TRL teams up to #HackTheHighways with novel mixed-mode travel app

At Highways UK 2019 TRL fielded part of a multi-organisational team in the PA Consulting Hackathon #HacktheHighways event and developed the concept for an app that gives travelers options for their journey based on real time data about demand and congestion.

Published on 15 November 2019

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A blog post by Ed Wickens, Software Developer at TRL

Team Bravo comprised people from TRL and TRL Software, Pitney Bowes (asset management software), Raytheon (data analytics) and Transpix (computer vision for traffic) as well as a Highways England buddy. We each brought different skills as well as experience of, and access to, different types of relevant data.

This proved helpful in addressing the broad brief of the task: we were provided with a data set of people’s movements on a typical weekday based on O2’s location data and asked to analyse it to come up with some insights. The data was separated by road or rail, home or work locations and aggregated to large geographical areas so our first step was to consider what other data sets could be combined with this abstracted view of people’s movements to enrich it. TRL was able contribute to this with MIDAS and IRAP data, as well as a proof of concept for accessing live data from open rail APIs. Transpix demonstrated how jam cams could be used to give more accurate incident information, and Highways England provided Pitney Bowes with data on incident clearance times.

Over the course of 3 sessions, the topic that we chose to focus on was mixed-mode travel, using a combination of road and rail for a single journey. In particular, we looked at whether the real time equivalent of this movement data, about which Pitney Bowes had some knowledge, could be combined with other live data to manage incidents in real time by diverting road users to rail.

This generated our proposal: an app concept that could notify a road user travelling from Bristol to Wimbledon by car, to park up at Didcot Parkway and take the train the remainder of the way when there is an incident on the M4. Ideally, they could be nudged towards rebalancing the demand on the two networks with the offer of free parking or a free coffee on the train. This would offer several stakeholders (whether it is Highway England, a rail franchise or a local authority on the diversion route) the option to manage demand and achieve their own objectives with a novel incentive scheme enabled by technology, and could also help users to avoid lengthy delays.

A demo of this app was developed by Pitney Bowes and our concept was presented at the Highways UK event where it was well received and generated a great deal of interest and complements from several visitors to our stand. Our idea stood out from the other teams’ by focusing on the potential of this data if used in real time, rather than just looking at an historical snapshot. A demonstration of this concept app can be seen on the TRL YouTube channel.

The opportunity to work with a variety of other companies with an interest in traffic and data, as well as to develop innovative new ideas and discuss them with a wide range of stakeholders was fantastic. Many thanks go to all members of Team Bravo for their efforts in producing such a great result in only 2 weeks!

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