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An unavoidable decision

Andy Slater looks at the combination of factors needed to really bring the UK to the forefront of multimodal transport…

 

Economic growth, reduced carbon emissions and less congestion are just a few of the proven benefits of having an effective public transport system. And it would seem that more and more people are turning to public transport to get around – according to the Department for Transport rail passenger journeys have more than doubled since privatisation in 1994/95. In 2015, light rail systems carried 240 million passengers – the highest volume ever recorded – but car travel still accounted for around 64 per cent of trips in England during 2014. So what’s stopping us from using public transport as the number one way to get from A to B?

It could be that there are still too many ‘pain points’. The fact that most transport systems have different ticketing and scheduling means that it’s more difficult than it should be to transition from one mode of travel to another. Fixing this, by introducing intelligent mobility to improve customer journeys is at the heart of creating a multimodal transport system.

But this feeds into some of the other challenges of creating a truly integrated transport network – whether it’s local authorities not having the autonomy to make long-term strategic decisions about infrastructure or not having the technology to allow transport operators to share data about how people are using their services.

Data the lynch pin

Cities like Lyon in France are ahead of the curve in terms of understanding future needs versus current capabilities, especially when considering connectivity. For multimodal transport to work, data is crucial. Without understanding how people use public transport it’s not possible to know what infrastructure is needed or how technology and innovation can simplify bookings to take away the stress of using multimodal systems.

In my world, interpreting data is really important. It sits right alongside operational delivery to maximise our performance and drive improvements. And this is key to integrating light rail and metro solutions into wider transport networks.

More than a cog in the wheel

While light rail and metro solutions are most effective as part of a broader transport system, they bring a number of advantages to the table.  For example, by running on electricity rather than fossil fuels, they offer a number of clear environmental benefits compared to other forms of transport. Add to this the ability to move more passengers than buses, for instance, with similar frequency timetables – if the right investment is made.

But what makes light rail and metro a really interesting proposition for transport planners is the ability to superimpose onto existing infrastructure to share capacity and network demand as well as its expandability.

Take the Docklands Light Railway or the Manchester Metrolink, for example. Neither of these networks started out the size they are today. They’ve been expanded based on need, and in Manchester the Trafford line continues to grow, bringing greater connectivity to the suburbs which in turn enhances the travel experience for passengers and heightens economic stability at a local level.

With George Osborne announcing even further budget cuts in his last Spending Review, light rail and metro solutions can also be good news for the public purse as these are often significantly cheaper to expand than their heavy rail counterparts.

Bringing UK to the forefront

There are a combination of factors we need to really bring the UK to the forefront of multimodal transport. A more collaborative approach between public and private sector could help to ease the financial investments needed to create connected journeys. We also need to change the mindsets of travellers by showing that public transport systems can accommodate and cater for their travel and experience needs. And we need to find ways of simplifying and reducing both the process and time it takes to bring these capital projects to the delivery stage.

Investment must be in both the capital projects that are the foundation of creating the multimodal systems, but also in the applications travellers can use to simplify their ‘experience’ of using the transport system. It is not just a case of having the system, it’s a case of creating the unavoidable decision to use it, because it is the best option when considering it from a customer’s perspective.

Andy Slater is Amey’s business director for light rail and metro