The past few weeks have seen politics and the media focus on party conference season, especially the Brexit debate. However, beneath the headline grabbing stories I find it a useful opportunity to test out what issues in the transport and digital sectors are most popular with politicians and our partners.
This is especially important for a company like BAI. We took the decision to invest in the UK a number of years ago, so have to pay attention to the changing expectations of consumers and our public sector partners. And closest to my heart is the need to identify opportunities for innovation, so we can improve the service and technology we offer.
So what did I pick up on from the conferences?
First to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. As expected, the future of the rail system was high on the agenda. The transformative impact of transport infrastructure investment to boost the economy and improve connectivity was also discussed.
Sitting alongside this was the topic of passenger experience. What do passengers expect from their journey and is the rail network open to everyone? From our perspective at BAI, this includes providing the best mobile connectivity so passengers can access digital ticketing, real-time train and journey planning information, or apps and technologies that can support less able passengers. And of course high quality phone calls and high speed data can transform what you do when travelling, whether it is for work, family or personal activity. It is fast becoming a minimum expectation.
Moving on a week and travelling to Birmingham, the Conservative Party Conference also hosted a series of discussions about the rail sector and we heard from Jeremy Wright, the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Jeremy highlighted the Government’s commitment to delivering 5G across the country, laying fibre to support high speed broadband access and perhaps most importantly, an interventionist approach to make sure unconnected areas benefit.
What caught my attention were the Transport Secretary’s comments. The government is making a significant effort to maximise the benefits of digital in the rail system for passengers. In Birmingham Chris Grayling talked about ‘one click compensation’ for delays. It is another step towards achieving a fully digitised railway in the UK, following the recent Joint Rail Data Action Plan which saw train operating companies open up further data and real time train information to the tech sector, in order to improve the passenger experience.
So, what have I taken away from this? I’m particularly pleased that policy makers are discussing how technology can improve the experience of passengers and deliver better travel. Mobile connectivity plays an essential role in so much of this. If the Government is to achieve its exciting ambitions, progress will also be required elsewhere. DCMS is exploring how to improve connectivity on mainline routes by 2025 and the Conservative Party’s last manifesto committed to deliver full mobile phone signal and guaranteed Wi-Fi by 2022. Progress is essential if that vision is to become reality. We are looking forward to contributing to this through our investment and expertise.