Cambridge is unique. It is small by most accounts, with a population estimated at 143,653 in 2018 (UK population, 2018), yet has large global influence with it being the home of Cambridge University – one of the world’s leading academic institutions (Times Higher Education, 2020). As a result of its academic importance, Cambridge is home to numerous tech companies ranging from SMEs and startups to world leaders such as ARM, Apple and Microsoft. This is coupled with a technologically literate population: 23.5% of the population work in ICT and the tech industries (Office for National Statistics, 2018). The combination of a small geographic area, high expertees and a large proportion of the population being digitally literate, would ear-mark Cambridge as an ideal locale for the infusion of digitalization within its existing infrastructure.
However, the flip side of having a large proportion of the population working in ICT/tech is that wage and income polarisation is rife. Cambridge, in terms of income, is the most unequal city in the United Kingdom (Ferguson, 2018) with “the top 6% of earners [taking] home 19% of the total income generated by residents, while the bottom 20% of people account for just 2% of the total” (ibid). Another issue the city faces is the strangling effects of near perpetual grid lock, for the traffic in the centre of Cambridge is appalling. Take the example of Cambridge train station, which was visited an estimated 11,983,320 times over 2018-19 (Dataportal.gov, 2020). The story goes, as a quirk of mid-nineteenth century interventionism on behalf of a prudish university, the station was built away from the centre of the city – roughly a 25 minute walk – in order to prevent students from hopping on a train and heading to the depraved streets of London. As a result of its location, there are often substantial hold-ups between the centre of town and the station. The road linking the two, Hills Road, on any given weekday will be beset with traffic, for instance on Monday the 24th of February 2020 at 08:16 it took vehicles 6.2 minutes to travel the 0.456 kilometers to the turning off for station road – an average speed of 8.2 miles per hour on a road with a speed limit of 30 mph (Smart Cambridge, 2020).
Another feature of the city’s transportation infrastructure is the nature of the road network. Cambridge has grown over the years, yet the road network remains relatively unchanged. Take Mill road as an example, a street and thoroughfare which runs in parallel with the aforementioned Hills road. Unlike the former which is wider with bus and cycle lanes, Mill road is a cramped and often congested street, but it also only leads to residential areas – whereas Hills road is the main artery for road users to get to not only the station, but also the hospital, a leisure complex and a number of schools and education institutes. Like most cities, Cambridge isn’t able to expand or widen the legacy road network.
In a means to alleviate the worst excesses of congestion, the city has a number of public transport services. The most predominant being the bus service. There are 8 ‘Citi’ bus routes which connect the city’s suburbs and surrounding villages with the city centre (Cambridgeshire County Council, 2020). Another means of reducing traffic is the 5 ‘Park and Ride’ services, where drivers park their private cars on the outskirts of the city and get the bus into the centre (ibid). This service is popular with workers during the week and with shoppers at the weekends.
There is also the Guided Busway. This project, although initially over budget and behind schedule (Elliott, 2017) has become a central component of the city’s public transport network. The route links the nearby market towns of Huntingdon and St Ives through the retrofitment of former train tracks, which had been unused by the public since the 1970s, where the busses drive along concrete tracks. Within Cambridge’s city limits the service connects the city’s two train stations, Addenbrookes hospital (and its large research and innovation park) and the Cambridge Science Park through four different services. The advantage of the Guided Busway lies in the flexibility of the busses use, for they can drive through the concrete tracks in a similar manner to a tram or railway, but can also be used as a normal bus on the city’s road network. It is of importance to note that all of Cambridge’s bus services are supplied through a public/private partnership with a selection of service providers – the majority of which are run through the Stagecoach organisation.
