Project to develop personalised and shared transport service gets underway

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Bristol technology company, Esoterix Systems, has launched an Innovate UK funded project to develop a new transport service. Project partners include Bristol City Council, University of the West of England, Transport Systems Catapult, and First.

The Mobility on Demand Laboratory Environment (MODLE) will develop, test and refine a service that combines the convenience of point-to-point journeys with the environmental and cost benefits of shared use. Think of it as a taxi-bus, intelligently routed by real-time and predicted demand.

Key features of MODLE are that it will explore innovative business models to keep the cost of the service down and that it will integrate with existing public transport to make it easier to get from A to B sustainably.

“There is a lot of clever stuff behind the service to make it efficient but from the point of view of passengers it will simply collect them from near where they are and take them to where they want to go quickly, reliably and – crucially – at an everyday price” says founder David Stewart.

“There’s no benefit to passengers in duplicating existing public transport provision,” says David, “our aim is to provide connections to scheduled rail or bus services as well as transport for journeys which are not well served by traditional public transport.” To do this, the project draws on the knowledge and expertise of its partners First Bus, University of the West of England, Transport Systems Catapult, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire County Council.

Professor Graham Parkhurst (UWE Bristol) emphasised the importance of the trial, noting that “Recent years have seen a rise in the development of ‘smarter’ mobility solutions which draw upon information-communication technologies to provide more personalised and flexible transport services. However, not all these new services are integrated in the existing transport market. MODLE’s innovative ‘business model’, applied in a way to support existing public transport services, holds the promise of not only providing a better service to travellers but also promoting more sustainable mobility”.

The project will start delivering commuter services in the notoriously traffic-troubled North Fringe of the city in early 2017, with expansion to other areas in Bristol later in the year.

If readers working in the North Fringe area are interested in being updated about the service they can email hello@esoterix.co.uk

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 Notes to Editors

Esoterix Systems

Esoterix Systems is a Bristol based technology start-up working in intelligent mobility. The Mobility on Demand Laboratory Environment builds on previous Innovate UK funded projects including proof on concept and feasibility studies.

For more information see esoterix.co.uk

Or contact Liz Davidson 07977247362

Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency. Taking a new idea to market is a challenge. Innovate UK funds, supports and connects innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth. For further information visit www.innovateuk.org

First Bus

https://www.firstgroup.com/bristol-bath-and-west

University of West of England – Centre for Transport and Society

http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/et/research/cts

The Centre for Transport & Society (CTS) specialises in research and knowledge exchange on travel behaviour, transport policy analysis and technological change in the transport sector. CTS’s contribution to the MODLE project draws upon several of our activity themes:

  • How society and the motor vehicle coevolve
  • Travellers’ experiences of the travel environment
  • Understanding the barriers to more inclusive, lower-carbon, active travel
  • Supporting and evaluating sustainable mobility strategies
  • ‘Smart Mobility’: how information-communication technologies interact with transport systems.

During the project CTS will assist with: understanding the demand for MODLE in different market niches; evaluating the services offered in terms of their transport sector impacts and the experiences of users; sharing the experiences of the trials and enabling adoption in other relevant locations beyond Bristol.

Transport Systems Catapult

About Transport Systems Catapult

The Transport Systems Catapult is the UK’s technology and innovation centre for Intelligent Mobility, harnessing emerging technologies to improve the movement of people and goods around the world. We are here to support business growth, increase the UK’s share of the global Intelligent Mobility market, and attract investment – creating jobs and generating long-term economic growth.

We will help sell UK capability on the global stage, while also promoting the UK as a superb test bed for the transportation industry. With a clear emphasis on collaboration, we are bringing together diverse organisations across different modes of transport, breaking down barriers and providing a unique platform for meeting the world’s most pressing transport challenges.

The Transport Systems Catapult is one of an elite network of not-for-profit technology and innovation centres established and overseen by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. All Catapults obtain their funds from a combination of core Innovate UK support and competitively won business and public sector funding. In addition, the Transport Systems Catapult is receiving substantial funding from the UK’s Department for Transport.

For more information, please visit www.ts.catapult.org.uk

Bristol City Council

https://www.bristol.gov.uk/

 

 

Project to develop personalised and shared transport service gets underway

 

Keith Jackson joins Esoterix Systems

Keith Jackson profile pictureKeith Jackson has joined Esoterix Systems as Chief Technology Officer.

