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Live Labs Blog - TfWM’s Live Lab experience

Transport for West Midland's Jenny Corbett provides the final overview from their Live Lab programme

The Live Labs funding has given us a much greater understanding of our travelling public in the West Midlands region and how we can influence their behaviour. 

We set out in 2019 with high ambitions of using video analytics from Static Automated Traffic Cameras (SATC) and creating our very own 'granular personas' to understand more about journeys made, our customers’ lifestyles and how we could influence and support their travel needs to better manage congestion and keep the West Midlands moving.

Live Labs has provided a great opportunity to do things differently and to bring Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) into the digital future. At TfWM we have enjoyed working so closely with our existing partners Birmingham City Council and Solihull MBC, and benefited from expertise from outside of the organisation, with Connected Places Catapult, Trinity McQueen, Arcadis, IBI and LiveCrowd.  

Using SATC, we are now able to have a better understanding of journeys made in the West Midlands like never before. Although the project was initially for SATC to be used over eight key routes, we have now extended this and have 12 routes covered with further benefits from journey counts on 58 existing West Midlands Police SATC, giving us added intelligence. We have applied this learning into our operations from the start, thus enabling better management of the network, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of practical examples:

  • The cameras have given us a better understanding of how our roads are operating in real time so we can react quickly to resolve any issues and keep people moving
  • We are able to support major planned disruptions (such as M6, Junction 10 Bridge Lift that took place in September 2021), leading to a better understanding of diversions taken and interventions needed 
  • Birmingham City Council have been using the cameras to understand the impact of the Clean Air Zone outside of the city centre and monitor vehicle types

The granular personas have opened our eyes and enabled us to have a much deeper understanding of our customers. This is changing the way we have done things for years and helping us rethink how we design new services and products and work with developers to minimise traffic impact.

In our Live Labs pilot project in the Dicken’s Heath area and A34 corridor in Solihull, a campaign was launched in a geofenced area to alert travellers to messages that resonated with their travelling persona, encouraging them to think about their travel. Due to its success, Solihull MBC have secured further funding to continue this research, looking at zero-carbon mobility options that are most likely to encourage the ‘carefree affluent’ persona.  

The personas are also now embedded as part of our Travel Demand Management (TDM) work for planned disruptions taking place, helping to tailor messaging so it reflects our customers’ travel needs. An example of this comes from a recent three-day closure of Birchfield Roundabout in Perry Barr. The impact was demonstrated to affect two groups of people: strategic journeys along A34 and local east-west movements. To support messaging for local movements, the two dominant personas in the area were identified as Pressured Families and Striving to Get Ahead. This altered our messaging in two key ways:

  • These groups are highly unlikely to be able to work from home, continuing to commute to work during the pandemic, often on public transport. Therefore, we did not use the ‘reduce’ TDM message, and ‘retime’ and ‘re-route’ were priority messages 
  • Striving to Get Ahead are one of the groups most likely to cycle, and so we clarified active travel routes during the closure and ensured they were prominently included in messaging

As with any innovation project there is still a lot to learn. We still hope to be able to achieve one of the aspirations of the Live Lab goals we set of linking the travelling customer to their persona type. The work however is still very much ongoing and we are continuing to hold training sessions internally and externally on the personas and sharing best practice and lessons learnt and how to apply this to our daily activities. We are excited about all the intelligence we now have to better understand our travelling customers and using cameras to better manage the Games Route Network at the Commonwealth Games. 

Although I was only involved in Live Labs for a few months it has been a rollercoaster of learning and trialling new ideas. It has been a great experience to work on an innovation project, which we have already seen such great benefits from and will continue to learn from and for me personally I’m really excited in applying the personas in my day job to influence how people get around.

For more information about our project and previous blogs please visit our webpage:

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