There is one more aspect of transportation within Cambridge which is in need of mentioning; cycling. Cycling in Cambridge plays as central a part in the city’s visual essence as the grand university buildings and throngs of tourists. A combination of its relative flatness, decent cycling infrastructure – 80 miles of cycle lanes (high for U.K standards) and an environmentally progressive population (Elliott, 2018) combine to make Cambridge the unofficial top city of British cycling (Laker, 2017) with an estimated 30 percent of all commutes in Cambridge taking place by bike (ibid). Indeed cycling offers ‘last mile’ (Stigo, 2017) solutions to the city, with substantial bike parks being located at each of the city’s train stations offering a way for workers in the city to travel by train.
Despite having a comprehensive public transportation system and a large proportion of transport taking place on two wheels, Cambridge, as discussed above, has an issue with traffic and general transportation inefficiency. In order to combat this, the city has turned to smart technologies as a means to alleviate the strain on the city. What follows is an analysis of the various smart transportation initiatives underway, as well as an investigation into the plans for the future of Cambridge’s transportation network.
Intelligent City Platform
In 2017 the city introduced the Intelligent City Platform (ICP), a means of producing “real-time data from an array of sensors around the city that can be used in a host of applications” (Intelligent City Platform, 2020). This platform is fed data from numerous sources:
- Air quality and temperature
- Traffic control
- Road network
- Other sources: Twitter timelines, weather, Google traffic and Train departures
If we take a city to be an assortment of layers, then the ICP is a data layer which operates in between the infrastructural layer and the services layer, which is manifest in the various operational bus services within the city. Cambridge intends to utilise this digital layer through extracting data from both the infrastructure layer and the services layer as a form of feedback loop. The ICP is the platform, through which, the smart city functions. Therefore, Cambridge is approaching the infusion of the digital with the existent through platform technology. In its purest form, a platform is simply a “digital infrastructure that enables two or more groups to interact” (Srnicek, 2017, p43) – the ICP facilitates the interaction between, say, traffic flows or air quality and the city council. This connection is manifest in one particular case study.
In 2019, Cambridge train station was undergoing maintenance, closing a bridge which spanned the tracks stopping traffic. This bridge, the Mill road bridge, is essential in linking large parts of the city together. Smart Cambridge, the organisation driving the smart city in Cambridge, created The Mill Road Sensor Project and “used this opportunity to install sensors on Mill Road and the surrounding streets, from May 2019 for up to 18 months, to monitor the impact the bridge closure has on the local road network” (Connecting Cambridgeshire, 2019). This implementation of the digital layer atop the existent infrastructures would produce valuable information pertaining to the city’s traffic flow, thus “knowing Smart Cambridge had installed these sensors, the Signals Team for Cambridgeshire County Council contacted us to ask if the data was showing an increase in traffic on Cherry Hinton Road” (ibid). The ICP therefore connected the Smart Cambridge project and the Signals Team – the Signals Team being a non-public service to the city – in a manner which represents the essence of the technologically understood smart city: the connection of infrastructure and service though the creation and utilisation of data.
The Mill Road Sensor Project provided data to the Signals team, who “wanted to know what the new sensors were showing as they had received notifications about increased congestion levels, and in particular that it was taking a long time for vehicles to exit the junction on Clifton Road” (ibid). The data revealed that a “relatively significant increase in traffic on Cherry Hinton Road, which in turn was reducing the amount of time vehicles had to exit Clifton Road” (ibid) was occuring. Therefore, the Signals team used their SCOOT (Split, Cycle and Offset Optimisation Technique) system – which controls the coordination of traffic signals along certain roads – and “changed the timings to give more time for traffic on Clifton Road to get through the traffic lights [which] reduced delay and congestion on Clifton Road” (ibid). The project claims that “this was a direct result from better understanding of the traffic flow movements” (ibid). This example illustrates how the implementation of a data layer, in between the infrastructural and service layers produces tangible improvements in urban efficiencies. The ICP is also used in a number of other transportation projects and services in Cambridge, below lies a few examples.
