Imagine a hospital without doctors or a school without teachers. As social systems, they would just not work. The same could be said for a connected transport system without local authorities.
Local authorities are key pieces in the jigsaw that is connected transport. Without their involvement, even the best private sector innovation in this area will struggle to exploit this growing market.
Encouraging the solution of common challenges
At Innovate UK, we in Connected Transport have recognised this and hence have rolled out competitions such as Intelligent Transport Solutions - Local Authorities and Enhancing the End to End Journey, which with a combined fund of £20m have encouraged local authorities and Industry together with academia and the Catapult network to work together on the common challenges faced by Connected Transport.
However, in this vast and confusing sector, local authorities themselves face numerous challenges. The biggest difficulties being around procurement, big data and lack of know-how on where to start when it comes to Connected Transport.
With inconsistencies in their procurement systems from region to region and often a lack of understanding on what to procure to make the most effective allocation of public funds, local authorities certainly have their work cut out.
Data - providing opportunities and challenges for local authorities
Data, whilst providing huge opportunities, also provides immense challenges. What data do we have and where does it come from? Can we share it? Should we share it? How do we cleanse it? What about security issues? Often the authorities don’t know how to safely unlock the opportunities for the data they hold.
We have observed though the activities of the Transport Data Initiative that local authorities tend to fit into one of 3 groups. The first being those authorities which are already innovating, working with industry to make headway against challenges such as congestion and safety. Then the largest group are those which want to innovate, recognise the need but just don’t know where to start or who to approach. Finally, and thankfully the smallest group, who have no interest in innovation and are happy with their once a week bus route for Mrs Miggins to go to her bridge club.
Teaming up local authorities with business and academia
We are working with local authorities to try and help them meander these waters though innovation. Though our funding and connect models, we can team local authorities up with businesses, academia and catapults in what ultimately becomes a mutually beneficial partnership. Innovators need somewhere to test their intelligent or smart mobility innovation at scale which the authorities can provide whilst they in turn receive forward facing solutions to their current challenges.
So far we funded over £2m to local authorities across 3 competitions reaching 20 local authorities across the UK.
We are in the midst of 4 regional local authority symposiums where we are meeting local authorities in a more personal basis to really understand where our interventions are best placed to support them in gaining social improvements through innovation and the resulting economic growth. These meeting have so far been fascinating and will enable us to align even further.
Bringing multiple groups and organisations together
Also recognising that other organisations such as Department for Transport, the The Institute of Engineering and Technology and many others are also supporting local authorities, Innovate UK have instigated an activity which brings these organisations together to share activities and priorities. As a shared interest working group, this collaborative group of currently 14 powerful organisations can provide a much more powerful support to local authorities.
As we work out the terms of reference for the group we are recognising more and more the need and the benefit that this guiding hand can have to support local authorities innovate in the area of connected transport either that be in data, MaaS (mobility as a service), customer experience, intelligent infrastructure or smart ticketing amongst many other areas.
Who doesn’t like to complete the last piece of a jigsaw....?
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