Scotty, Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise said that “you cannae change the laws of physics”.
Well, that’s as true for land-based transport as for spaceships in Star Trek. As transport infrastructure gets filled to capacity we can only do so much to get more trains (or cars, or aeroplanes) through a network. In the world of urban transport we’re getting close to the point where no more trains can travel through certain lines. More and more our challenge is to think about how people move around cities, streets, stations, vehicles, how they make decisions, how they think, how they move – and how they are one of the system of systems that make up a smart city.
Throughout my engineering career I’ve been brought up thinking about how to get more trains through a section of railway, measuring things like ‘trains per hour’ or headway. But what’s that all about? Are railways there to move trains around? Well yes, it matters, but urban transport systems are there to move people around – and they/we are odd things. We all have our own priorities, our own routines, our own journeys to make. How quickly people can move through a station, how quickly people can get off a bus, how they react to disruption or crowding and a million other behavioural issues directly and significantly impact the performance of the urban transport network.
Psychology or technology?
The exciting challenge facing all of us today is how best to create transport systems that optimise their use of energy, minimise cost, maximise the use of capacity and provide a customer experience that leads people to enjoy – or at least tolerate – using public transport. It’s increasingly more to do with psychology rather than technology, and only by collecting, analysing and acting on ‘big data’ collected by systems like Siemens’ Mindsphere platform can we even hope to at least bend the laws of physics, even if we “cannae change them”.
Trends in urban mobility