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our research design will examine and characterise observed mobility trends among concessionary pass holders that have withdrawn from frequent pass use since 2010 (the year in which electronic travel cards were introduced in the West Midlands Metropolitan Area).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 The main objective of this research was to better understand the persistent withdrawal by concessionary senior passholders (age 60+) from free bus use in the United Kingdom. To achieve this objective, we processed travel smartcard data, time tables, GPS vehicle trackers and geospatial data of our study region, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The study period spanned six years (2010-2016), which is unusually long for projects using Big Data.
Our research achieved its objective of better understanding boarding trends in the region and developing a data linkage framework. At the same time, we faced important data and computational challenges by modifying our research design. This presented an important learning experience relevant to the wider research community, as we could identify and set out scope for a future research programme. Our modified research design constituted two parallel tracks.
First, we analysed each passenger boarding frequencies over six years and discovered six types of passengers. This work involved linkage of smartcard data and the anonymised passholder database, which also records residential areas and permitted further linkage to Census and transport network data. Using the results, we could relate the decline to several causal domains, including changes in eligibility to the concessionary scheme, health-related factors, changes in the transport system and social and economic causes. In each of these domains, we could discard and discover new hypotheses about boarding trends, and outline a programme for future investigations testing these hypotheses.
In parallel, we developed a more complex data linkage framework linking smartcard data, GPS vehicle trackers, ticket machine logs, timetables and service and transport asset databases to derive detailed journey characteristics. Large data storage requirements limited this work to two years of the study period (2014-2016). As part of this, we developed a full data linkage solution alongside novel methods of imputing journey characteristics based on incomplete data. We outlined a future programme to refine and extend these method to the entire study period, which would generate a unique evidence base on senior residents' travel in the WMCA. Moreover, our framework conforms to industry standards and is hence transferable to other UK regions.
We have prepared all project outputs for web access at Users will have access to key policy and research findings summary, two technical manuals, downloadable sets of indicators generated from this work, visualisation on CDRC Maps ( and an interactive online dashboard. Our work also developed considerable skill in analysing smartcard and transport data, which will help build further research capacity for future applications in this field.
Exploitation Route Academic community: Our findings make a substantive contribution to inclusive and sustainable mobility in the context of ageing and a methodological contribution on complex smartcard data linkage and analysis. The website will provide access to indicators and data for reuse by researchers.
Civil society: Residents and charities (e.g. ageUK) can use our online data and material as an evidence base in their engagement with local authorities on issues of inclusive, accessible and sustainable transport. Using university impact acceleration funding, we have also developed an interactive online dashboard, which allows users to visualise and customise queries on trends and patterns of bus and tram travel by senior residents.
Transport sector and local authorities: Our partners at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) can use a more detailed version of the dashboard for strategic and tactical applications (e.g. travel demand estimation, planning, schedule adjustment, targeting of subsidies). TfWM and other transport authorities can use the technical manuals to replicate the linkage solutions of smartcard data. The key findings report available on the website may further inform the policies by TfWM, WMCA and the Department for Transport on design and target of concessionary schemes and novel Mobility as a Service solutions. Indeed, TfWM have stated in email communication that our "findings are already influencing [their] own forecasts and policy thinking".
Sectors Transport,Other

Description Hypothesis generation of the causes and location of declining mobility trends in the West Midlands together with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), the transport authority delivering public transport. Potential identification of areas to focus on addressing declining ridership and ensuring equitable and sustainable transport in the region. Improved ability by TfWM to, for the first time, query detailed characteristics of concessionary travel demand based on passenger demographics at high spatial and temporal granularity over the piloted period, harnessing new value from administrative data sources.
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 Responsible Automation for Inclusive Mobility (RAIM): Using AI to Develop Future Transport Systems that Meet the Needs of Ageing Populations
Amount £500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/T012587/1 
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 01/2023
Title Accessibility Estimator 
Description The accssibility estimator provides codes and detailed descriptions of steps to measure dynamic public transport accessibility to a range of urban services at high temporal and spatial resolutions. The tool builds on and links existing Open Source tools including OneBusAway GTFS converter (, OpenStreetMap (, Python geospatial libraries and the OpenTripPlanner (see routing engine. Our solution accepts commonly used UK-wide administrative datasets as input data, notably ATCO-CIF bus timetables, Ordnance Survey ITN transport network data, OS Points of Interest and NAPTAN databases. As a result, our accessibility estimator provide a novel, integrated processing solution tailored to the data and resarch environment of UK transport authorities, thus adding value to existing research infrastructure. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Using the accessibility estimator, we were able to develop the first dynamic accessibility measures for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Such measures are valuable for transport planning and urban research and were received by our partners, Transport for West Midlands, with great interest. The work is transferable to most other UK transport authorities, which operate within very similar data and research environments. We are hoping to extend this work to develop further, policy-relevant and novel indicators measuring accessibility vis-a-vis mobility needs in a dynamic way. 
