The future of transport: system interoperability and standards

The future of transport will maximise convenience for travellers while minimising the impact on the environment and on our roads. A new BSI report highlights the role of transport data in achieving this vision and lays out a roadmap to how this can be achieved.

The future of transport (FoT) envisages transport users having their journey needs met by systems of interconnected transport modes that are accessible as a single product. FoT aims to maximise convenience while minimising carbon emissions, pollution and congestion. This will require transport providers and operators, service aggregators, payment agencies and local authorities to exchange accurate data in mutually intelligible formats.

Standards have a key role to play here, as demonstrated by BSI’s research, according to which organizational procedures can be a far more substantial obstacle to data exchange than technological factors. Following the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) consultation on FoT in 2018, BSI was commissioned to survey the current standards landscape in relation to FoT and to produce the report The Future of Transport: System Interoperability and Standards.

BSI identified many existing standards that already have a bearing on promoting system interoperability and data exchange required for the development of FoT, although the report found further standards would be needed in the future to realise future transport goals. This does not include standards covering areas such as cyber security and data privacy, which have a bearing on FoT, but were not within the remit of the report.

Furthermore, more awareness of how existing standards should be applied could help with adoption as not all of the standards identified are relevant in all contexts and there are overlaps in scope between them. Clearly, guidance is urgently required for FoT actors to navigate this landscape.

In response to the findings, the report made a series of recommendations for the development of FoT:

1. The first recommendation is that standards need to be developed for FoT, with an initial focus on actors’ roles and responsibilities and their management of data. Such standards will address the principles of FoT operation; answering the question ‘what is FoT?’ as well as addressing the principles of data commons management and the points of interaction between service suppliers and the customer.

2. This leads to the report’s second recommendation; the development of a data ontology. This ontology will define a precise, shared understanding of the data being generated by different FoT actors. Such data addresses the where and how of the journey as well as the payment and ticketing information associated with it.

There are already activities being led by the FoT sector that consider data exchange standards, but these remain uncoordinated. Furthermore, a lack of a shared understanding of the data already available was cited in the report as a barrier in this area.

The aim of the recommended data ontology is to develop an understanding and to better coordinate work already being done. The report suggests that a formal standard may be too rigid a solution to this dynamic problem, whereas a BSI agile standard or DfT private standard might be a more suitable alternative. The report also recommends involving existing FoT actors in a consensus-led approach to the task of developing the data ontology.

Looking further ahead, more work will be required to explore how improved data collection standards can achieve mobility goals around environmental protection, social inclusion and passenger safety. 

3. In accordance with the aim of taking a consensus-led approach, the report’s third recommendation is for the establishment of an FoT ‘data advisory panel’ to build and maintain the infrastructure that underpins FoT.

A lack of standardised datasets to support FoT and the current absence of a sustained approach to building a data infrastructure upon which FoT can operate - to which commercial sensitivity and lack of understanding of the benefits of data exchange are key barriers - will be among the topics addressed by this advisory panel.

4. The report’s final recommendation is the establishment of an authoritative FoT community. Communities already exist around FoT and they will be a valuable asset in future decision-making processes.

However, existing FoT communities are siloed, and their efforts are fragmented, whereas coordinated engagement will be essential in developing a roadmap to the delivery of FoT.

The challenges faced here are similar to those previously seen by the financial services industry with the development of Fintech. BSI’s report draws lessons from the Fintech experience, where the establishment of an industry-wide governance board helped to accelerate investment and growth in the sector.