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The changing role of…transport planners

Malcolm Ash BWB ConsultingContinuing our series on the evolution of disciplines in the built environment industries, Malcolm Ash from BWB Consulting shares his observations on virtual consultation and AI for traffic forecasting.


How would you describe the progress of tech in your role?

From a project delivery view, online collaboration tools have come into their own and are more effective than ever. For us transport planners, an increasingly critical part of our work is liaising with the public. The development of virtual consultations during the pandemic, alongside our Deetu colleagues, has been interesting. We found we have reached a much wider demographic than the traditional face-to-face events, which has given us different perspectives and inputs to the consultation process.

How has tech impacted your role?

The prevalence and increasing ease of acquiring big data is affecting the way we look at addressing analysis and information gathering. Real time information, more granularity and detail mean we need to look at the best ways to manage data and assess it to give us meaningful outputs. Route management is an area in which we are increasingly involved. A recent project in Redditch has seen the deployment of ANPR cameras monitoring specific routes which are agreed to be restricted for HGVs. We use analytics to provide automated reporting on transgressions which are then summarised and shared with the site occupier and the local authority. Legal agreements are in place with the Highways Authority to position kit on the adopted highway. However, up to a pre-agreed threshold, enforcement measures are dealt with by the site management.

Have your expectations changed?

We need to be careful not to disconnect technology from the very human experience we continue to live. Tech needs to complement the overarching goals rather than be a means to an end. For example, in transport planning terms effective deployment of digital twins is close to delivery, but not the panacea to climate change or congestion within cities. Multi-disciplinary work is critical; land-use planning, psychology, environmental science, social science, and government policy will all play their part in the development of a future transport system which is sustainable and inclusive.

What is on your wishlist?

I look forward to the development of AI technology to interpret and adapt analysis of real-time data to provide a clearer view of transport impacts on a macro scale. Current strategic modelling techniques are heavily reliant on retrospective data and trends, which is a problem when trying to forecast how a piece of infrastructure will be used in the future. The development of a ‘decide and provide’ approach to transport planning is in its infancy and the application of technology within this process needs to be more fully realised. This is in order to support bold policy moves toward a more balanced and sustainable transport offer. Yet this has to account for multiple metrics outside the common reliance on time and cost. Not everyone wishes to travel the quickest and most efficient route for every journey- how do you factor in the intangibles, like a stunning view, or a decent breakfast?

How does your organisation approach innovation?

At BWB we are very proactive towards innovation and new solutions. We have a great degree of agility within the organisation, backed by our parent company CAF which is a genuine innovator in the field of low carbon public transport. At BWB we have established a digital team which comprises individuals from different parts of the business who come together and share views and ideas on new tools, software and how we can best deploy them for our clients. This cross-fertilisation of ideas is helping to add a fresh perspective on issues that specific disciplines may have been struggling with in the past.

Malcolm Ash is account manager in transport and infrastructure planning at BWB Consulting

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