Oxfordshire spearheads tech roll-out to reduce car use

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New software to help drive modal shift is being provided free to Oxford before being offered to other local authorities to help speed up the decarbonisation of transport networks and better target resources

Oxfordshire has become the first county in the UK to adopt new ethical technology designed to reduce single car journeys and build a zero-carbon public transport network. The technology has been provided free to the county by software company Zipabout and will support Oxfordshire County Council in achieving its Local Transport and Connectivity Plan.

The council has county-wide targets to increase the number of cycling trips made in the county to one million and remove one in four car trips by 2030. The plan, approved last year, includes proposals such as a zero-emission zone and traffic filters to encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport.

The new suite of digital tools will enable the council to reward greener travel choices with easily redeemable incentives, fully integrate micro-mobility options into the existing public transport network and provide unbiased real-time journey information to passengers. In what it says is a first of its kind ethical approach for mobility services, this will all be delivered through existing messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, eliminating the need for a dedicated app, and with no location tracking or harvesting of personal passenger data.

As part of the roll-out of the new technology, Zipabout will also provide the council with full access to data to help it better understand real-time transport demand in both urban and rural areas across the region. The behavioural insights will be used to plan public transport networks based on actual traveller need, with a view to solving current challenges around over- and under-used bus and rail routes. By improving the public transport experience, the county aims to encourage residents out of their cars and achieve sustainable behavioural change.

In what it calls a unique collaborative approach, Zipabout’s ‘Local’ technology platform will support and enable the services offered by all transport operators and mobility providers in the region, including Oxford Bus Company and Voi e-scooters. Cities around the UK are being encouraged to follow Oxfordshire’s lead and adopt the technology, which is being offered free to all local authorities to encourage long-term innovation.

Oxfordshire will also become the founding member of a new knowledge network, set up to enable cities and regions to identify common transport challenges and share best practice, eliminating the need for costly mobility pilots at the taxpayers’ expense.

Councillor Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways Management, said: “It is vital that we can provide people with information that shows the benefit of cycling, walking and public transport, and we hope it will help more people move away from car use. This council strives to be at the forefront of innovation by working with technology partners like Zipabout to provide the best solution for residents. Technology that is driven by data to encourage positive behavioural change away from cars is something we are keen to promote and champion.”

Alex Froom, CEO of Zipabout, said: “Predicting demand is the starting point to solving this mobility crisis. Knowing where people want to go, what their intent is, and when they want to travel is vital to understanding the issues that an urban area faces. Every traveller needs to be given ethical, impartial advice so they can make the right choices. Local authorities need an easy-to-use toolkit that allows them to utilise data, provide insight and ways to communicate with the public. There isn’t any need for a gimmick accelerator culture which creates yet another app. We partner with local authorities to enable innovation, and unlike others, we offer our technology for free.”

Zipabout is providing ethical technology to Oxfordshire County Council for free, and is working with all the county’s transport operators. RICHARD SHARMAN