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TfWM Network Resilience Live Lab – testing behaviour change along Solihull A34 South

15 November 2021

The Network Resilience Live Lab is the offering from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) that aims to help keep traffic moving. In the latest blog, Colin Maltby, Future Mobility Project Manager - UK Central for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, describes a recent trial in Solihull.

The Network Resilience Live Lab (NR Live Lab) was set up following receipt of a £2.65 million grant from the £23.9m ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme funded by the Department for Transport. The project is about driving innovation, supporting sustainability and improving the safety of the region’s transport network users.  

The main mission of the project is to develop tools to understand public customer car travel behaviour on the West Midlands road network, how to influence that behaviour and how to link those two interpretations. NR Live Lab has teamed up with a key local authority partner in Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) to understand the awareness and patterns of behaviour of people travelling, in a dedicated mini project in the Borough. The main target audience is car commuters who travel at least part of their journey on the A34 south within Solihull.

Demonstrating two of the central elements of the NR Live Lab project, this trial is split into three specific work streams:

  1. Traveller Personas: utilising the evidence generated in the NR Live Lab to understand and target the right audience for adopting new forms of zero-carbon mobility. This is within the Dickens Heath area of Solihull, off the A34 corridor.
  2. Fixed Asset Operations: testing the effectiveness of Static Automated Traffic Counters (SATCs) to monitor aggregated traffic levels and subsequently develop understanding of driver behaviour along the Key Route Network (KRN), dependent upon common variables.
  3. Develop methodologies: to combine outputs of the first two workstreams that may be operationalised in SMBC and TfWM. An example would be to run a travel demand management campaign along the A34 south corridor (A34 (S)) and monitor and evaluate impact. This is to be informed by a parallel NR Live Lab project on benefits realisation and transferring lessons.

Project resources will include a £25k budget to enable participation by SMBC and availability of the Connected & Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) shuttle to the project. 

Setting the objectives

Objectives were formed around testing the effectiveness of several areas which would allow the team to observe the roll out within a real-life mobility project. These included: 

  • testing the effectiveness of traveller personas datasets; 
  • understanding the effectiveness of SATCs and processes to interpret the data in identifying specific vehicles where their white labels are volunteered (e.g. the CAV); 
  • better understanding and potential applications of learning about traffic flows on the Key Route Network; 
  • seeing how new forms of shared mobility work amongst traditional car-dependent commuters; and
  • using the aforementioned to operationalise the NR Live Lab outputs in a local authority context, informing benefits realisation around the skills needed and new methods of monitoring behavioural change.

Developing the campaign

In a very detailed plan, the activity for the Solihull mini project sought to establish data-driven understanding of the A34 flow using SATCs; understanding hot spots, trends, and behaviour through the days and weeks. Once the destination data was collated, its origin was analysed. Data came from sources such as:

  • Inrix – Floating vehicle data; 
  • BT / Atkins – Mobile Network Data; 
  • AdapterLogic – UTC and sensors data; and
  • West Midlands Police and TIS – static automated traffic counter data.

The team confirmed local traveller personas in or around Dickens Heath, along with confirmation of the types of messages (and channels) and future mobility services each persona would engage with to inform the campaign.

A letter inviting businesses to engage was issued by SMBC to gauge interest. We are now at the stage where we have designed and issued surveys to collect views on local mobility from business employees to be part of more in-depth focus group with an incentive.  

Following this, we will run focus groups (per persona) to feed into future trial design and services, develop messaging, use as a reference group to gauge messaging impact, and potentially, use to verify vehicle movements along the A34. This will lead to the design of a communications campaign to inform and influence behaviour that will be delivered to workplaces, targeted households and community areas, online around the A34, and on-road through the A34 artery. The team are seeking to create future services that, based on survey and focus group data, would be expected to be successful and evolve to trialling the service.

Analysing weaknesses and threats

Any project like this has a number of challenges to address and overcome. The team was able to identify the following: 

  • It can be hard to confidently and effectively target and tailor new mobility solutions without knowing your target audience well and their preferences; 
  • It can be hard to accurately track traffic flows ad hoc and predict and influence behaviour and outcomes dependent upon variables;
  • We are only dealing with congestion at peak times and this can vary throughout the day; 
  • We are gaining understanding of the extent and impact of traffic diverting through residential areas at peak times; and
  • New-build estates with ‘locked in’ car dependency is a key challenge.

Future possibilities

With the programme of works related to HS2 development, the scope for further roll out of initiatives trialled within this project will be significant. In addition, with the datasets and traffic monitoring available across the wider West Midlands region, the findings have significant potential benefit for the whole Combined Authority area.

You can find out more about the travelling personas in an earlier blog here.