Cash boost for future of transport in Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire’s road users could see a technological revolution take place in the coming years that could involve important traffic information being used to help them to get around more easily thanks to a successful bid for £1.25m of Government funding.

The cash, which has been through the national GovTech Catalyst initiative towards work to transform the existing Oxfordshire traffic management system– ready for the Government’s hoped-for introduction of connected vehicles by 2021 as well as other new mobility options, such as electric vehicles.

More to transport than cars

Many people think of the new wave of transport in terms of cars. However, connected vehicles - anything that can be linked up via the internet to a wider system - could mean vans, buses, lorries, motor or pedal cycles. Even wheelchairs could take advantage of new technology to get around more easily. Everyone stands to benefit.

GovTech Catalyst is a £20 million fund set up to help public bodies like Oxfordshire County Council work with private sector innovators to find new solutions. Oxfordshire’s money will pay for researching how data – of which there is lots and from varied sources – could be used to help manage traffic in the future.

The county council already has its own traffic control centre based in Kidlington which takes information from roadside cameras, traffic sensors and online services like Google Maps.

However, as comprehensive as it is at the moment, traffic management systems in the UK were set up to respond to conditions that had largely not changed since the 1980s. But now, with the advent of a new breed of transport options which thrive on information, new ways of working need to be explored.

It is hoped that the new money will help to develop ways of harnessing data, processing it and finding ways to push it back out onto the road network or direct to vehicles or other road users.

The future of transport in a thriving county

Oxfordshire is thriving – more jobs and homes are good news for the economy and communities, but what does this unprecedented growth mean for things like the future of transport?

County Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet member for Environment, said: “Not many councils are like Oxfordshire – our thriving communities are at the heart of everything we do.

“The challenge is to be ready for the new wave of transport. That means different and cleaner power sources and brand-new technology such as computer assisted transport.

“Oxfordshire is also the first council to include connected and autonomous vehicles in its Local Transport Plan. These vehicles can be anything including bicycles, wheelchairs, vans, public transport and cars.

“There is a massive amount of work to do to make everything work, and that is why we are delighted to receive £1.25m from the Government towards the research that is needed to see how we could upgrade our systems to see connected vehicles work seamlessly with traffic on Oxfordshire’s roads.

“The council is in charge of the majority of Oxfordshire’s roads, and is also home to some world-class high-tech companies, so we know we can have a real impact in shaping the future of transport.”

Technology working together

So what could this mean for Oxfordshire residents? There are currently around 7,000 vehicles travelling to Oxford at peak times – none of which communicate with each other or with the traffic management infrastructure.

Oxfordshire County Council is the first UK local authority with a dedicated team focussed on connected transport and autonomous vehicles. They work on a range of projects and see better integration with traffic lights and other traffic management, as well as other traffic, as crucial to improving safety and helping to tackle traffic jams. And while intelligent vehicles could take some of the stress out of driving, but there is more.

Councillor Constance explains: “While autonomous vehicles would ease congestion in the urban areas, in rural areas they could help people to more easily get to hospitals, or their jobs. That’s why we want to focus on holistic adoption and think beyond urban hotspots for this technology. We have the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.

“We also need to create a system for communication between traffic management and vehicles, and this also needs to work in tandem with other council run equipment in other parts of the country.

“There is a lot to do, but that is part of the excitement and challenge. And the fact is that autonomous vehicles WILL be part of the future with Oxfordshire County Council playing its part.”