As a Bristol native, Keith is only too aware of the traffic congestion issues that blight the city and was quick to recognise the national and global potential of the platform Esoterix is developing.

Of joining Esoterix, Keith says “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to change the face of society for the better through technology.”

Indeed, the application of technology to real-world problems is one of Keith’s key strengths. His watchword is pragmatic, and he combines extensive experience in delivering complex IT solutions with a keen eye on business objectives.

We’re delighted to have him on-board.

We’re hiring

we are hiring canstockphoto22312865We’re looking for skilled, talented and ambitious people to join our small team at the start of an exciting project.

There are several roles open, including a Chief Technology Officer and Senior Software Engineers.

Salaries are competitive and include share options in a sector that grew 268% last year.

If you think you’ve got what it takes and you’re looking for a new challenge and to deliver a product that could improve people’s quality of life and deliver environmental benefits, we want to hear from you.

Full job descriptions are here

Welcome to Bristol

bristolBristol is a great place to live. It is regularly voted as the most liveable city in the UK (2015 and 2014). That’s not to say it isn’t without its problems but these are being tackled with the vibrancy and creativity that the city is becoming known for.

A consortium of authorities and organisations from Bristol, San Sebastián and Florence, has recently won an European Union bid for ‎€26 million to create integrated smart city solutions to tackle familiar urban problems such as traffic congestion, poor air quality and unsustainable energy use.

The project is called REPLICATE (REnaissance of PLaces with Innovative Citizenship And TEchnologies) and aims to look at how to further develop technology in order to create efficient, integrated and interactive urban environments that empower citizens.

Kevin O’Malley, City Innovation Team Manager for Bristol said:

Winning the REPLICATE bid further shows how Bristol is leading the way in researching what the cities of the future could look like and we are delighted to be collaborating with our local partners and with colleagues in San Sebastián and Florence. It is great to now finally be able to implement the smart technology our bid covered in order to create cities a that are better equipped and more resilient to the future.

REPLICATE scored top of all the consortia for its innovative proposal to integrate energy, transport and ICT at scale in the City. Transport is where Esoterix Systems fit in and we’re delighted to be part of the team that is working to make Bristol an even better place to live.

Back to school

school busBack to school next week and the joys of the school run. Getting kids to school can be hard work at the best of times. We’re fortunate enough to live close to our school but often children and young adults with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) have to travel further afield.

Under UK law, city authorities are obliged to support this group by providing free transport to and from educational establishments (be that school or college) if they live further than 2 or 3 miles (it varies).

Currently SEND transport provision results in much logistical fun and games where transport is booked, parents or carers notified, and contingency situations responded to on a day-to-day basis.

The service is expensive, it’s common for taxis to transport a single student at a time, and provides little or no visibility to parents and carers. If a vehicle is late they often ring the establishment for an update on the vehicle location, information the establishment doesn’t have without in turn contacting the driver.

In June this year the European Union awarded us a Frontier Cities grant to address the problems of the high cost of provision and low visibility of the service by developing SEND-TO, a FI-WARE application for efficient and effective SEND transport provision.

SEND-TO collates requests and calculates the minimum number of vehicles required to fulfil the SEND commitment on any given day. It automates the majority of the administrative overhead; and enables parents or carers to track vehicles, give the driver specific instructions (in real-time if necessary), and setup automatic alerts e.g. when a vehicle is approaching.

Unlicensed taxis are only the start

Barcelona is currently ground zero for a row about Uber. It’s fascinating to watch the disruptive influence of these companies (let’s not forget that Uber is owned by Google who, as kingpins of the internet, know a thing or two about disruption).

But greater disruption than unlicensed taxis are on the horizon. Drivers are the most expensive cost of many transport operations. Driverless cars (also developed by Google) herald the prospect of no taxi drivers at all.

Better brace ourselves, transport operations are facing a bumpy ride.

Revolution?

revolutionLast year, The Economist ran a feature on how our relationship with cars has shifted, particularly since the arrival of smartphones.

Last month, Christian Wolmar, premier transport journalist, said on his blog, “I suspect there is a revolution coming in transport just as disruptive as the internet has been to everything from newspaper publishing to Blockbusters, and we should at least understand the nature of innovation or, at best, embrace it.”

Technology is burgeoning with possibilities. Climate change is looming. And people are sick of sitting in traffic jams. The drums of change in transport are rumbling.

