Transport outlook 2016

Interview with Simon Dixon

The UK is amid a series of high-profile transport developments that are transforming the country’s travel networks. Simon Dixon, who leads Deloitte’s public sector transport business globally, provides his take on the direction of travel.

Transport projects have been big news in the UK – how would you describe what’s going on?
More is happening in the UK’s transport now than at any time I can remember. There are the big infrastructure projects like HS2, there is major investment in updating our road network and we’re really coming alive to what technology can do for the passenger experience.

That’s all good news for the UK. Successful economies rely on connecting where people live and where they work, and projects like Crossrail are doing just that.

Does this create any unique challenges for the transport industry?
The transport policy landscape is changing shape and there are bound to be challenges in that. In the UK and in many countries around the world, governments can’t continue to fund new transport infrastructure in its entirety. So finance is a challenge and I expect to see the public and private sectors working together more fluidly to make projects happen.

That also means some of the UK’s transport bodies need to become less reliant on funding from the state and more financially independent. Making that happen requires a change in mindset and the ability to bring a commercial perspective to what they do. Airports tend to be good at doing that, and can bring in as much revenue from their commercial activities – things like retail, catering and advertising – as their flights.

The devo deals also have huge implications for transport. If an elected mayor can control the different elements of transport in a city or region, smart ticketing over the entire network becomes readily possible. And if they also control housing and economic development, and really make the interplay between transport, housing and business work, then the impact on those areas could be powerful.

Another disruptive factor is technology. When transport fails, passengers often have more information than their operator. That sums up how fast we have entered the digital age, how much it has empowered the individual and how far organisations need to move to adjust.

Can you tell us more about the impact of technology on transport?
Technology is utterly disrupting transport through five trends we identified in our Transport in the Digital Age report. First of all, public transport is becoming more personal and putting the passenger at the centre. Tech like smartphones is making that possible, and making it expected by customers.

Second, intelligent transport networks will increasingly sense passenger demand, track performance and respond to problems. Technologies like sensors, part of the so-called Internet of Things, have unique potential in transport.

Third, pricing and payments are changing fast. Transport operators are already adopting digital tickets and contactless payments but the next step is pay-as-you-travel where individuals are tracked across transport networks and billed accordingly.

Fourth, automation is big news in transport. Unfortunately, human error is the main cause of transport-related injuries and deaths, so there’s got to be a role for automation in safety.

And last of all, I believe that innovation can help the public and private sectors complement each other in ways that accelerate the development of transport technology. The public sector is best placed to stimulate advances and focus on citizens’ needs, while the private sector can bring expertise in digital and mobile technology, experience of cost constraint and peer-to-peer models.

The last question is: how do you see the future of transport?
I expect we’ll see more changes in transport over the next twenty years than in any other part of our daily lives.

In the next five years, paper tickets will disappear and our phones will be syncing our travel plans, telling us where to go and what to do, step by step. And transport agencies will be monitoring so much data that they will be able to predict and pre-empt problems.

Within ten years, we should see more automation. Most metro systems around the world will be driverless. Cars will be talking to other vehicles and road infrastructure to help drivers avoid snarl-ups and accidents. Airports could well have removed manned check-in desks in favour of self-service.

In the longer term – twenty years and beyond – transport systems will be intelligent in their own right, using cognitive computing. Your phone will make all your travel plans happen, from payment to boarding passes. And I suspect by then, self-driving cars will be on our roads.

Simon Dixon is Deloitte’s global and UK public sector transport leader.

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