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How can the UK transport industry make real headway in multi-modal transport?

Graham Upton
Feb 5, 2024

In our ‘Frictionless Travel’ series, we’re unpacking the hot topics, challenges, and opportunities in the travel & transport industry today.

In this latest instalment, Graham Upton, Chief Architect for Intelligent Industry and Head of Technology and Innovation (UK) at Capgemini, explores sustainable multi-modal transport of the future and explains how to fix the issues the industry faces now. 

The concept of multi-modal transport has been evolving almost as long as public transport has existed. In its simplest terms, the aim is to integrate all forms of travel i.e. walking, driving, cycling, bus, air, and rail – to make a passenger’s transition between them seamless and pain-free. By providing excellent connections between services, and improving co-ordination between public transport operators, it’s entirely possible for them to co-exist and appear as one integrated solution. 

In the future, not only could the process be seamless, but it could also be sustainable. So, what might that look like, and how do we get there? 

The multi-modal journey of tomorrow. 

Imagine, in the not-too-distant future, stepping out of your house and jumping into your electric car (or hydrogen-powered if we look even further ahead) which has been charging overnight using solar stored energy, heat pumps or wind turbines fitted to your house or garden. You drive the first portion of your commute, park the car, then hop out of the driver’s seat into an electric or hydrogen-powered bus towards the railway station.  

From there, you take a train – ideally the line would be totally electric but until we have fully electrified infrastructure, there’s a need for a multi-modal approach; combining hybrid-electric or purely battery-powered vehicles. If you are riding on electric overhead wires or a 3rd rail and you get to the end of that section, then the train automatically switches to the alternative power source to create a seamless journey.  

When you reach your destination, the airport, you board an electric air taxi (eVTOL) or a standard airplane running on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) or even a hydrogen-powered variant. If it’s the high seas you’re headed to, you could board a hydrogen powered boat, like those designed by the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

What’s stopping us from getting there? 

Capgemini has deep experience in exploring sustainable solutions for travel and transport clients – including designing hydrogen-powered taxis or converting car petrol engines into hydrogen engines and developing the electrification of railway lines. However, the UK lacks the critical infrastructure needed to make real headway in this space. Charging areas are still so sparse in certain parts of the country – mostly confined to motorway service stations, petrol stations and supermarkets – that some owners of electric vehicles (EV) share anecdotes of driving a long distance only to park up somewhere near their destination to recharge for the journey home, before making their way to their actual destination by foot, bike, or public transport. For those living in terraced houses, particularly in cities, being able to charge an EV is a real issue. The answer is to embed charging ports in the street, but the rollout costs and timeframes can be remarkable. There are still significant miles of the UK rail network that need to be electrified. 

What’s also clear is that battery manufacture is going to be a big issue in the UK and Europe going forward as the auto industry transitions to EVs – the UK needs to build much greater battery capacity as demand for EVs takes off. The problem is the UK is lagging well behind EU countries in attracting investment in battery-making capacity and the widely publicised Britishvolt collapse into administration throws this into sharp relief; there are just not enough batteries to feed the car manufacturers. 

When it comes to using consolidated data, the UK transport industry is also languishing. On any given line we have four or five different train operators, collecting data from different locations. With increased competition among operators, and growing user demands for real-time information on smartphones about arrivals and issues, this monolithic approach to Operations Control Centres (OCCs) is no longer good enough. The systems need to be designed with a microservices environment in mind which allows adaptability, intelligence, flexibility by allowing it to manage multiple modes of transportation, such as subways, commuter trains, flights, buses, and trams as part of a single cohesive system – built around the entire user journey, rather than the individual transport mode. 

To succeed, it must connect different stakeholders in the transportation chain, passengers, service providers, transportation companies, OEM’s, technology hyperscalers, telecoms operators, manufacturers, maintenance operators, internal and externals systems etc. – no mean feat. This multi-party, systemic approach is critical to establishing an ecosystem that delivers the best travel experience to passengers. A future multimodal transport system will have data collection at every point, giving passengers and operators a detailed view of the entire network, allowing AI and automation tools to make real-time improvements. 

Sensors on every type of transport-type can give a detailed view of the service, and information for passengers via apps and signs. Cameras at stations can monitor crowd flows, detect incidents, and spot passengers with particular needs. Automated systems can then make adjustments in real time – regulating services, pointing people to different station exits, or sending human help. 

Over time this system can also learn about inefficient operator actions, or signs of mechanical failure, and provide recommendations or schedule maintenance to reduce incidents and downtime. Ultimately this means an improved, safer and more efficient experience for travellers, which is also more cost-effective for operators. 

Smoothing the way to frictionless travel   

Key to meeting any challenge head-on is to unite as an industry and start sharing. We believe there is a great opportunity for the industry to collaborate, think and reflect with like-minded peers focusing on some key opportunities facing the industry including: sustainability, customer experience, multi-modal transport, intelligent industry, and 5G. 

If it’s a belief you share, get in touch today to start the conversation here

Graham Upton

Head of Technology & Innovation & Chief Architect Intelligent Industry
Graham is the Capgemini Engineering Intelligent Industry Lead Architect and is an influential senior leader with proven capability in identifying, developing and implementing state of the art and future technology solutions at a strategic level within complex, multinational organisations. Graham leverages a 30+ year career in industry and consulting having an extensive knowledge in design engineering, manufacturing operations and industry leading digital advances.