Designing an integrated transport system: technological challenges and opportunities for city authorities and network operators

In October 2016 the IET held a panel to discuss the technological challenges and opportunities for city authorities and network operators in designing and achieving an integrated transport system. The panel including representatives from Atkins, Highways England, City of York Council and Telefonica and it was Chaired by Professor Phil Blythe, the Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Transport. Below is a summary of the key points from the session.


We are predicting that the amount of traffic on the roads is still set in increase. As congestion costs the UK £2m each year they is a real drive for us to get the roads moving. However 98% of roads are under Local Authority control and they need to better understand how technology can help.


Highways England are already working closely with the local authorities are helping them to make the most from their data. However many cities are struggling to have a long-term vision of the future. Without a vision is it difficult to work towards its achievement. This is partly due to the fact that local authorities don’t have the technical staff in house anymore due to cuts in budgets and are reliant on consultants for advice on what they should invest in. This is not a problem in itself as long as the local authorities are acting as intelligent customers. To do this they need to be informed on future technology in order to procure the right technological solutions.

A user centric approach

We are moving to a world where the user is at the centre. Services are being designed by commercial organisations for our convenience and we are getting used to this high level of service. The consumer is used to highly convenient and easy to use services like Uber. The user doesn’t care how they get from A to B, they just want to get there as quickly and conveniently as possible. The challenge local authorities have is, as the consumer is exposed to more convenient corporate digital services delivered through large budgets, how do they deliver local services on their limited budgets that meet the users expectations? If local authorities offer something of a lower standard in terms of usability and convenience the customer is unlikely to use it. Local authorities need to work together to have a better chance of achieving high quality services.

Big data

One of the biggest challenges we are facing is anticipating our future needs, and data will be the key to achieving this. Transport data is being opened up so that it can be utilised by others, but due to complexity in digital transport systems, we are seeing the market migrating to unstructured data, making it more difficult for it to be integrated with other data sets.

This is resulting in us being data rich but information poor. We need to be able to better interpret the data we have and understand which data sets should be shared in order to drive innovation. However, sharing data can occasionally have the opposite effect than you hoped for. When data on traffic jams was shared, rather than avoiding the jams, some people deliberately joined it! 

App developers are focused on the big cities as there is unlikely to be a big enough market for their products in towns and rural areas. Data from local authorities could be combined in order to make it appealing to an app developer as it is impossible for them to engage with all local authorities on an individual basis.

We also need to better understand the behaviour of people and design systems that can cope with this. For example, how do our travel needs change when it rains? Understanding travel behaviour will allow traffic management to move from reactive to proactive. This can be achieved through the use of mobile phone data to better predict where traffic will be busy and when.

Privacy and security

Transport data is sensitive data. How do we open this up while respecting privacy and security? We need to understand what the data is being used for so that only the data required is shared. This requires a risk management approach. However local authorities are risk adverse and will be worried about sharing data which could be classed as private. This could hinder their ability to deliver Intelligent Mobility.

There is a lack of both public and in many cases corporate awareness of the potential impact of a cyber hack on the transport system. We are moving into a world where everything is connected for our increased convenience and we are often not considering the cyber security threats that this opens us up to. We need to move from cyber security being thought of as an afterthought to including it in the design phase in order to make our connected systems safe.

This IET panel was part of the Atkins Intelligent Mobility Summit. The Chair was PROFESSOR PHIL BLYTHE, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for Transport. Panellists included:

  • DR JOHN McCARTHY, Technical Director, Intelligent Mobility, Atkins
  • PHILLIP PROCTOR, Future Technologies Team Leader, Highways England
  • DARREN CAPES, Transport Systems Manager, City of York Council
  • MIKE SHORT, VP, Telefonica

In February 2017, the IET and ITS-UK Guide to Emerging Transport Technology will be launched. This guide will help local authorities to understand how they can deliver new transport technologies. You can reserve your free copy of the report here.