Transport users expect to find it easy to use technology to find out about services and pay for them, Sir Peter Hendy tells London Transport Awards

Transport for London commissioner Sir Peter Hendy has urged the passenger transport sector to keep pace with rapid technology-driven changes which are changing the way that people expect to interact with businesses.

The theme of technology dominated Hendy’s address to an audience of 500 transport professionals at the London Transport Awards last month. He pointed out that 70% of Londoners now own a smartphone and 87% use the internet for maps and directions. Recalling the criticism that TfL received spending over £1m on thousands of iPads and iPhones for its staff ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games, he commented: “All we were doing was giving them the same level of technology and information that our millions of users are using every day”.

Hendy said that the dawn of this new digital age has brought a dramatic shift in customer expectations of how they should be kept informed and be able to do business with TfL. “They’re comparing what we do not with other transport systems, but with people like Amazon and Apple,” he said. “They’re looking at how well apps work in the transport area as a comparison with how well you can go shopping, and actually that’s a real challenge for people like me who are steeped in the transport industry.”

He cited London’s Countdown real time information system as an example of a technology that has “transformed people’s ability to use our network”. “You no longer have to guess. You don’t have to feel unsafe. You don’t have to stand in the rain. You can look at when the bus is coming and go out and walk round the corner to the stop as it turns up,” he said.

Hendy, who is also president of UITP, the international association of public transport, believes that London is regarded as a global leader in terms of using technology to interact with its customers. For example, it is now possible to use contactless bank cards to pay for travel on London’s buses, and this will be extended to rail services later this year.

However, he warned that the transport industry must not attempt to develop solutions in isolation from the wider world.

He said: “We’ve probably held ourselves back as an industry from making faster progress because of some balkanised boundaries and I think that one of the things that we now have to recognise is that trying to invent special payment systems designed for transport – some of you will know what I am talking about – is yesterday’s technology. Actually, Oyster is becoming yesterday’s technology … By and large, in five or 10 years’ time, contactless payment is where we’re going.”

Open data is an area where Hendy belives that TfL is now a world leader. Over 5,000 applications have been developed for London’s transport network, despite a hesitant start. “We’ve learnt, I’ve learnt – I had to change my opinion – that keeping the data to yourself to ensure its purity is a useless aspiration in a world of information technology,” he said. “What you should be doing is flinging it out freely as far as you can, allowing these people who are cleverer than we are … to actually use it in ways that will work. The best ones survive and the rest of them fall by the wayside.”

He added: “It’s interesting that the most resistant organisations to [open data] are by and large the state railways corporations of places largely, but not wholly. in Europe who think they’ve still got a monopoly on the control of information for passengers … This information isn’t something that should be husbanded for money, it’s stuff that should be available to customers and users to stimulate travel and sell tickets.

“The time is coming when all of this has to be seamless and all of this hopeless balkanisation will be regarded as both useless and futile.”

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!