Analysing the UK’s transport data strategy

26th Mar 2024

How is data being used to improve highways and transportation infrastructure and planning? John Challen caught up with the Department for Transport (DfT).

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A seminal moment for the DfT and data occurred in 2018 when the department completed a piece of work with a consultancy called North Highland. ‘Local transport data discovery’ looked at local transport data to try and understand what data was available and if it actually had value, commercial or otherwise. 


Fast forward a few years and many of the current DfT projects have been directly or indirectly prompted by the conclusions of that report. An example relates to legislation around driverless vehicles which contains a measure within it about digitising traffic regulation orders.


Meanwhile, one of the many details that data aggregators need is access to accurate, real-time information about the road network. At some point in the future, a driverless vehicle will need that same information to follow the path it is required to take. DfT is currently at the stage of building a digital service publication platform, onto which data will be put in a standardised form.


Another example of DfT using data to benefit the road network is Street Manager, which is used by local authorities and utility companies to plan and deliver roadworks or street works.


While users must pay for it, because it is digitised and built according to modern digital government standards, there is instant data available about the current state of the millions of works that are underway at any one time. If the department knows more about these works, it can help make policy decisions that are informed by data, rather than views or opinions.


Then there’s the Plan for Drivers initiative, which includes an investment of £70m to upgrade, improve and innovate traffic signal technology. Through the Transport Technology Forum, £20m of that money is dedicated to the Intelligent Traffic Management Fund (ITMF), which will give authorities the chance to deploy advanced technology for traffic control, using emerging technologies to optimise vehicle flow and balance traffic across city centres.


All English local highway and combined authorities outside London will be able to apply for funding and it is expected that as many as 12 projects using innovations - particularly artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques to make traffic signals even smarter - will be possible. 


Finally, the National Parking Platform (NPP) is another example of a data-based, digital service that can be traced back to the North Highland project.


It focuses on real-time parking data and enable users to pay for parking digitally on one single app, instead of using the one belonging to whichever local authority they are in. Running as a pilot for two years, the NPP is a tangible example of how data can make a big difference to something that is otherwise a big issue to many people


John Challen was in conversation with the Department for Transport.


Last year, CIHT released a report into the role of data and AI in achieving transport decarbonisation.


Main image: Department for Transport entrance on Horseferry Road, Westminster; credit: Shutterstock

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