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TfL highlights the urban transport opportunity at Australian British Infrastructure Investment Catalyst event

05 October 2017

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian British Infrastructure Investment Catalyst (ABIIC) conference, an event designed to promote the exchange of ideas across major infrastructure projects in both countries.

One session that particularly resonated with me was a presentation delivered by Mike Brown, Commissioner for Transport for London (TfL), covering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, which includes proposals for an ambitious modal shift away from private cars, as well as healthier streets, new infrastructure and transport innovation.

He revealed that with London growing at record levels and the city’s population expected to hit 10 million by 2030, there could be as many as five million additional journeys on TfL networks each day. In the last 10 years, overground services alone have seen a 208 percent increase in journeys. Added to this is the recent launch of night services on the London Underground, a development that City Hall estimates is boosting the capital’s economy by £77 million a year and supporting 2,000 permanent jobs.

And herein lies the opportunity for London. While the city is a recognised trailblazer across a range of areas, from culture and nightlife to careers and business opportunities, the lack of ubiquitous mobile coverage is arguably holding it back from joining the ranks of the most innovative global megacities. Continuous connectivity is becoming a minimum expectation.

The modern economy is driven by online information and transactions, and there is no reduction in the need to access information when travelling. Phone calls continue to be a vital mobile service but the vast majority of usage is actually for data.

Roll-out of infrastructure in other cities, similar to what’s required in London, shows that there is huge pent-up demand for these services. Once launched, it is common to see large volumes of passengers immediately take advantage of services delivered via new high-capacity networks. This usage has been shown to massively improve the passenger experience, either for work, entertainment, or just staying in contact with friends and family. Wireless connectivity underground also promotes use of public transport as commuters, tourists, visitors and residents realise the benefits of connectivity on their journeys.

One particular area of the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy that we feel is ripe for development is proposal 50c: ‘making the most of new technology and innovations in customer service, including provision of mobile access underground’.

At BAI Communications, we have first-hand experience delivering exactly these services in urban environments comparable to London. In New York we built a mobile network servicing all 279 underground stations, while in Toronto our shared network provides full connectivity across 69 stations and tunnels.

While there are challenges in retrofitting services into existing transport networks, we’ve developed new approaches to address them. For example, by deploying an innovative partnership model, we’ve been able to reduce the need for public funds. By taking a shared infrastructure approach, we’ve solved most of the practical and commercial issues to install a single network capable of delivering all the wireless services needed by passengers. And by engineering networks to maximise capacity and ensure all licensed mobile operator bands and unlicensed spectrum are enabled for public access communications, we’ve future-proofed them to deal with huge demand.

The London Underground was the world’s first underground metro and remains one of the world’s iconic urban transport networks. But it’s time to take the next step in its evolution – with more than one billion journeys a year, and an ever-increasing customer base, it’s time to deliver an underground communications network that befits London’s global status.