A Different Sort of Click

In March 2018 DG were invited, with the Department for Transport (DfT), by the GovTech Challenge to run a competition which would allow companies to apply for funding to develop an innovative, technology-based approach to improve understanding of exactly what is moving on our roads, and when.

It is clearly documented that urbanisation is happening at unprecedented rates. In the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as in much of the urban UK, roads are blighted with congestion. This creates well understood negative impacts on the liveability of our cities, presenting challenges to open and effective mobility across wide urban regions.

Many, arguably most, local authorities (including the Royal Borough of Greenwich) currently lack easily available and understandable access to affordable, accurate, reliable, real-time information about traffic, as well as cycling and pedestrian movements.

Traditional approaches to understanding vehicle movements and addressing congestion are often underpinned by manual data gathering. This can be as basic as gathering fixed-point vehicle count data by ‘clicking’ the number of passing vehicles on a handheld counter. This means that current information is limited, costly, and often area specific; it provides only partial insight into what’s happening on our roads.

The idea behind this competition was that, surely, with big data availability and technological innovation becoming a daily part of all our lives, there must be a way to help local authorities better understand, and respond to, congestion by providing access to less resource intensive and higher quality data.

In the responses to the competition, we were looking for funding proposals which would harness data, use innovative techniques to better understand road movements and, consequently, help improve responses to congestion in local areas.  The output mechanisms also had to be appropriate for non-technical people to easily understand and interrogate.

Colleagues at the Department for Transport (DfT) apparently thought the same! They submitted an almost identical expression of interest to GovTech. Sensibly we were advised to re-submit a joint bid, which was successful, and led us to launch the GovTech Congestion Challenge with the DfT as joint ‘owners’ of the bid last summer.

The applications from the 55 organisations who submitted bids were subject to a thorough assessment process. In December we selected five who would be invited to take on Phase 1 of the work – the feasibility study. This involves research and development contracts being awarded to demonstrate the technical viability of their proposed project.  

The contracts have now been awarded, and from mid-January, the five successful organisations have 3 months to develop their proposals.

Phase 2 of the challenge, which is due to commence in late April 2019, involves an Invitation to Tender for further research and development contracts. Contracts will be awarded to (up to 2) businesses chosen from the 5 successful Phase 1 applicants. This funding provides up to £500,000 to develop a prototype and undertake field-testing (at a location of their choosing in the UK) over the next 12 months.

The GovTech Challenge exemplifies how collaborations between the public and private sector can help to harness the benefits of new technology and employ these benefits to solve some of the challenges we are facing within the urban environment.

The contract ends in mid-2020, at the end of Phase 2, and the chosen business will be free to pursue the commercialisation of their solution.

Watch this space...