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+ By sharing data between operators and modes, the transport industry can improve its service to customers and gain valuable feedback.

In this increasingly digital age, I think the transport industry needs to fully embrace the concept of sharing data. By breaking down its silo mentality, it can create travel experiences that are much more focused on, and driven by, customers.

Today’s technology makes it possible to gather all kinds of data and there’s enormous potential for new personal journey planning services. Some of that data is already being deployed. There are motorway signs telling drivers how long it will take to get to a particular exit, and smart phone apps that tell travellers when their bus will arrive.

The problem is joining everything up to give people seamless information across transport modes. If information can be drawn together, the customer can start receiving personalised information. You could be told via your smart phone, for example, how long the drive to your destination will take in current traffic and where there’s a parking space available.

So what’s stopping this becoming a reality? The experts who have the skills to develop these services don’t have access to all of the critical data needed to make them work. Why? I’d argue it’s because the transport sector still limits how data is shared and is quite inward-facing. 

Data-custodians aren’t actively withholding information; it’s more a problem of practicalities with IT and management systems. While there is a lot of data ‘out there’ and in the cloud, very little of it is connected. Each transport operator has its own data systems and doesn’t habitually share it with other operators or the wider community.

This is true even within the same mode of transport. A motorway might be run by one operator, local roads by the council and car parks by a private sector operator. If they don’t all make their data available then it severely limits its use to the traveller.

What we should be aiming to achieve is a platform that provides all the information in one place. Then developers can simply and easily access it and start working on ways to help travellers. 

This would also let transport operators get more feedback on the behaviour of their customers and adjust their offerings. For example, a shopping centre experiencing congestion in its car park at 9am could incentivise people to arrive earlier, by sending them alerts about which shops open early. The operators can then measure the response from customers – a much better way of getting accurate feedback than self-selecting surveys.

Progress is being made. For example, Innovate UK has awarded £3.5m to Arup and a consortium of 11 organisations as part of an integrated transport initiative that combines travel service information across modes into a one-screen journey. 

However, I believe there is still an awful lot the transport industry could learn when it comes to sharing information to deliver better services to its customers.