Questioning why something has to be delivered the way it is and finding an innovative approach to reaching customers has proved very fruitful for many organisations. Consider Hailo and Uber in the taxi space, Zipcar or City Car Club in car rentals, Warby Parker for glasses, or Amazon for, well, anything. Each are successful because the traditional model didn't quite deliver in an optimal way. There was nothing wrong with London's beloved black cabs, for instance, but needing to be in the right place at the right time wasn't always that useful. Combining the convenience of your smartphone with the trusted network of black cabs was a winning solution for Hailo.
For London, most of this innovation seems to have occurred in the car space. One could argue that it was an area that was ripe for disruption. Not only has increased convenience and lower pricing been passed on to consumers, it has also led to a more efficient use of resources. Simply put, a cab doesn't now have to search the streets in pursuit of their next fare if they can be hailed online (in theory at least). That's good for everyone. As is surge pricing, providing a far more reflective price for transport at that moment than an across the board fare rise could.
But where is the innovation in other areas of transport? The Guardian details a recent conference looking at exactly this issue:
According to the Department for Transport, which wants to tackle growing congestion on Britain's roads, the use of smart technology to allow travellers to easily transfer from bus, to train to tram, to park and ride scheme could be one of the most important tools to overcoming perceptions of inconvenience and high cost on public transport.
But the experts from cities, bus operators, passenger groups, IT firms, financial services providers and the Department for Transport who attended the Guardian roundtable agreed that while smart technology holds enormous potential to improve urban transport and cut congestion and pollution, Britain's cities – with the exception of London – have been slow to get on the road to the smart ticketing revolution.
London is ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the UK, but is there more to be done? Oyster provides an easy to use solution to jump between different modes of transport and TfL's laudable opening up of transport APIs have resulted in some genuinely useful tools appearing (consider City Mapper) for use by commuters and tourists alike.
One of the biggest innovations in London transport in recent years has been the move of a number of train operating companies onto the Oyster network, allowing customers to travel seamlessly between destinations using, almost, any transport solution they wished. In a way, TfL has provided the disruption that users of its services were calling for.
But is there more to do? TfL appears to think so. If the transport is there, then alerting people to the options available is one way to better use the services available. We've seen walking directions proliferate in central London, and now TfL and Clear Channel are working to take this a step further with realtime transport information at bus stops:
...commuters will be able to check out not only live, updating bus wait times and locations, but also information relating to transfers onto other services like the Underground and the tube's own timetable. Users will also be able to check out the status of local Barclays "Boris Bike" cycle hire stations, as well as be given walking directions to nearby points of interest.
The service is only in pilot at the moment but this kind of solution is surely a key part in creating a smarter transport network, and better informing commuters of their options. It's a win-win for TfL - providing clear and up-to-date information for their users, and relieving capacity across the network. Let's hope to see more of this in the future.