What better place for a transport revolution than Bristol? Currently, Bristol has some of the worst traffic in the country. There are various proposed infrastructure projects to improve traffic along main corridors into and around the city. Buxi, however, aims to complement those by improving the public transport offering for the first and last mile of a passenger’s journey, and to cater to those journeys that don’t lie on a transport corridor.

Buxi C.I.C. is now in discussion with major employers in the North Fringe area of Bristol and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to provide the service to people travelling to and from work, to help alleviate traffic and parking problems in the area. We’ll keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, keep your ears and eyes open, change is on the way. (And you might just love it.)

Test-run three: to Cabot Park, Avonmouth

strong-arm-mdIf you think about it, Avonmouth should be bustling. It is one of the UK’s major ports for chilled foods. There are also large chemical manufacturing plants and distribution centres for major retail operations. It has good motorway and rail links. In 2010, there were 14 200 people employed in the area and it has been designated an Enterprise Zone with the forecast of creating 10 000 new jobs by 2030.

And yet, in an email written a year ago in support of the WEST bid for LSTF funding, Sue Turner of the Bristol Port Authority described Avonmouth as having the feel of a ‘withered arm’. Why?

One reason, and frankly the one we at Esoterix are interested in, is public transport. There isn’t any. Or not much.

Take Cabot Park (in Avonmouth)as an example. There are some trains but from St. Andrews station to where people work is at least a half hour walk.

Those reliant on public transport to get to work (but not living directly on the train line) have a miserable time.

Most people living in the North West of the city, such as in Filton, Horfield, Southmead and Brentry, have to take one or  two buses to get to Lawrence Weston. They then face a 45 minute walk down Kings Weston Lane, a road without lighting and, for a large part, pavements. Picture that in winter: a long, dark, cold, dangerous journey to work.

Unsurprisingly, driving is how most people get to work. Many employers admit that, if a job applicant doesn’t have a car (and a driving license, obviously), their company will throw their CV in the bin. No car, no job. No job, no car. It’s a vicious circle.

And I’ve told you all that so you have a bit of background before I tell you this: how our test-run to Cabot Park went.

It was frosty, it was dark, it was early one morning in December when we picked up our passengers and delivered them to work. As in our previous test-runs, operationally things went smoothly.

So what did the passengers think?

74% agreed that buxi is a good idea. When questioned, the other 26% turned out to be unsure because of misconceptions about the service. For example, one person thought the service would run only once in the morning and once in the evening and would therefore stop them from working overtime; in fact, the service would run regularly in order to accommodate all the different shift patterns across Cabot Park. Another person assumed the service would be significantly dearer than using a car; in fact, the service aims to be cheaper.

87% of participants currently use a car to get to and from work and the other 13% cycle or use public transport. The majority of the car drivers said they would use buxi daily at the right price (that price generally being the cost of petrol). The cyclists would use the service in bad weather.

There was widespread support for a shuttle service between Avonmouth and St. Andrews stations and Cabot Park.

Many people expressed the wish that “the service had been around when they first started work”. It is well understood that new recruits are more likely to consider adopting sustainable modes of transport than long-time employees.

If Avonmouth is to attract the 10 000 new jobs, efficient, sustainable transport options are needed now in order to avoid the need for large and expensive road infrastructure projects in the future. A recent report by Atkins states that only 1 000 of those new jobs will materialize if there is no significant improvement to transport provision in the area. If Avonmouth is to feel like a strong and healthy arm rather than a withered one, the area needs transport solutions.

The test-run reinforced our conviction that buxi is a good fit for Cabot Park. Buxi can service a large area, delivering passengers to the door of work and adjust to shift patterns of the various companies, without committing to the expense of a scheduled service.

If you agree (or if you don’t!) please comment.

Test-run two: Yate to Southmead Hospital

The 22nd November was a rainy day. Swathes of Britain had been flooded and, although Bristol wasn’t as badly affected as other areas, many of the country roads that commuters often use as alternative routes into and out of Bristol were out of action. This made traffic in and around the city particularly bad.

The 22nd November was also the day that we ran our second test-run, from Yate to Southmead Hospital. Here’s a summary of how it went, rain and all.

As we had in our first test-run, we ran two vehicles during two 3 hour windows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, because individuals’ work hours at the hospital vary considerably, many of the passengers who had registered to use buxi couldn’t because the departure times didn’t suit them. Some got in touch to express their disappointment and continued interest in buxi, including Kerry Cleaver who said

I was really excited at the thought of not having to drive to work but unfortunately the timings don’t fit round my day […] what a shame! I think it’s a great idea though and hope it takes off.”

