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“We have a very strange contradiction in the industry at the moment…”

Paul Hutton, Communications Manager - ITS (UK)

Paul Hutton, Communications Manager – ITS (UK)

Paul Hutton, Communications Manager for ITS (UK) suggests the ITS sector should do more to blow its own trumpet.

I have long thought that we don’t do enough to trumpet our industry’s achievements to the wider public, which as I’ve droned on about many times, I think leads to less investment in technology because the public don’t understand it so don’t demand it from government. We need to think about how we can engage more with the mainstream to get people more excited about what we do, not just driverless cars (which, frankly, have probably got their profile more from Google than what we’ve done ourselves) but everything from safety systems to transport modelling, which all make journeys more reliable and safer.

There’s also an almost automatic knee-jerk reaction sometimes to transport technology. Remember when the free flow charging scheme at Dartford was first announced? Headlines could have been all about the use of technology making journeys quicker and easier. Instead they were BIG BROTHER IS MONITORING OUR JOURNEYS despite a similar technology being used in London for congestion charging for years.

I know that a politician won’t get as excited about being photographed standing in front of a server running predictions using the latest transport modelling software using big data as he or she would be posing in a high viz jacket beside a major new road project, which to me makes the work we need to do showing off our really great lower-cost-lower-disruption solutions even more important.

In another of my roles as editor of Smart Highways magazine, I wrote in my last foreword about how I have recently benefitted directly from two innovations in our industry. In one, I drove on a Bank Holiday Friday evening from Essex to Yorkshire and, despite some huge delays on my obvious route, because my sat nav was dynamically altering my journey based on real-time traffic conditions, I was able to reach my destination having only taken half an hour longer than the notional fastest time, which to me is pretty amazing!  Similarly on my way home from a recent DfT meeting in Newcastle I was able to use the app on my phone to discover ahead of time that trains south were badly disrupted and change my plans accordingly. Two things which would not have been possible ten or so years ago and thanks to some very clever minds in our industry.

And that’s without all the things we do that aren’t so obvious.

But would members of the public ever see the connection between the apps they use and the industry and investment that has gone into it?  Or would they just think traffic technology is just the occasional (and it now really is occasional) random “queue ahead” signs on motorways and think we’re rubbish?  They don’t need to know how it works, they just need to realise that a lot of work and investment has gone into it and therefore understand that if their hard-earned taxes are spent on transport technology, it’s money well spent.

I am often interviewed on BBC local radio to discuss some transport issue or other. Almost every interview contains at least one time where the presenter in the studio says, “Oh, I didn’t know that, that’s clever,” when I mention a piece of technology.

So as I really get to grips with my new role as part time Communications Manager for ITS (UK), I see it as not only to facilitating information sharing amongst our members, but also to reach out to the wider community. That means all of us getting together to give out the right messages to the mainstream media when they ask.

I’ll be inviting marketing and press people from member organisations to a brainstorming meeting soon, and we may well soon be asking for you, dear reader, to put your hand up and volunteer to occasionally be put forward to explain a key topic to journalists.

That way they may realise that traffic lights do have a mind of their own. ◆