The Future of London’s Transport – how to keep an extra 2 million passengers moving
12 June 2019
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable with Shashi Verma, TfL’s Chief Technology Officer, at our member Pinsent Mason’s Liverpool Street offices. Shashi was the driving force behind the creation of Oyster and the push for contactless technology, removing a huge barrier to people using the transport system whether they hail from Hackney or Hong Kong.
Lessons from the past
Shashi took us back in time to illustrate just how far transport in London has come: from horse-drawn buses in 1829 to six million transactions a day across the network today. He reminded everyone in the room that the journey for London as a global city hasn’t been linear – from the pre-war population boom to the challenges the city was facing in 1992 when London First was founded.
Leaders in London in the 1990s took a bold view of what the future would demand of the city, bringing 14 transport authorities into one, shifting governance and championing devolution. His ask to everyone gathered was to look for that clarity today: to focus on the future of London, on how the country can grow as a whole without making London the bad guy and to look at how we achieve this when the money we’ve had in the past isn’t there.
Opening up the discussion, the first question was about when the tenders for installing fibre on the tube would be announced – and the answer was imminently. Shashi was asked about the role London could play as a global innovator: in using its heft to push for a shift to hydrogen vehicles, using AI to keep traffic moving, shifting to a real-time, demand-led scheduling system across the bus network and whether virtual reality has a role to play in asset maintenance.
Long-term planning for London’s growth
We also talked about the Mayor’s transport strategy and how possible it is to deliver, given the constraints on budget. Shashi was clear that what TfL needs is certainty from the Government on what infrastructure investment plans will look like into the future, not on a one-year horizon. Given that there will be 11 million people living in London by 2041 – and that much of our existing infrastructure will require maintenance in that time – he was firm that a longer-term outlook is the only way to anticipate and manage that effectively. And that in addition, new innovation on road pricing will be needed, modal shift will have to deliver, and greater investment will need to be made in public transport if we are to keep London moving and its capacity growing. If budget constraints were eased, he highlighted the Piccadilly Line as one of the places they’d most like to invest.
On freight, Shashi talked about the old model for lorry deliveries where they would stop off at sites all day. Now, they go in, do a delivery and leave the city. But not so for van drivers and cars delivering parcels, and this continues to contribute to congestion. Personal car use is falling, the number of private hire vehicles has stabilised, but delivery vans are taking up the space – he pegged it as a classic example of market failure, where roads are taken as a public good, but don’t behave like one.
Looking at the future, he touched on how data is heralded as both the answer to everything – and nothing – but did note the extent to which opening up TfL’s data has helped passengers make better decisions, and how the technology behind Oyster is now being exported to New York, Sydney and Brisbane, to name a few.
We discussed much more besides but, of course, had to finish the discussion somewhere. We did so with the recognition that London cannot be complacent, that it has many advantages but needs to create a shared vision for its future – and spend to secure it – if it is to stay ahead of the game.
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