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TravelHack and complexity

My name is Tom and I have a problem with complexity.

Today we’ve hosted a fantastic event at ODILeeds to help Transport for the North write their open data strategy. I think it will also help them to understand their purpose better, bring them closer to the people who’ll improve transport in the North, and bring them closer to the people who’ll benefit from those improvements.

Who said what

So many people said so much. There’s a huge amount of collated output on the Google Doc of the day, and you’ll hear more in blogs and new products over the coming months and years.

To give a scale of the day, these people,

Decided to talk about these things,

So there’s no way that I’m going to summarise everything. But there is a theme that I thought was common to every discussion. Complexity.


I don’t believe that people can handle the complexity of the current transport system in the UK’s cities outside of London. Operators can’t – which is why their ridership numbers have collapsed in the past three decades. Lawyers and civil servants can’t – which is why it’s taken 30 years and tens of millions of pounds to not build a public transport in Leeds. Drivers and conductors can’t – which is why I’ve been regularly sold invalid or overpriced tickets, been denied boarding with a valid ticket, and got tickets for free in error. And politicians can’t – which is why the UK has failed to invest in infrastructure in the right places to generate growth and build homes where they’re needed.

At TravelHack we talked a lot about how more data, better data, more laws, clearer laws, more collaboration, and better collaboration, might make things better. And I think that people are right.

We can try and define the current fare systems across England’s 2000 or so private bus companies and release this as open data. We can collect and share more data on how busy services are, and how long they really take. We can do more to let people know which car parks have spaces, which roads are congested, and what the impact on air quality of their drive is.

And all of this will help. Given the constraints that we in the North are under from an overbearing government in London, we need to be doing it. It’s our only option. But I can’t help but feel it doesn’t get us where we need to be.

Simplicity is what we need.

Where we really want to be is somewhere much more simple. And we see all around us that simplicity works.

Dublin’s public transport is much more simple, and it works much better. Holland’s public transport is much more simple, and it works much better. Paris, Lyon, Barcelona, Munich, London – it doesn’t matter where we look we see that simplicity, not complexity is driving the strong economies through transport that Transport for the North is meant to be aiming for.

Simplicity is not something that the North of England has control of. We are bound by laws made in London, by people who do not spend time in our region. In light of that, today was a great success.

But if we step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s clear to me that we need to free ourselves from national constraints and complexities and build a simpler North that more people can engage with.

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