However, data will never be useful on its own. We must become smarter in how we use and analyse the data we have. The insights we can generate about our residents can be invaluable at predicting where we need to target our services and providing a better service when we do.
This is not something new to transport. So many decisions that councils have taken over the past few decades have been guided by the data we have collected.
Traffic data has informed decisions about network enhancement, inspection data has dictated where we should repair and renew infrastructure, and traffic modelling has determined how and when new development should be allowed.
We are now approaching a point where this data, which was arduously collected by traffic counts and other labour-intensive methods, is about to be overtaken by vast quantities of automatically generated, real-time data produced by connected vehicles interacting with our network.
Councils, such as Norfolk, have already replaced manual traffic surveys with real-time congestion data generated by drivers’ mobile phones. This is just the start of a coming data revolution, for which councils need to prepare.
Councils need to know what data they hold, what is likely to be generated by changes in transport technology and how they will be able to get the most possible value from it. The whole of local government needs to focus on this emerging trend. It will disrupt existing service models and the most appropriate response to the insights may be to completely re-imagine what we are doing.
It is clear that the data revolution in transport will give us the ability to take decisions in real time and understand how our decisions and processes are affecting the network as we carry them out. However, this data will not make decisions for us and the LGA intends to do more work in the near future on how councils can be better prepared.
Autonomous cars have gone from science fiction to just around the corner over the past few years. Removing a driver from a car has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about transport and travelling.
Given the important role councils have in managing our transport networks, it is unsurprising that local authorities have been at the forefront of alliances designing and testing new autonomous technologies.
Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM), through its links with the automotive sector, has been pioneering autonomous vehicle testing, with live tests on roads across the region in rural and urban settings. It has learned important lessons about how autonomous vehicles are likely to interact with its network.
The authority’s innovation has also seen it pioneer mobility as a service through its partnership with the Whim app. This service joins up providers of transport to create an entire journey for the user, with the ability to purchase all the necessary tickets for the route. It is the long-term ambition of the authority to offer a seamless and integrated transport experience across the West Midlands.
The experience of TfWM was highlighted at our recent conference on future transport – ‘Clean, connected and in control’. The feedback given to delegates was that an authority’s greatest asset, as a public body, was the ability to provide a forum for collaboration. It encouraged private organisations to collaborate on innovation by offering a neutral forum, as well as the odd cup of coffee! This highlights that councils’ ability to shape this agenda is not based upon money or other resources but on our ability to facilitate collaboration.