The role of data and artificial intelligence in achieving transport decarbonisation

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Executive Summary

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology aimed at performing human-like tasks, such as perception, logic, and reasoning. AI is not a new phenomenon, but it is a topic that has recently been gaining greater attention and is becoming more common in our work and social lives than ever before.

There are many benefits AI can bring to the highways and transportation industry, especially when it comes to improving safety, providing more insightful transport planning, and efficient asset management, as well as improving the way the public experiences transport systems.
When it comes to decarbonisation, there are already examples of data and AI being used to:

  • Accelerate modal shift to public transport and active travel by creating reliable databases on sustainable transport use; optimising traffic flow in favour of active travel and public transport; and monitoring the condition of active travel infrastructure.
  • Decarbonise road transport and how we get our goods by aiding site selection of public electric vehicle (EV) chargepoints; managing grid capacity for EV charging; and reducing congestion, improving traffic flow, and improving road safety to avoid traffic incidents.
  • Delivering and maintaining low-carbon infrastructure by predicting asset life cycles; analysing the integrity of existing assets; and recommending low-carbon infrastructure.

However, there are also barriers we must overcome if AI is to be widely adopted in our industry, including:

  • Lack of skills and understanding, especially when it comes to people who specialise in data/AI and possess transportation sector knowledge.
  • Funding and investment – although some schemes have been set up to encourage AI innovations, more support needs to be offered to the public sector, for whom investing in new technologies can be expensive and risky.
  • Open data standards are needed to ensure that the way the transport industry (and all industries in the UK) collects and stores data is standardised, which will make data sharing easier and more valuable.
  • AI strategies and policies must be developed that provide leadership and guidance to the highways and transportation sector, so that AI can be confidently and ethically adopted.

This report intends to serve as an introduction to AI for the highways and transportation sector. We hope you gain a better understanding of what AI is, the importance of data for creating successful AI outputs, where AI is already being used in the transport sector, where it is likely heading, and what needs to be done to accelerate successful AI adoption.



>>> Read the report


CIHT believes the highways and transportation sector must harness the power of data:

  • There needs to be a greater consideration of not just the role data plays in supporting AI technologies but also how it can be used to enhance the experience of transport users. This should be reflected in the AI regulations and standards published by the UK government.
  • The government must work towards creating regulations and standards that ensure that the data collected by the transport sector is:
    • Fit for purpose, recorded in standardised formats on modern, secure, future-proof systems
    • Held in a condition that means it is findable, complete, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, and accords with open data standards where possible.

CIHT calls for more support for AI in public services:

  • Local authorities and national bodies will be key to rolling out AI in public services such as transport, and so should be given appropriate funding, guidance, and procurement frameworks to do this successfully.
  • A platform or community will be needed to share knowledge and best practice.


CIHT believes the highways and transportation sector needs more awareness of AI:

  • A clear evidence-based approach to policy developments is critical, particularly when it comes to public understanding around the adoption of new and emerging technologies within the transport sector. Regulators and organisations such as CIHT should work together to ensure that unbiased evidence on the pros and cons of AI is well communicated and shared widely. Working across the sector to inform and educate people will build a healthy relationship between users and AI.
  • The highways and transportation sector needs to build public trust in AI and demonstrate that it is incorporating AI into the sector in the safest and most ethical way possible. A Transport AI Advisory Group should be established, who will focus on public opinion, confidence, and outreach.
  • The highways and transportation sector needs leadership from DfT in the form of an AI Transport Strategy that builds on the Transport Data Strategy by:
    • Identifying areas where AI can have immediate impact and initiate pilot projects to demonstrate the feasibility of these solutions
    • Promoting collaboration with other industries for the purpose of data sharing and developing an AI ecosystem
    • Developing training programmes to equip the existing workforce with the necessary AI skills
    • Publishing guidelines for ethical AI development and deployment within the transport sector
    • Looking beyond our borders to see what international learning could help us in the UK, including the strategic roll-out of data regulations and data-sharing platforms.




The project group was chaired by Jon Parker, member of CIHT’s Learned Society and Technical Strategy Board, and was made up of representatives from organisations in CIHT’s Partnership Network and CIHT Technical Champions.

Jon Parker, ITP (a company of Royal HaskoningDHV)
Simon Fraser, Balfour Beatty
Alex Walton, Arcadis
Steve Frost, Milestone Infrastructure
Amina Hamoud, University of the West of England
Wim Melis, University of Greenwich
Dan Rennison, Costain
Yousef Majeed, Arup
Kevin Carrol, Ringway
Andy Graham, CIHT Technical Champion
Nadia Lyubimova, Stantec
Syed Yaseen, CIHT Technical Champion
Petar Valchev, Ramboll
Andy Pickett, CIHT Technical Champion
Samer Karrar, London Borough of Newham

Recognition is also due to CIHT staff members, including Isobel Wilson and Joan Roemmele.

The CIHT Partnerships Network is a collaborative hub for leaders and decision makers in the highways and transport sector.

The network provides organisations and companies with the opportunity work in collaboration with the Institution as a charity, learned society and membership body to promote excellence across the highways and transportation sector.

>>> Learn more about CIHT's Partnerships Network

Technical Champions are a highly valued group of individuals who CIHT turn to for their opinions.

By becoming a Technical Champion, you have the opportunity to join a network of leading voices in the sector, have your thoughts heard and share the work you are doing to provide better highways and transport systems. 

>>> Learn more about CIHT Technical Champions


Event recordings

Presentations for the launch of the CIHT paper The Role of Data and Artificial Intelligence in Decarbonising Transport which provide an overview of why and how the paper was produced.  The presenters explain the expectation that the paper offers an introduction to AI for the highways and transportation sector and opens up dialogue around the need to develop current use of AI and possible uses in the future.

Session 1:

An engaging Q&A session with delegates explored with the speakers the barriers to adopting AI, where there have been successes and what the priorities for our sector should be with regards to increasing the use of AI with the aim of decarbonising transportation.


Insightful presentations from Gaist and Agilysis, explaining the technologies and methods employed within AI systems and products.

Session 2:

A panel discussion that addresses direct questions from delegates on the topic of AI within highways and transportation, and provided further explanation and insights from Gaist and Agilysis.

Panel discussion:


Other CIHT reports published in 2023

Reducing emissions by 63% in a decade

 CIHT's report 'Reducing emissions by 63% in a decade' shares real world experience from across the CIHT partnership network about how Highways Authorities and their supply chain partners have reduced transport related carbon emissions via a wide range of measures including low carbon materials, logistics planning, electrification of construction plant, transport planning, procurement, innovative design, multi-partner collaboration, and reforms to codes and standards.

>>> Read 'Reducing emissions by 63% in a decade'


Green and blue infrastructure: A transport sector perspective

It is widely recognised that green and blue infrastructure (GBI), which encompasses natural and semi-natural features, interventions, and structures, can bring many social, environmental, and economic benefits to a local area. However, a recent CIHT survey suggests that these benefits are not fully acknowledged by the transport sector, even though the UK’s great heritage of street trees was largely created by local authority highway departments.

On this basis, we have made several recommendations to our members, central government agencies, and local authorities, which broadly cover three main tasks we believe are necessary to help improve and encourage GBI on our roads.

>>> Read 'Green and blue infrastructure: A transport sector perspective'


Help, Support and Media Enquiries 

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Get ahead with CIHT Membership

Join other savvy professionals just like you at CIHT.  We are  committed to fulfilling your professional development needs throughout your career

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