Modal wins Geospatial Commission funding

Feb 2021
Paul Coster

Challenging times for rail

It’s been a challenging year for the UK rail industry. In March 2020, the UK government introduced emergency measures to keep the trains running. In September 2020, they announced “rail franchising reaches the terminus”, signalling de facto nationalisation. Disruption isn’t new for rail… Examples include the strike chaos starting in 2016 and the timetable fiasco in 2018.

Following the pandemic, the industry has a major challenge to attract people back to trains. We’d like to see rail thrive and the associated economic, social and environmental benefits. Transport is responsible for ~20% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, which can be reduced if more people choose to travel by train, a low carbon choice.

How can location-based technology help?

At Modal, our vision is to make public and active transport the modes of choice. To help achieve this we’ve built mobile app technology that detects a person’s public transport journey in real-time, starting with train journeys.

Currently, around 90% of UK train journeys are anonymous, meaning the operator doesn’t know the passenger who’s travelling on their service. However, as mobile ticketing grows in usage we believe our app technology can facilitate a dramatic improvement in the industry’s relationship with train users, enabling services such as:

  • Automated train delay compensation
  • Accurate crowd reporting and carbon tracking
  • Enhanced loyalty schemes

As you may have guessed, Modal relies heavily on location data; we match mobile sensor data (location data, motion data) with live train timetables. Our technology requires little user interaction and battery usage, making it very customer friendly.

Creating a customer focused service is a key component of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Other key components include offering mobility (not just transport), and integration of mobility services information, payment and ticketing through a digital platform. Here’s a useful article about MaaS if you’d like to learn more.

Increasing train and MaaS users

Modal’s Geospatial Commission project has an ambition to increase MaaS users, starting with better digital services for trains. We believe trains will be one of the ‘backbone’ transport modes of MaaS in the UK. We’d like to encourage more people to travel by train, and help transport organisations to better understand their customers.

To deliver our project, we’ve partnered with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) and the Open Transport Initiative (OTI). We plan to integrate our technology into a travel/MaaS mobile app that:

  • Reliably detects train journeys completed by app users in real-time
  • Automates train delay compensation (‘Delay Repay’) for the TfWM region and beyond
  • Uses an industry-wide open standard for exchanging transport data between a customer’s online account and other services

Reliably detecting train journeys

In supporting the project, TfWM noted “real-time detection of train journeys offers a new potential data source for understanding how people use the network”. Our data could therefore offer insight into:

  • Improving their response to network disruptions
  • Making the system more accessible for diverse travel needs
  • Long term transport infrastructure decisions

Automating train delay compensation

TfWM also noted that the “Delay Repay use case offers definite user benefit through making it easier for users to receive compensation during times of disruption”. Currently only one third of delay compensation is claimed in the UK (totalling ~£80m per year, pre Covid-19).

The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) aims to make compensation easier for customers through its delay compensation reforms, but they’re also conscious of fraud. Fraud prevention is another benefit of our technology as claims can be verified using location data.

Applying Open Transport standards

OTI commented “Modal is a mobility leader, on track to be the first technology provider to use our open standards for the sharing of mobility account data. Open Transport, described as ‘Open Banking for transport and mobility’ has increasing support from the government, micro-mobility startups and others. Its aim is to enable an ecosystem of integrated transport data that fuels innovation across the entire sector. The Geospatial Commission has shown significant forward thinking by supporting this project”.

OTI’s open standards are multi-modal, applicable to cycling, bus, ferry, taxi and even cable cars. As they are adopted across the sector, we see the potential for our service to work with other transport modes, further facilitating MaaS and modern intelligent transport services (e.g. Account Based Ticketing).

Can you help us?

If you’d like to support us and you travel on South Western Railway, please use our app, All Change (powered by Modal’s technology). All Change is rated 4.8 on the App Store and reached ~1,500 users prior to Covid-19.