Looking back on the Westminster Conference
Transport has always benefited from innovation.
The way we get around has gone through constant change and reinvention, something which shows little sign of slowing down. Today’s cutting edge transport innovations such as Crossrail, High Speed 2 and driverless cars, are going to transform the way in which so many of us live our day-to-day lives.
Yet innovation in any area, and transport most of all, is only successful when it works for the most vulnerable in our society. Without innovation focusing on accessible and inclusive transport, it will leave behind those who need it the most. It’s our job at the Community Transport Association, therefore, to make sure that any decisions on the future of transport are made with the needs of our members, and their service users, front and centre. Community Transport needs a seat at the table and we work to make sure it has one.
Bill Freeman, Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association, started the session by sharing his thoughts on innovation in the transport sector. “It’s always important to think of new and different ways of doing things, to inform the way we work in the future,” he said. We need to make sure that advances in technology don’t make older and more established organisations irrelevant but should instead be something that community transport operators can harness for the benefit of the people they serve.
In introducing the panel (Debra Charles, CEO of Novacroft, and Charles Musselwhite, Associate Professor at Swansea University), Bill invited them to share their ideas on how we might start to think differently.
Debra Charles, Novacroft
First up was Debra Charles, the CEO of Novacroft, a smart card ticketing company who are focused on championing innovation and rewarding people for doing social good.
“Transport,” said Debra, “is the backbone of our society. Through transport we can impact on health, impact on regional regeneration and much, much more.” When we talk about innovation in the transport sector, though, it’s not always about coming up with something complicated and convoluted. It’s about “simplifying the complexity” and making what we do easier and more accessible.
With that, Debra gave us a ‘what if…’
What if the amazing job of providing inclusive and accessible transport to those across the country received the recognition it deserved? What if CTA members were rewarded and those rewards gave the CTA a bigger voice to shape what is happening in the transport sector today?
What if, through that bigger voice, Novacroft and the CTA could get other organisations to help our members: getting retailers to support them through technology, resources and vehicles?
Taking us through the story of Stella and Derek, two people who work providing community transport, Debra explained how Novacroft wants to work with the community transport sector to start thinking about how we can innovate to make life easier for CT operators, giving them a louder voice in, and more support from, the society they serve.
Charles Musselwhite, Swansea University
After Debra was Charles Musselwhite, an Associate Professor at Swansea University and a researcher at the Centre for Innovative Ageing. Charles’ presentation discussed a different way that we can advance innovation in the transport and community transport sectors: innovation through rethinking and reinventing the purpose of why we travel.
At the Centre for Innovative Ageing, said Charles, they like to talk about ageing and older people “perhaps a little bit differently from the norm in society.” Where most conversations surrounding older people view them as those “who need help all the time,” his experience is that there are many more older people who “want to laugh, they want to love, they want to be part of society and they want to get out and about in order to do that.”
As vitally important as it is, people don’t just need community transport to get them to the doctor’s appointment; they need it to get them to the beach, to the theatre and to socialise. Older people, argued Charles, are more than just a trip to the hospital!
This is why we need to think about the concept of “total mobility.” We far too often focus only on the functional element of community transport but there is much more to it than that. We need to make sure that community transport is “fun as well as functional”.
That, he argued, is an innovation that will help and support older people across the country.
As Debra said, innovation is about making things simpler. By providing older people with access to activities that have a proven health benefit, community transport can be there for people before they need to go to a health appointment, enabling them to be healthy and engaged members of their society.
The panel was rounded off with an audience Q&A on the theme of innovation. Both presentations provoked a lot of discussion and insights. Audience members brought up issues such as how we make sure that technical innovations in transport reach those who might not be that tech savvy or live in rural areas; how we ensure that community transport operators are given the tools and support they need to provide discretionary transport; and how we can communicate the need for functional and fun transport to policy makers who all too often care just about the bottom line.
The questions, answers and thoughts rounded off a morning of discussion which focused both on the political and legislative aspects of community transport as well as how we help the people who are at its heart.