Title Data linkage pilot 
Description A github repository documenting the steps and data needs to link smartcard data transactions recorded according to the UK-wide ITCO format. Using this repository, it will be possible for the first time to turn ITCO public transport smartcard transaction data into research resources under certain conditions, adding value to exisiting research infrastructures held by transport authorities. The repository is a pilot and consitutes a first step towards potentially generating a robust, generalisable and scalable toolset to process 'big' smartcard data over long time horizons for research purposes. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The pilot framework enabled us to model origin-destination flows of different types of bus passengers at different times of the day over a period of 2.5 years. This model informed our partners, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), about the detailed usage of the concessionary scheme for the region's public transport network and contextualise part of the observed decline in bus patronage. TfWM had not been able to analyse the data in this way before due to the absence of such methods. The pilot is transferable to other UK transport authorities collecting data under the ITCO format to help them understand trends in public transport patronage. 
Title Geodata packages 
Description The geodata packages summarise the most important indicators developed in this project at the level of Lower Level Super Output Areas (LSOAs). The indicators include a typology of passengers travelling under the English National Concessionary Scheme (ENCTS) and their distribution throughout the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the number of ENCTS eligible residents throughout the region in the past and forecast into the future, travel times by bus to a range of points of interest (supermarkets, retail centres, GP practices, hospitals, railway stations), the number of ENCTS boardings per month and LSOA, and monthly origin-destination flows of ENCTS passengers (2014-2016). These datasets can be downloaded as Open Data from the data catalogue of the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC, and are mapped on CDRC Maps ( 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The resarch data can be downloaded and accessed by anyone interested in issues of social inclusion and transport in the WMCA. The launch of the data have been announced in the CDRC network. CDRC data and maps are highly accessed resources attracting a large number of diverse users. As a result, the data outputs are highly visible and accessible to the public. No specific, expressed queries in relation to the data outputs have been recorded as yet. 
Description Transport for West Midlands 
Organisation Transport for West Midlands
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
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
Title Bus patronage dashboard 
Description A web-based, interactive dashboard for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) visualising bus patronage trends and patterns by passenger travelling under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS). The dashboard allows users to monitor trends across the 2.5 year linked study period of the project and query details of passenger journeys, including their origins and destinations. The dashboard visualises the results thus sharing how the ENCTS scheme is used in a publicly accessible manner. Dynamic accessibility indicators and historical and future forecasts of eligibility to ENCTS are also included in the dashboard. Query results can be downloaded as CSV files. The entire software is Open Source and can be downloaded from a Github repository. A detailed installation and user manual is provided as part of the repository. A separate, more granular version has been developed for the exclusive use of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) only. This dashboard allows TfWM to query further journey details, e.g. filtering origin-destination flows by passenger demographics or time of day of travel. This version of the dashboard includes extended functionalities and granularities, and since these imply that low counts can be queried (not meeting standars of disclosure control appropriate for public use), this secure dashbaord has been shared with TfWM only through secure data transfer and a separate installation and user manual. Meeting data protection requirements, this secure dashboard is run in the secure environment of TfWM. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The dashboard provides a way for Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) to monitor demand under the ENCTS with great detail. The dasboard was designed with input by TfWM, who expressed that this software provides an accessible and informative evidence base for both strategic and tactical activities valuable for transport planning and wider policy considerations in relation to the ENCTS concessionary scheme. 
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
Description Knowledge exchange seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a knowledge transfer seminar in Birmingham on 27 March 2018, in which we invited regional and national public sector professionals (local authorities, Department for Transport, Urban Transport Group), individuals involved in policy making and academic researchers. The seminar reported on the findings of the research project 'Inclusive and healthy mobility: Understanding trends in concessionary travel in the West Midlands', the analysis of regional trends in residenital mobility, ethnic segregation and consumer behaviour conducted by the UCL Urban Dynamics Lab and the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC). We discssed the implications for regional transport policy and practice in the United Kingdom and shared updates ideas on latest advances in research using new and emerging forms of data to address complex policy problems. Researchers and practitioners exchanged knowledge on research findings, challenges and policy issues, and many attendees expressed that they benefitted from the discussion in terms of greater understanding, new ideas. updated views. We and the project partners at Transport for West Midlands received requests for further information and engagement after the event.

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Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Research update meeting and knowledge exchange (23 May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of results of this project and knowledge exchange with regional transport authority. Specification of further work to support their strategic activities and regional policy making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019