Transport for West Midlands & Transport Systems Catapult

An exciting programme delivered by Transport for West Midlands – the region’s public transport coordinator – and the Transport Systems Catapult, which is the UK’s innovation centre for Intelligent Mobility.

Opportunities to work with the Intelligent Mobility sector are represented in the following challenges. If none of the below relate to your start-up, please apply by selecting ‘Other Great Idea’ on the application form.

Challenge One: Improve Disruption Information on Bus for Operators and Customers

Nationally, there are just over 5 billion bus passenger journeys every year, with over 278 million journeys undertaken in the West Midlands in 2013/14. The majority of these journeys operate perfectly well.

However, disruption, diversions and delays do occur due to severe weather, traffic accidents or emergency repairs which impact the quality of service for passengers and the profitability of service operators. Under these circumstances, passengers could significantly benefit from being better informed regarding disruption and operators by developing a better understanding of how to prevent future disruptions; enabling passengers to make alternative travel plans should they need to.

With 90% of scholars and two thirds of commuters who use the bus owning a smartphone, how can we identify disruptions and communicate these better to commuters? How can we utilise data from; urban traffic control, local authorities, utilities and emergency services to improve the speed and quality of information to the operators of services and passengers? Are there other sources of information or predictors of disruption that we are not aware of?

Challenge Two: Remove requirement for pre-booking assistance for disabled passengers on the local rail network

In the West Midlands, 19% of residents have a disability and nationally this figure is 18%. We also have over 30,000 disabled pass holders under the age of 60 in the region. Passenger Assist is the national rail network system which requires disabled passengers who need assistance, to book 24 hours in advance of using the train. In particular, booking assistance is recommended if a disabled traveller:

  • Has a mobility or other disability that means they find getting on and off trains difficult
  • Is a wheelchair user
  • Is a mobility scooter user
  • Has a sight impairment and needs guiding around a station or help boarding and alighting from your train
  • Has difficulty walking long distances – at some stations a station wheelchair can be provided or, at some larger stations, access to an electric buggy

This enables Passenger Assist to give as much information as possible before travel, make alternative arrangements if the station is not step free or not staffed at the time you wish to travel and ensure there are enough staff for all the assistance requests at a station.

In 2013, the House of Commons Transport Committee reviewed the Passenger Assist service and recommended that the booking time for using the service should be reduced, which should then lead to advanced booking for assistance being phased out altogether. In order to remove the 24 hour booking period, there will be particular challenges for operators in ensuring staff are available when required to provide assistance, coupled with having appropriate information about the customer in order to be able to react quickly and to provide information to the destination station and any interchange locations if the customer is changing trains.

What digital solutions can be developed to help train operators meet this requirement?

Challenge Three: How Long Will my Journey Really Take?

In a recent passenger survey, 16% of respondents said that if it was easier to get more information, they would use public transport more.

Journey time is of course one of the most important pieces of information for passengers and punctuality of bus services is the top priority for bus users.

How can we improve on current timetable and real-time information to tell passengers how long their journey will really take that day? Perhaps we can fuse different data sets to provide more information. Perhaps there are other sources of data from which to draw. Or maybe there is a better way to present existing information to passengers, helping them make better decision for themselves.

Challenge Four: Is There Space on the Tram/Train for me and my Bike?

2% of commuter’s cycle and in the West Midlands, we aim to increase this to 10% by 2025. Two thirds of cyclists who use the train currently take their bike on with them.

With limited space to take bikes on-board trains, especially during peak times when services can be busy and with cycling continuing to grow in popularity, how can we provide better information and services to cyclists before they leave home and when they arrive at the station?

Which train has space for their bike? How many spaces are there? Where on the train is there space for their bike? Which door should they use to access the space? Could a space be reserved in advance? Are there revenue opportunities arising from this?

Challenge 5: Maintain Transport Assets/Infrastructure more Efficiently; Reducing Costs and Wasted Resource

Together with operators, Transport for West Midlands owns and/or manages a lot of transport infrastructure across the region:

  • 12 bus stations
  • Over 11,000 stops, stands and shelters
  • Over 1,000 digital screens, CCTV cameras
  • A metro line
  • Stations and substations
  • Park and ride sites
  • Office buildings, garages, maintenance facilities and control centres
  • Buses, trains and trams and more

These all require managing, maintaining and cleaning and we operate a significant operation to do all of this. Even incremental improvements to such a large infrastructure could significantly improve efficiency, reduce costs to operators and free up funds to improve service to passengers.

So how could we do this more efficiently and at a reduced cost? Could the use of smart infrastructure devices, sensors and dashboards assist us with management and maintenance? Could the infrastructure tell us when it requires maintenance, or needs to be cleaned?

Challenge 6: Will my tram/train meet the next bus to my final destination?

The complexities of moving people around increase when passengers use different types of transport (so-called ‘multi-modal’) and we know that:

  • 36% of people arriving into Birmingham City Centre interchange with another transport mode, including 29% arriving into the city by bus
  • 11% of rail users and 24% Metro users travel to their station by bus
  • At least 82% of rail and Metro commuters have a smartphone

In our surveys, two thirds of respondents said it wasn’t easy to work out bus frequencies causing confusion for those people wishing to factor bus into one of their transportation ‘modes’.

So how can we improve information to customers to help them complete their journeys? How can we make interchange easier for customers?

Challenge 7: ‘Other Great Idea’

If you have a start-up that you would like to pitch to Transport for West Midlands and Transport Systems Catapult which does not relate to any of the above challenges, you still have an opportunity to apply by selecting ‘Other Great Idea’.