Smart Journey Planning
MotionMap Mobile Travel App
Cambridge’s smart journey planning is composed of two, end-user services: a mobile travel app and smart wayfinding screens (Smart Journey Planning, 2019). The former comes in the form of the MotionMap Mobile Travel App, a service which “brings together ‘real-time’ and local timetable information to more accurately predict travel times and suggest the best routes in and around Cambridge – using a mix of buses, trains, walking, and cycling” (ibid). The app draws data from the ICP, which hold relevant data from the sources mentioned above. This data, combined with the users geo-location smartphone data and the location of nearby busses, produces, in theory, a useful tool for navigating the city. However, the useability of said app is dependent upon two factors.
Firstly, the accuracy of the app’s information provision and geo-location capabilities. Anecdotally speaking, I have found the app is often inaccurate, especially waiting for buses, where it creates ghost busses, stating that one is nearby but in reality is not. This usability issue feeds into the second factor. For if the app doesn’t perform as expected, it will not be used by the general public, other than perhaps as a curious novelty. Many different smart city projects rely on the smartphone as the physical base for their projects (Gabrys, 2014 & Pak et al, 2017), however there are other means of delivering transportation information without the need for a handheld device.
Digital Wayfinding and Smart Panel Screens
Although in their early stages of utilisation, the implementation of Digital Wayfinding screens clearly demonstrate the linkage of the infrastructural, data and services layers. Once again, in the same manner as the Motion Map app, these screens provide the “latest travel updates and useful visitor information” (Smart Journey Planning, 2019) through taking data from the ICP and displaying it to the public. However, a difference between these screens and the app emerges in the target audience for their use. The app is intended for residents, those who interact with, and use the city’s public transportation network, whereas the screens are aimed at those who are visiting Cambridge. This intended audience has influenced where the existing screens are placed, with one being situated outside the train station and the other at the busy Trumpington Park and Ride.
Unlike the external positioning of the wayfinder screens, Smart Panels are to be found across the city’s various council buildings, the public library, at both Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University as well as at the Cambridge offices of AstraZeneca. The screens can “display live bus and train times specific to the location, together with road traffic maps, travel updates on Twitter, and weather reports” (Smart Panel Screens, 2019). These screens have been developed in collaboration with the University of Cambridge (ibid). In a departure from the wayfinder screens, these are customisable for each user, meaning that the user can select what information they wish to have presented (ibid).
The above examples of the Intelligent City Platform and the services it has produced – the Motion Map app and the screens – demonstrate one arm Cambridge’s smart transportation policy. These developments follow an ‘improvement’ path, i.e. they represent a digital enhancement of existing infrastructures, rather than a systematic change; evolution not revolution. However, there is another aspect to the city’s development of its transportation infrastructure which pursues a ‘shift’ perspective.
The Future of Cambridge’s Public Transport
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and Smart Ticketing Research
Mobility as a Service is “the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand” (MaaS Alliance, 2019). Rather than having separate bus, rail, car and bicycle services, the city provides them all through a subscription service. So, what is Cambridge doing in the pursuit of MaaS? The Smart Cambridge project is currently “exploring how MaaS solutions could offer more sustainable travel options and improve people’s lives in Greater Cambridge and beyond” (Smart Cambridge, 2019) through:
● Working with local bus operators to see if they can make their data available to other third parties, so they can begin to use it to develop new tools to encourage bus use.
● Carrying out an audit of transport data available to councils that can be used to augment the bus data, thereby creating smarter and richer applications.
re-use to really encourage a market for new apps and travel planning tools to develop Mobility as a Service.
● Investing in the development of a
free-to-use, multi-operator, multi-modal travel app MotionMap, using real-time and timetable data to more accurately predict journey times.
● Researching options for integrated ticketing allowing users to pay easily for travel through debit cards, mobile phones and travel cards.
