nobody in senior management in the wider 'bus industry' (in public policy or in commercial operations) should doubt the importance of MaaS, which will integrate an increasing number of transport modes, including driverless 'for hire' vehicles as they become available. Two key things are happening now: firstly the very keen interest, worldwide, in the MaaS concept from large companies with huge digital aggregation abilities (e.g. Amazon, Xerox, Siemens, e-On etc.). And, secondly, the new powers for UK city regions under devolution and City Deals. Both of these will mean that the pressure on UK bus operators to join emerging MaaS schemes in the next few years will become very significant. Players in the bus industry need to start the process now of developing their attitudes to MaaS and their strategies to meet its opportunities and challenges.

Blog launched 27th May 2016

To start off the new Blog on the Austin Analytics website I thought that I’d write about my recent stopover in Dubai to attend the UITP MENA Transport Exhibition visit. With a bit also about my impressions on arriving in Jakarta, where I’ve been working on a project to transform bus operations in this major capital city.

This was my first visit to the United Arab Emirates and what impressed me most was the sheer scale of the International Airport and the size of Dubai city. The 47-mile long Dubai Metro, which serves the Airport, is both fully-automated – the longest such in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records - and feels very fast. There is an underground section in the city centre but extensive elevated sections elsewhere. I had researched beforehand the idea of buying a Nol travel card on my arrival but was surprised to be offered the choice of first class or ordinary travel when I bought it. I opted to pay the small premium for first-class travel and was glad I did as that got me forward-facing and rearward facing seats rather than side ones.

Driverless minibus on display and test running outside UITP’s MENA Transport event in Dubai at the end of April

Driverless minibus on display and test running outside UITP’s MENA Transport event in Dubai at the end of April

Both Dubai's metro and the light rail have explanatory booklets, with both Arabic and English-language versions widely available. The massive World Trade Centre, where the UITP event was being held, has its own metro station and outside the UITP's exhibition hall was a driverless minibus running demonstration rides. Dubai's determination to be a world leader in the deployment of driverless vehicles was being widely reported in the local press, with the launch of the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy.

The show was notable for the presence of a large number of companies providing support services or technology for school transport - big business in the UAE - and large and impressive stands from both Iranian transport organisations and Dubai's RTA, as well as many Turkish and Chinese vehicle manufacturers. There were several European manufacturers displaying, including the UK's Wrightbus.

After my stopover in Dubai it was great to land in Jakarta after nearly a year's absence, and to see the developments that are taking place there. But what struck me most forcibly on my taxi drive into the city was the large increase in the number of motorbike-taxis. The huge numbers of semi-anonymous ojeks (with no uniforms and often no helmets) have been supplemented greatly by branded app-driven services  - Go-Jek (which existed on my last visit but has been significantly expanded since), Singapore-based Grab and, of course, Uber. All three also have car-taxi services as well, but these are less visible, and are also embracing other types of transport offerings, such as van hire. Jakarta citizens are enthusiastically embracing apps, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for shared-transport services such as these.

For a good article on the growth of Go-Jek see the BBC website at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36330006

John Austin May 2016

John Austin is speaking at the iModal Conference in Nottingham on 21st June, on the topic of ˜Mobility as a Service and the integration of taxis into passenger transport networks™. Book your tickets at http://mainspring.co.uk/i-modal/