Katy Taylor: Moving the city for good

Public transport is in a state of flux. Urban congestion, air pollution and social inclusion require solutions that work for us all and contribute to the common good.

Go-Ahead is a long established operator of UK bus and rail services that is now expanding internationally, with contracts in Singapore, Ireland, Germany and Norway.

Our vision is of a world where every journey is taken care of. Achieving that requires us to embrace changes taking place in society, and move beyond the traditional, conservative approach often taken to public transport.

Even such norms as the daily commute are changing in a world where flexible working and self-employment has risen by about a third in 22 years. Change has come with everyone carrying a computer in their pocket in the form of a smartphone, and often using them to order items rather than make trips to retailers.

We live in age of individual choice and technological freedom. At the same time, challenges around urban congestion, air pollution and social inclusion require conversations that stretch beyond normal boundaries. With this in mind, we set up the Moving the City for Good programme with Jericho.

In a series of roundtables we explored these issues with academics, innovators, policy makers and campaigners. Many of those attending were people we had not engaged with before, who brought new perspectives from outside the transport bubble. Air quality, smart cities and regulatory reform were topics covered in the roundtables.

The value of data in driving efficiency, behaviour change and providing an evidence base was a common theme, alongside a recognition that people, not technology, are the ultimate driver of change. With technological change risking the creation of more ‘left behinds’, the need to provide for social inclusion was discussed and linked to the principle of transport as a public good. Nearly eight out of ten job seekers have no access to a private vehicle and are reliant on buses to get to interviews. With the clear link between congestion and air pollution (noxious emissions soar as traffic grinds to a crawl), low or zero emission buses, each taking up to 75 cars off the road, have a continued vital role to play amidst a changing transport mix.

The roundtables were followed by a larger event in Oxford aimed at identifying solutions. The scope was broadened to include active travel (‘walking, running and cycling’ in old money!), with discussion focusing on the potential for trans- port policy and travel choices to be used as tools for improving mental and physical health.

We discussed the concept of ‘mobility as a service’ (Maas), where journeys and information are provided across modes of transport as a single mobility service. This could involve monthly subscription packages providing access to public transport, private taxi and bike hire scheme, which together can remove the need to own a private car.

The need for cultural change was identified, given the emotional attachment to owning a car, along with tailoring of the MaaS concept to meet the specific needs of rural areas.

Moving the City for Good broadened our horizons as a company and contributed to an ongoing process of changing our own company culture and outlook as we develop for the future of transport.

Go-Ahead is taking forward themes explored in the series through practical measures. A few days after our event in Oxford, the city saw the launch of the UK’s largest demand responsive bus service, PickMeUp. Since then over 90,000 journeys have taken place using an app based system that works out the best way of taking passengers to their chosen destinations in the city’s eastern arc.

We are demonstrating our commitment to improving air quality by trialing the UK’s first air filtering bus, which cleans the air as it travels through Southampton. Earlier this year we published a study in conjunction undertaken with Run Friendly and the University of Leeds, looking at how to improve public health by encouraging people to walk or cycle for the first/last mile of their commute. We are also working with logistics partners on how we can use our depots and vehicles to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

More change will follow, and there’s change in the wider environment as the Government prepares to undertake a regulatory review to reflect emerging forms of mobility. As we face the challenges and opportunities involved, Go-Ahead will continue to have conversations with those beyond ‘the transport bubble’ to help us develop solutions that work for all parts of society. Our thanks to Jericho for helping us to take big step in moving those conversations forward.