The Future of Transport in the North is Exciting

Every day it seems that there is a new story about an innovative project that's going to transform the way we get around our cities.

These hot topics include smart and connected cities, ride-sharing and car-pooling, Hyperloop, connected and autonomous vehicles, Mobility-as-a-Service, ticketing beacons, contactless ticketing, to name a few.

Far from being just a set of fads or trendy buzzwords, many of these are actually happening (at least in pilot stage) and a number of them are happening right here in Leeds and the North of England.

As part of the Leeds Digital Festival, on Thursday 26th April we will be showcasing some of the most interesting and innovative transport tech projects. Our full day event - sponsored by Transport for the North (TfN) - tackles many of the themes mentioned above with a series of lightning talks, followed by a series of practical hands-on demos and a TfN panel discussion.

Titled 'The Future of Transport in the North' we want to showcase the best transport innovations either planned or in development. Sign up here.

Innovation isn't just about developing new high tech ways to get around faster. One of the most exciting wave of developments cleverly fuses traditional modes of transport with modern tech and, in doing so, simplifies user experiences. The innovation sits in the way that the technology changes our traditional interactions with those modes of transport.

Take dockless bikes for example. Whilst there's been huge innovation in bicycle manufacturing and materials (carbon fibre frames etc), the bike - and the human's use of it - remains pretty much as it was 50 years ago.

Dockless bike schemes have grown in huge popularity in the UK in the last 12 months. This is mostly due to our aspiration to live more healthily, our busy time-poor lives, the rising costs of other ways of commuting and the international expansion plans of hugely well-funded (mainly) Chinese transport start-ups. Docked bike schemes - such as the Barclays / Santander (Boris) bikes - got Londoners used to the fact that they didn't need to own a bike to cycle around London.

These schemes also exploit a number of current trends. More than ever we are busy, time-poor, always connected, and prepared to purchase and own fewer assets. Yet we are more mobile than ever and aspire to live healthier lives.

Ofo is one such dockless scheme. Already with UK bases in Cambridge, Norwich and Sheffield, Ofo launches in Leeds in mid-May. Credit where it is due, Leeds City Council have moved quickly on this one. Ofo will be available to customers on the streets of Leeds just three months after the proposal was submitted to Leeds City Council. Not a public sector procurement team in sight!

Another transport innovation that gets us at ODI Leeds excited is Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Whilst the concept has been around for a few years now, we've not seen a large-scale practical execution delivered in the UK, until now. MaaS Global - a Finnish company - have just completed a beta phase in the West Midlands area and are readying themselves (and their early adopters) for the next stage - a subscription service.

Positioned as a real alternative to car ownership, the provider pools and integrates information and ticketing from multiple private and public transport services into the one easy to use platform / app. This makes it easier for customers to navigate, travel, and pay for their multi-modal travel across a city region.

With this convenience and simplicity it is clear to see obvious customer benefits that can be delivered by MaaS. Yet what remains to be seen is how mobility-as-a-service providers can deliver what customers want - through what is no doubt an expensive and complex integration layer - whilst remaining cost competitive for passengers.

Here at ODI Leeds, it's the less flashy innovations that get us most excited - bus data! A bit more near-term, and hopefully a little more achievable, we are working with the bus industry to support moves towards making data available openly. I believe that open data and industry collaboration can be a driving force in helping to turn around the (almost) nationwide year-on-year decline in bus patronage. And there are many operators who think the same.

We're working closely with Transport for the North, transport operators and local transport authorities in the North to make new datasets available (fares and disruptions data) plus hopefully more to come. We are also working with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to develop a new 'Real Journey Time' dataset - helping to inform customers how long their journeys will really take (as many of us know, timetables can't always be relied upon, especially at rush hour!).

Bus operators need to react to this disruption and adopt new technologies to ensure buses remain an appealing and convenient mode of transport for their current and potential customers. As quoted by Gary Vaynerchuk, the rapid growth of Uber (other ride-sharing services are available!) is due to the fact it doesn't sell transportation, it sells time!

We think the way to achieve the best industry outcomes is through collaboration not competition.

Come and join our event on 26th April and see what the future could be like for you! Whether you're a transport operator, innovator, developer, consultant, academic, working in, or just interested in transport, you are welcome to come and join in. You can sign up here.