Cambridge’s foray into the world of MaaS is in the most embryonic of stages. However, the steps being taken are certainly in the right direction. A cornerstone of the smart city is the dismantlement of so-called ‘silos’, or the “isolation of individuals and departments in different units, people and groups who share little and who indeed hoard information valuable to others” (Sennett, 2013, p7). The removal of silos is an essential first step in the creation of MaaS,
especially in a context such as Cambridge, where the various stakeholders originate from different sectors: the busses are privately owned, the ICP is a product of Cambridge University and the infrastructures are owned by the council. Another facet of the city’s plan is the cultivation of an innovation ecosystem to create applications off the back of publically available data sets, an approach which is certainly well suited to a city like Cambridge with its aforementioned high levels of digital literacy and tech industry credentials.
What of the services provided to the citizenry? Firstly, there is intended development with the Motion Map app, which is linked to, but not an essential development in the delivery of MaaS. However, the other services layer development, smart ticketing, is another essential element in mobility as a service. Smart ticketing is already underway in certain elements of the city’s transportation system, with Stagecoach busses offering an option to pay with one’s credit/debit card as well as with smartphone payment apps. However, this is only on busses, not taxis or trains. In 2018, the city along with transportation consultants ARUP, commissioned a feasibility study into integrated ticketing. Within its findings, it showed that
travellers in Greater Cambridge have more ticketing options than other parts of the country including smart cards, season tickets, mobile apps and online sales. Contactless ticket payment is already being rolled out by Stagecoach and sales of PlusBus combined rail and bus tickets are second highest in the country. Fully integrated ticketing solutions using new technology are still some way off due to economies of scale, but could be introduced county-wide in future by linking to regional or national systems such as TfL (Transport for London) (Smart Travel, 2019).
This shows that Cambridge has set off down the right path to MaaS. What the above quotation also reveals is the requirement for Cambridge’s own transportation network to connect and link-up with other services, to remove intra-national silos. This would require an unprecedented level of cross collaboration between not only different companies or academic institutions, but between different jurisdictions, which in turn raises several questions. This will be discussed in the concluding section. This section has so far dealt with the proposed shift in service provision, but what of the infrastructure layer, is there a Cantabrigian transportation shift on the cards? Potentially, Yes.
Autonomous Vehicle Trials
When discussing Cambridge’s existing transportation infrastructure in the paragraphs above, the Guided Busway featured prominently. When built and completed in 2011, it was designed to be a quick link between towns and Cambridge, yet the unique nature of the busway – concrete tracks, set away from the general public – serves as a realistic and ideal test bed for future transportation systems. In this case the planned testing of autonomous shuttles. The original plan is for “autonomous vehicle passenger trials […] to begin in late summer 2020” (Smart Cambridgeshire, 2019, p10). The shuttles are twelve-seaters “designed and manufactured by engineering firm Aurrigo, the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group” (ibid) and are intended to create “a cost-effective and efficient service that will benefit residents and visitors to the city” (ibid). The tests will comprise “an initial out-of-hours trial on the southern section of the
Guided Busway (segregated from other traffic)” (ibid). Ultimately, “it is hoped that this trial will demonstrate how autonomous vehicles could support people moving easily, safely and reliably around key sites in Cambridge [and help towards] the aim of getting 1 in 4 people out of their cars and using more sustainable modes of transport” (ibid).
Asides from the testing and physical development of the shuttles, Smart Cambridge is also carrying out research into intelligent mobility, through exploring first/last mile transport solutions, investigating better traffic network management and improving customer experience, building the foundations to gather better data and creating an environment which encourages companies to innovate to help solve mobility challenges (ibid). Although a way off, Cambridge is an ideal location – both physically (guided busway) and culturally (links to the university and tech sector)
– for autonomous vehicle testing. Alongside this, Cambridge is also in need for reduced vehicular traffic, especially as the city is growing and increasing in population size, yet is hamstrung by a legacy road network which is ill suited to current traffic levels. The final section is a conclusion of this case study and an analysis of Cambridge’s transition from legacy transportation systems to the smart.