In fact excitement about buxi was common from all the passengers. One lady normally catches the bus to work. It takes her two hours to get to work (and she often arrives late) and two hours to get home again. Four hours on buses, on top of her full working day. To be collected from close to home and taken directly to work, and to arrive within an hour was a real treat. When asked what she’d pay for the service she said, ‘Any price would be considered’. The sentiment of a woman who is tired and frustrated and feels stuck.

Another passenger normally travels to work by train. This involves a 30 minute walk from the hospital to the station, the commuter train which stops at Abbey Wood is notoriously over-crowded and uncomfortable, and she relies on her husband to collect her from the station at the end of the day.

But for most, (as in Kerry’s case) it was relief that they didn’t have to drive.

Interestingly, approximately 40% of the respondents to the test-run offer lived outside the test-run area. They had their own stories of the daily difficulty they face in getting to work.

It is clear that the people working at Southmead are putting extraordinary effort into getting to the hospital to do their jobs.

During conversations with passengers on the buxis, all expressed an interest in using the service in the future although for some their decision would, naturally, be price dependent. We already know that cost is a key decision factor, even if they currently feel desperate the price has to be fair. And the service has to offer tangible benefits over their existing journey.

Despite the extra heavy traffic caused by the rain, we completed our journeys in less time than the passengers would normally expect to take in their cars. The bus lanes helped a little (even if they are only in operation from 7.30 to 9.30), as did the experience of our ever chirpy drivers, Matt and Chris.

Happy passengers, collected without a hitch, delivered on time, and expressing an interest in using buxi in the future: we gave ourselves a tick. The main lesson learnt was a good one: people travel to and from from the hospital throughout the day rather than just at peak times.

If you took part in the test run, how do you feel about buxi? Your thoughts and experiences, as ever, are crucial to us building the service you want.

Test-run One – Bradley Stoke to Filton

we-are-learningAfter months theorising about passengers and designing a system that we hope they will like and want to use, finally putting buxis on the road for the first time was a major step. When you’re trying something new, you expect it to be a ‘learning process’ (read, you expect to make mistakes). This is a little summary of what we learnt – good and bad.

Firstly, it became apparent that the 1.8 miles from Airbus to Abbey Wood seems an awfully long way to passengers in bad and unpredictable traffic. For them, the time we spent travelling to Abbey Wood was wasted time and lessened the attractiveness of the service. When planning a regular service, this detour would reduce the number of shuttle runs we could do to our destination (Bradley Stoke). And, although in theory we could get more passengers on the vehicles, in practice the extra time the journey takes would deter passengers from Airbus getting on in the first place.

To entice people out of their cars, the level of convenience needs to be high and the journeys need to be an efficient use of the passengers’ time. Sitting in lines of traffic going in the wrong direction just ain’t efficient. So any services we run to Airbus and Abbey Wood have to be separate, not combined.

However, removing one leg of the journey enables us to do more shuttle runs, offering greater time choice to passengers and improving convenience. If this encourages more passengers then it reduces the cost per passenger. Which brings us on to price…

Price matters. Whilst we can argue that taking a buxi is a comparable to or even cheaper than driving, only 8% of our passengers said they would consider selling a car if a regular buxi service were available to them. This means that any fare they pay to use buxi is on top of car ownership, not instead of. This makes price critical.

And price-matching a day-rider bus fare isn’t cheap enough because, on the whole, these are already considered expensive. So, we’re looking at ways to get the price down to a level which is attractive and still provides an excellent level of service and convenience. It can be done but it needs bums on seats: passengers.

So what will encourage passengers to change their travel habits and choose buxi when the service starts? ‘Modal shift’, as it’s called in the transport industry, is notoriously difficult to bring about. However, car driving in the North Fringe of Bristol is reaching a critical point because there simply isn’t enough car parking.

Every employer we’ve spoken to has, or will soon have, significantly less car parking spaces than staff. Employers’ choices include charging for parking and/or issuing parking permits that is, refusing some staff the option of parking at work. But who and on what basis? It becomes very negative.

For the passengers who are already denied parking permission and who struggle to get to work using alternative transport, buxi would be (in their words) ‘a god send’.

People need viable alternatives to get them to work and we’re working with employers to meet that demand. Meeting passengers face-to-face turned out to be affirming, 96% of our survey respondents said they think buxi is a good idea. And whilst we’ve got to work on the convenience levels and price, we’re learning.