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Transport for London ‘should obtain data from apps’



London Assembly report points to shortcomings in harnessing new technology to improve the city’s transport system

Transport for London (TfL) should be getting more data back from app developers to properly harness new technology, according to a report from the London Assembly’s Transport Committee.

It has made the point as one of a number of shortcomings that are hindering the city’s progress in preparing for changes in transport over the next 20 years.

This has provided openings for operators such as Uber and the dockless cycle hire service oBike, but not necessarily taken the transport system in the right direction.

Titled Future Transport: How is London responding to technological innovation? the report highlights what is seen as a major achievement in the city, TfL’s opening up of its data to support the developments of a range of travel apps.

But it says there should be reciprocity with TfL gathering data from the apps to inform improvements to the transport network. This should be a requirement for existing app providers and any new ones looking to enter the market, and become a principle in the mayor’s upcoming Smart London plan.

The report presses the mayor and TfL to confirm the steps they intend to take by May, and says the transport body should be working more proactively to shape the market for app based services.

CAV hype

Another finding is that, despite the hype around connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs), they are not expected to become a feature of London’s roads until the 2030s. Also, TfL needs to think carefully about introducing autonomous buses due to the safety issues.

The report recommends reviews on the issues and that there should be a strategy to combine car sharing with the emergence of CAVs.

It also says that drones would only be suitable for the ‘last mile’ in delivery chains and are unlikely to reduce freight traffic on the road. But it says the mayor and TfL should look into the likely scale and impact of their use and produce new projections on how it could grow.

Mobility opportunity

Assembly member Keith Prince, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “The opportunity to improve mobility for millions of Londoners is here but it will require proper planning, transparency and accountability, as well as cooperation with government, boroughs and development companies.

“TfL have been caught napping on the technology front and it’s time to wake up. Uber, then oBike are two examples of a poorly prepared regulator which seems to be making it up as they go along.

“Go back to 2014 - in its Future Proof report, this committee warned that ‘TfL needs to be prepared for the inevitable consequences of a transport environment in which technology is evolving faster than the legislation that is needed to govern its use.’ It’s clear that warning was ignored – let’s hope this warning won’t be.”

The overall recommendation is that TfL should establish an advisory panel, with the Department for Transport, London boroughs and other stakeholders, to oversee the work of the Transport Innovation directorate in the Greater London Authority. This should be asked to regularly update the TfL board on technology trends and lead a discussion on what needs to be done.

TfL response

In response to the report, Michael Hurwitz, director of transport innovation at TfL, said: “This report outlines the challenges that all cities across the UK, including London, face when considering how transport will operate in the future.

"We work with a wide range of tech companies around the world to support and learn from innovation that could improve transport across London. This work builds on what we have already delivered in areas such as contactless ticketing, free open data and state of the art signalling to deliver some of the highest frequency metro services in the world.

“As part of the mayor’s Transport Strategy, many of these elements are already being considered and TfL is involved in a number of pilots and initiatives to help ensure that any introduction of new technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones is safe, environmentally-friendly and consistent with our focus on walking, cycling and green public transport.”

Image by Aubrey Morandarte, Guildford, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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