Leon Daniels urges UK Bus Awards audience to embrace innovation and think about the future

 

Leon Daniels: ‘Everybody wants progress but nobody wants change’

 

Leon Daniels was thinking about the future when he addressed the UK Bus Awards in London last week. His own future, and the future of the bus industry.

Daniels, who was filling in for the absent buses minister, Jesse Norman, is entering a new phase in his career. He will shortly retire from his role as managing director, surface transport, at Transport for London, which he has held since April 2012, and later on in the afternoon he was back on stage to receive the ‘Services to the Industry’ award.

He hasn’t yet decided what he is going to do next, although he joked that he would spend his time sitting on the beach with his laptop, sending out Freedom of Information requests. “If I see you in the bar afterwards, it’s no good being nice to me now, because I’ve got the first 50 or so already prepared.”

And as Daniels prepares to enter a new era, he sees the bus industry in the same position. TfL’s surface transport supremo was addressing an audience of over 700 in the grand Art Deco surroundings of the Grade II-listed Troxy, a former cinema in east London. Just as the arrival of television forced cinemas to either close or adapt, he believes that buses will soon face a similar challenge.

Daniels does not plan to stay idle. He says he wants to help guide the industry’s response to some of the major societal changes that “are going to happen in the not too distant future”.

“As we in our daily jobs are stuck with the minor details, arguing about small things, like concessionary fares reimbursement, franchising, smartcards, there is a huge revolution taking place in the big wide world, which will fundamentally change the whole look of our industry,” he said.

“This smartphone in your hand is a window through which much already takes place, but the data networks are increasingly becoming the optimiser of networks. Those networks will transgress all the boundaries we are familiar with – passenger, freight. It won’t matter whether they are individual items or people, huge consignments of goods or large groups of people, your movements, your needs, your wants and your plans will be increasingly refined through these data optimisers, and as a result some of those traditional things will start to change.”

Daniels says that the proliferation of data is already impacting on London’s bus network, which he has overseen for the past five years.

“Thanks to the hard work of our people and our operators, our excess waiting time measure, reliability of the bus service, is at an all time best,” he observed.

“But it’s no longer delivering any growth because in technology through open data we’ve given real time information to all of our passengers. So instead of arriving at bus stops randomly, they arrive just before the bus is due or they make another intelligent choice, like walking and cycling. So the advent of technology has in fact brought a reduction in the number of people travelling.

“But it almost certainly goes much further than that. It lends itself to a new sort of personal mobility – in the sort of taxi, private hire, demand responsive space. With the advent of zero emission vehicles and the potential elimination of the driver, it could fundamentally change what any city’s bus and rail network could look like.

“Add to that the repopulation of cities, fresh thinking about what cities could look like, as places for people to congregate and interact, not places to run urban motorways through the middle, the removal of vehicles for air quality and safety reasons, planning of buildings for the first time with the streets around them, not just about the buildings itself, and this could easily create a quite different sort of demand for transport.

I can hear the cynics in the audience mumbling about how this is all Dan Dare comic book stuff, but I promise you it’s real

“So I can hear the cynics in the audience mumbling about how this is all Dan Dare comic book stuff, but I promise you it’s real.”

The previous night, Daniels had  listened to a presentation byarchitect Riccardo Marinithat reminded him how people tend to gravitate into silos.

“In our case, in our industry, those silos are the manufacturers, the operators, the engineers, the planners, the finance people, the politicians. And every silo adopts its own holy scripture, and once it’s adopted it holds it tightly to its chest and doesn’t believe that anything else could be true. People are loyal to their scriptures, and whilst you’re being loyal to it the rest of the world moves on.”

Daniels offered an example: “If I asked today what you thought challenge for congestion was in London now … you’d probably say it’s Uber and internet shopping. Actually we’ve data to suggest the real culprit is the need to deliver to food outlets, small supermarkets, Costa Coffee, Caffè Nero, Pret A Manger and small restaurants, which have no storage space so they need deliveries of their foodstuffs several times a day, this is what’s putting pressure on our network. Yet my scripture had convinced me that it was all down to internet shopping.”

He continued: “So in our thinking we have to break loose from our own tightly held views … We have to challenge those people who say that we’ll never eliminate the internal combustion engine, [or that] there will never be autonomous vehicles, people will never give up their car, people will never share a ride with a stranger, there’ll never be buildings with zero emission vehicles in them instead of outside of them.

“People will continue to say that …. the bus and coach industry will carry on in the next 50 years like it has for the past. So he [Riccardo Marini] reminded me, and this I think is a really important lesson for us all, everybody wants progress but nobody wants change. If our industry simply continues to talk about the future, but doesn’t allow the change, there will be some very serious consequences for the businesses that exist today.”

I call upon our industry, especially the new young managers, lift up your eyes from the daily grind, get ready for a revolution which is coming our way at great speed

Daniels finished with a rallying cry: “I call upon our industry, especially the new young managers, lift up your eyes from the daily grind, get ready for a revolution which is coming our way at great speed. We can’t keep reinventing what we have with the occasional marketing initiative and swanky new vehicle. Our industry needs a quantum leap into a new and hopefully more profitable arena.

“Einstein had something to say about this which I think is very profound. He says, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.

“This is our moment to do something radically different. Time is now and good luck to everybody who attempts it.”

Later on that afternoon I had the pleasure of announcing the ‘Gold Winner’ of the Passenger Transport-sponsored ‘New Horizons’ award, which showcases creativity and innovation. It was collected by the youthful team behind ArrivaClick, a new demand responsive minibus service that is probing the “new sort of personal mobility” that Daniels spoke about. It’s an example of an established bus group, Arriva, taking up the challenge of reinventing the bus.

Launched in March 2017 (PT156), ArrivaClick offers travel within a zone around Sittingbourne and the nearby Kent Science Park. Once users have downloaded the ArrivaClick app to their iPhone or Android device they can book their ride. They select their preferred pick-up and drop-off, and the app does the rest.

The UK Bus Awards judges appreciated the thought which had gone into providing an attractive and convenient service in a way which also tried to make the commercial case work for demand responsive transport. They thought that this had great potential and could tap into a new market of young professionals as well as being a good filler for smaller towns and rural areas that do not have bus services or ones that run at unsuitable times.

The ‘Silver winner’ of the New Horizons award was local authority-owned Reading Buses for its use of innovation
and technology while the ‘Bronze winner’ was Transdev Blazefield for VAMOOZ.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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