Inclusive and healthy mobility: Understanding trends in concessionary travel in the West Midlands

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography


In this project, we will develop a Data Linkage and Analytics Framework that permits the systematic analysis of new, novel, rich and complex datasets routinely collected by transport authorities for geographically extensive areas. The objective is to better understand the pressing policy challenges of social exclusion in daily mobility. The project will use data on electronic ticketing, GPS-tracked vehicle movements and ancillary sources collected by Transport for West Midlands and linked to administrative, consumer and survey data collected by the Office for National Statistics, the Department for Transport and ESRC. The project will use the secure data and computing infrastructure available at the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) to store, manage, link and process the data.
Given the demonstrator nature of this grant call, the focus will be upon travel patterns and behaviour change by older residents, who are eligible for concessionary travel under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS). Transport for West Midlands has recently detected a worrying dramatic decline in bus boardings by concessionary pass holders. There is an urgent need to understand and assess these developments, in particular with respect to their implications for health and well-being. Are declining mobility trends indicative of systemic failures to address the mobility needs of older residents? What, if any, are the likely consequences for social care and older residents' abilities to lead independent lives - for example with respect to social participation, fulfilling daily consumption needs, or maintaining livelihoods in a context of limited social provision and health care?
In order to investigate the possible causes of the decline in boardings, the procedures set out in our research design will examine and characterise observed mobility trends among concessionary pass holders that have withdrawn from frequent pass use since 2010 (the year in which electronic travel cards were introduced in the West Midlands Metropolitan Area). In order to establish potential causes of the decline, the mobility profiles will be compared with others that indicate sustained usage. This paired comparison will be grounded in a range of potential transport disadvantage indicators, derived by linking the profiles to small area statistics, indicators of consumer behaviour and transport surveys.
The specific policy problem of declining boardings will thus be used as a way to develop a general Data Linkage and Analytics Framework that can be applied to study transport and social exclusion more generally in different geographical contexts. Since an increasing number of cities in the United Kingdom and beyond are introducing electronic fare collection systems for bus passengers, there is a demonstrable need for a transferable framework of this sort.
The project will produce a set of policy recommendations, jointly formulated by UCL and Transport for West Midlands, as well as a clear strategic commitment to scale up and extend the framework. We envisage that a long-term societal benefit will be the use of the methods and findings to inform ways of improving and promoting sustainable, inclusive and health-supporting mobility for everyone across the country.

Planned Impact

The project will achieve high impact through the delivery of (1) academic benefits, (2) direct benefits to the transport sector, (3) direct benefits to residents, business, civil society and local government in the West Midlands Metropolitan Area and (4) wider societal benefits.
Academic benefits (1) will accrue from the improved understanding of aspects of mobility needs of older people. This is a research area of great concern because of its profound implications for health and well-being. The project will deliver innovative methods and heuristics to study social and transport disadvantage from a distinct angle of health geography at a rich level of detail for a large part of the population. Frameworks that harness Big Data for the purpose of social research are seen as a key trend defining the future of social science research. The ability to use data in this way will also open up possibilities to augment or complement extant, often costly and hence sparse and infrequent modes of data collections (such as travel diaries, bespoke social surveys or the Census).
Direct benefits to the transport sector (2) will accrue from the project's focus on a clear, existing strategic problem (the recent 30% decline in boardings) that needs to be understood urgently as it is linked to longstanding policy challenges around transport, growth, inclusion and well-being. The project will develop innovative new techniques to effectively link and analyse data routinely collected by TfWM in ways that will be transferable to Big Data holdings that become increasingly common for other cities. Hence, we will design the methods with a view to transferability. The insight developed in this research will also allow transport authorities to identify ways to deliver concessionary schemes in ways that cater better to the needs of eligible residents, thus addressing unmet mobility needs, social exclusion and healthy and sustainable travel.
Local benefits (3) will directly arise for existing initiatives fostering inclusive growth in the region (e.g. those by Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership) and other local civil society initiatives that endeavouring to turn data into public resources. This will help to create fairer and healthier urban environments and promote the social good (e.g. Impact Hub, Birmingham Open Data Institute). Local residents and other stakeholders will benefit from the data packs that will be freely downloadable from the CDRC website and the novel neighbourhood information therein.
Wider societal benefits (4) will be derived through the combined impact of the above initiatives. First, the interaction between mobility needs, the transport system and health and well-being are central to all residents as they affect numerous areas of life. The well-being implications of the findings and solutions of this project will be extensive, and policy recommendations will be formulated to address all levels of governance. Second, the project will showcase a way in which Big Data can contribute to a fairer society with better life chances and prospects for health, mobility, social inclusion and well-being.


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Description So far, we have identified different patterns in the decline of bus ridership among senior residents in the West Midlands. These patterns have a clear geographical distribution and thereby devliver first clues with what the declines may be associated. Preliminiary findings include that ridership declines in more deprived areas with a higher share of Asians in Birmingham. If further investigation substatantiatesthis and related findings, they can directly inform policy. Our work has also successfully demonstrated that it is possible to link smartcard data to other datasets and create a resource that can be used for both strategic long-term and operational purposes.
Exploitation Route Further refinement and sharing of the data resources will help Transport for West Midlands in their service delivery. Furthermore, the solutions we developed here will be transferable to other transport authorities in the UK because the data source, collection practices and analytical and computational challenges are similar. From a policy perspective, declining ridership are a UK-wide phenomenon and any findings as part of our research in the West Midlands will be relevant to other UK areas. We are holding a policy transfer seminar later this month, which will be attended by representatives of the Urban Transport Group, and in this way we expect that our findings can be disseminated and used more widely.
Sectors Transport

Description Hypothesis generation of the causes and location of declining mobility trends in the West Midlands together with Transport for West Midlands, the transport authority delivering public transport. Potential identification of areas to focus on in addressing declining ridership and ensuring equitable and sustainable transport in the region
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Bartlett Innovation Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 07/2018
Description Transport for West Midlands 
Organisation Transport for West Midlands
PI Contribution Our research uses a range of transport data our partners collect on a routine basis to understand the pressing problem of declining ridership in the region. Because the organisation does not have the time or resources to carry out in depth analysis of the research, it would have been to deliver this investigation.
Collaborator Contribution The project partners provided the data and any follow-up information in the process. Regular exchange in person and communication took place to ensure that research objectives are aligned with the needs of Transport for West Midlands. Their input informed our research strategy from the start.
Impact Follow-up innovation grant (Bartlett Innovation Fund) to generate a tool to assist Transport for West Midlands in their own research efforts.
Start Year 2016
Description Discussion with Essex Council 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to present and discuss the preliminary findings of the research project to Essex Council and their transport division. Since they face similar challenges, the discussion was met with interest. It is intended to have a follow-up dialogue once the project is complete and discuss implications of transport policy in Essex.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017