The project was a perfect storm of interplaying factors, resulting in true innovative thinking which is now influencing strategy at ground level. With the recent publication of TfSE’s strategy, we are now starting to think about how this can impact on wider thinking - influencing a broader agenda into what the South East may or may not look like in the future. It is interesting to see how a shift in perspective can make others think a little differently too.
It always starts with collaboration. Late in 2018 we undertook a ‘Transport Technology Study’ as part of the development of the wider transport strategy in the South East. We helped Transport for the South East (TfSE) consider the challenges and opportunities that new transport technologies present to the networks and services across the region.
This Study was part of a suite of work led by WSP which has informed the recently published draft TfSE strategy. Our work looked at the changes influencing mobility, in order to see how new solutions could lead to better outcomes.
Despite our strong track record in the Future Mobility space, we realised that we had an opportunity to shift our perspective. We needed to ask a different question: it’s not just about future transport… what about people, the places they visit and the things they do?
Transportation and mobility are undergoing a revolution. Advances in digitisation are influencing the choices in when and how people (and businesses) access places to work, learn, heal, shop or play. People are doing things differently, so we needed to think differently too.
“For example, the traditional focus of transport planning and analysis has been on the ‘commuting’ peak,” explains Emily Ellis, WSP’s Future Mobility Consultant, “but with changes in employment and leisure activities many parts of the transport network now experience significant pressure at other times of the day and week as well.”
“Considering wider access and mobility needs rather than just traditional transportation modes provides for an integrated approach to people, the places they need to visit and the activities they undertake. This also allows for a wider consideration of land use, activity and mobility needs, all within the context of enabling economic growth across the region.”
But this new way of thinking needed a client with foresight in order for it to be fully realised. With TfSE, we found a particularly clear understanding of the ability of transport –
and changes to mobility – as an enabler of the economy. They are open-minded, receptive and large enough for new mobility theories to be evidentially-tested, at scale.
The South East region drives the UK economy. Most will be aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who travel regularly from the South East region into London, but perhaps less familiar with the fact that millions of people work in the region who have no link to London at all. It’s a region with a complex economic story and much to learn, as long as we ask the right questions.
“People tend to think of the South East as a dormitory to London but it is a distinct, super complex place in its own right – for example, it layers nationally significant ports and airports with hundreds of long-established local communities and businesses” explains Giles Perkins, WSP’s Head of Future Mobility. “TfSE realised this complexity needed a nuanced approach in order to maximise long-run benefits and growth - and turned to the potential of future mobility and freight at an early stage. That was very insightful.”
Emily agrees, “TfSE realised they needed to be proactive about formulating the idea of what they and their partners wanted the region to look like, rather than being reactive or assuming that the patterns of the past would simply continue to grow and replicate.”
This allowed us to shift our perspective, and think a little differently.
“We started with the externalities of change,” explains Giles. “We asked: what is changing in society, and what is changing in mobility? Together, what do these mean, specifically, for the South East as a place?”
This interlayering of perspectives along with an evidential approach, conducted at scale, enabled TfSE to formulate their own strategy - focusing more on people than on vehicles. It also allowed us to hone our own Future Mobility strategy in our own right. For the first time.
“Now we talk about it, it seems like the normal thing to do. But it wasn’t always like this,” Emily explains. “Transport has traditionally focused on the needs of vehicles and how we accommodate them in networks.
Now we think on a more granular level. We think about the person, or the business.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Half way through the project we were thrown a curveball from the DfT, which meant adapting our own internal strategy to fit new guidelines. Yet this only emboldened our approach. We had to react with agility to different problems: looking at the needs of people and place; answering questions posed by changes happening at government level; and recalibrating our thinking to meet the needs of TfSE.
This ultimately resulted in a project rich in qualitative outcomes, with a client whose work with us is not just growing - but ongoing. “Our strategy for TfSE is at the front-end of the comet, rather than retro-fitted at the end,” explains Giles. “TfSE are in the process of formation and future mobility thinking is baked into everything they are doing - and they are doing it very effectively.
The project had many interplaying factors, resulting in true innovative thinking which is now influencing strategy at ground level.
“We were fortunate to have a client with a strong vision for change,” Emily explains. “We all worked collaboratively, and were receptive to ideas. This also moved us into a new way of thinking which we have since adopted as our norm. Everything we do now starts with a question: what does it mean for you and me?”
With the recent publication of TfSE’s report, our strategy has started to impact wider thinking - influencing a broader agenda into what the South East may look like in the future. It is interesting how a shift in perspective can make others think a little differently too.
So, let’s change the way we think. Let’s create real change.