Regional transport authorities including Solent and the West of England Combined Authority are already well advanced in their implementations of new technology, introducing new MaaS solutions for their respective regions that make public travel a more streamlined end-to-end experience.
And yet, there remain many ways in which we could be harnessing data more effectively. It's time to move beyond the confines of the technical and commercial siloes where so much data resides now, seriously under-used and under-valued. An open data approach can empower analysts, operators and authorities to transform raw data into actionable intelligence about how passengers behave and the how services could be performing.
Integration is another significant piece of the puzzle. Rail, as the 'spine' of our transport network, operates with a level of complexity built up over scores of years and known well to its dedicated professionals. However, that complexity lends itself to a focus purely on railways, when what is needed is a vision for an entirely connected transport ecosystem. A unified network, underpinned by smart demand analysis through live data, has the potential to make public transport the obvious choice of mobility for the masses.
The fact is, we know it can already be achieved – just look at our nation's capital. London has set the standard for what integrated transport should look like. So what's stopping us from replicating the 'London experience' in other cities and regions of the UK?
It's a matter of more control and funding at the regional level, but it's within our grasp. The Social Market Foundation suggests that mirroring London's transport network nationwide could lift up to 1.5 million people out of poverty altogether. An improved transport network could increase access to employment by reducing travel time and costs, allowing people to seek job opportunities further from where they live. Additionally, efficient transport networks can stimulate economic growth by connecting regions, encouraging investment, and enabling businesses to reach larger markets.
But using data insights to create a fully-interconnected public transport network is only a worthwhile investment if we can guarantee committed, lifelong public transport users – which is where the argument for concessionary travel for young people comes in.
By offering free travel to all people under the age of 18, we wouldn't just be opening doors to education and job prospects; we'd be lifting a financial burden from parents and helping to shape environmentally conscious citizens. Free travel is about inclusivity and accessibility, ensuring that every young person, regardless of financial background, can get to where they need to be without cost being a barrier.
Such an initiative would fundamentally change the way future generations view and use public transport, embedding it as a natural part of daily life. But beyond the practical, it's a statement – a commitment to our youth that we're invested in their mobility and, by extension, their future prosperity.
Admittedly, the journey towards a revitalised, data-led, and inclusive public transport system isn't straightforward. It demands a shift in mindset, planning, investment and provision for urban transit and an acceptance that regional authorities understand their regions better than Whitehall. In the long term, the benefits would be overwhelmingly positive: works for everyone in the country.