So, what are the challenges for the city of Cambridge in updating and shifting its legacy transportation system into a smart one? Firstly, as referred to above, for a smart transportation system to be operational, the various forms of transport within the system – bus, bike, car, train for instance – need to be interconnected. The first steps in this have taken place via the Motion Map app, through which all of the city’s transportation services are combined. However, these services are still owned by different entities and thus, will function under different standards. For Cambridge to fully embrace smart transportation, the city needs to create a set of standards and interoperability mechanisms to ensure that the numerous stakeholders involved are singing from the same hymn sheet. Another infrastructural consideration for the city is upgrading its ICT capabilities. Cambridge, with the Intelligent City Platform has a working base for the interconnection of sensors that lies as a cornerstone of smart transportation and with the imminent roll-out of the city’s 5G network (Kay & Curtis, 2019), Cambridge’s ICT infrastructure appears set to handle the demands of smart transportation.
In terms of the city’s transportation services and their shift to smart technology, there are two issues which need to be considered. Firstly, the question of new business models arising as a result of digitalization and secondly, the uptake and utilisation of said services by the population. As for new and emerging business models, Cambridge’s existing digital innovation culture and the expressed desire for Smart Cambridge to make the transportation data publically available, ear-marks the city as a fertile environment for the development of new business models. However, issues pertaining to user acceptance and the digital divide exist, especially in a city as unequal as Cambridge. The utilisation and planned expansion for the digital wayfinding screens is a positive step in addressing a lack of accessibility, owing to their placement within public space. Yet, if Cambridge shifts to MaaS and a subscription service comes into effect, the
council will need to subsidise financially vulnerable residents or set up a scheme where subscription fees are reduced, for instance offering a discounted rate to families with young children. Another element of addressing the social impact of smart technology is through ensuring user acceptance of new technology. For this, citizen participation in the development of these new services is a must. If the city is keen for residents to utilise smart travel planning applications, then current users of Cambridge’s transportation system should be included in the development and shaping of future transport systems.
There are numerous questions, not only pertaining to infrastructural issues such as upkeep and financing responsibilities, but also to issues surrounding the use and ownership of data. Take the hypothetical example of MaaS combining the transportation systems of Cambridge and London, where questions immediately arise when concerning data. For, who would own the data produced, would it be TfL or the city of Cambridge, or even the service providers/technological facilitators (in this case Cambridge University). Following on from ownership, what standards and interoperability protocols would need to be implemented? Who would be responsible for the issues arisen from data privacy and security concerns? Questions such as these will need to be addressed before the basic improvements in the city’s infrastructure become reality, let alone MaaS or autonomous transit can be implemented.
Finally, who is set to pay for these developments and how will they be paid for? The Intelligent City Platform was a project financed by Cambridge University (Data – Intelligent City Platform, 2019), whereas the Motion Map app and Digital Wayfinding/Panel screens were financed by Smart Cambridge, which, in turn is financed by a plethora of funding agencies: The EU regional development fund, The Greater Cambridge Partnership, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, as well as the UK government (Smart Cambridge, 2019). These funding mechanisms derive from a centralised top-down position. Yet, for the ‘shifts’ intended in Cambridge’s transportation services, different streams of income are included. For MaaS, as referred to earlier, the city seeks to utilise the well developed and entrenched tech sector to produce new services and with the development of autonomous vehicles, the city has entered into a partnership with Coventry based Aurrigo, however it is also receiving £3.2 million in governmental funding.
Overall, Cambridge is in a good position regarding the provision of smart transportation systems, for it already has the ICT infrastructure in place with the ICP and a culture which fosters technical/digital innovation and development. It also has the pressing requirement of a growing city with a need for solutions to a significant traffic issue, which could act as a spur to drive development forward. What is holding back the development of a smart transportation infrastructure are unresolved issues around data ownership/management and standards/interoperability amongst stakeholders. If the city were to resolve these issues, a smart future beckons for Cambridge transportation.
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