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Cities must develop the vision and leadership to harness “mobility” solutions

It is no longer good enough to implement traditional transport solutions while all around us the world has moved on

By John McCarthy  

The London skyline ©Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/Press Association Images

This article was produced in association with Atkins

Cities and regions are living ecosystems that suffer from the push and pull of demand and supply issues on a second by second basis. The need for real time information is increasing astronomically and, when coupled with changing customer expectations, it begins to drive a seismic shift in how we manage our transport networks. Simply, it is no longer good enough to implement traditional transport solutions while all around us, the world has moved on.

Bold leadership is necessary to enable cities and regions to unlock their growth potential or risk being left behind.  We live in a shared, circular economy and this fourth revolution—the new digital age—must be fully embraced in order for cities to increase their efficiency.

Undoubtedly transport plays a vital role in connecting the different strands of our society to function effectively. Whether it’s facilitating an individual’s ability to make his or her hospital appointment or job interview, transport creates a vast number of positive social and economic outcomes. However, with the existing challenges of urbanisation, budget constraints and an ageing infrastructure, to name a few, cities must get smarter at adapting to new developments like Intelligent Mobility solutions.

Regarded as a new phenomenon, Intelligent Mobility looks to connect people, places and goods through the opportunities that disruptive technology provides. Therefore, it is important that city leaders understand how technology, and the data it creates, have the potential to transform city infrastructure and systems to better meet the needs of the end-user.  This includes getting to grips with the potential pitfalls and security issues that may arise when applying new solutions.

It is not for the technologists to push solutions based on the technology alone. It is actually for the policy makers, the strategic thinkers, the leaders of cities and authorities, to provide the framework and environment for such solutions to grow and foster.

The market will dictate the winners and losers in the fast pace environment, as customers look to shape new business models that put their needs to the forefront. It is now no longer enough for cities to provide roads and tarmac or white lines and intelligent traffic lights as a solution to the creaking transport network. It is no longer feasible for legacy systems to be maintained and adapted beyond their original purpose. What it is time for is leadership—plain and simple! An individual or institution with a clear focus, who is willing to link the budget items across different traditional silos and ask the question “does one solution fit multiple problems.”

Today, there are ideas coming to fruition in many parts of the world, from Mobility as a Service to Total Transport and ride sharing. This is both exciting and welcome. Data, the “gold dust” that underpins the operation of these and other mobility solutions, will prove increasingly important—after all 90 per cent of the world’s data was only created in the last two years. Open data is a positive and necessary step in the creation of innovation and new businesses capable of unlocking the benefits of smart connected cities; but only if this is realised by city leaders. Ultimately, it will take their strategic guidance and a clearly defined vision to implement the next era of transportation.

With the support of Atkins, Prospect hosted a panel discussion at the 2016 Conservative Party Conference on smart cities and intelligent transport in an era of devolution. The discussion was chaired by Jon Bernstein, Associate Editor for Prospect. Speakers included: Jason Pavey, Local Transport Director, Atkins; Mark Prisk MP, Member, Communities and Local Government Committee and Chair, Smart Cities APPG; Laura Shoaf, Managing Director, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM); and Dr Jeni Tennison, CEO, Open Data Institute (ODI).

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