Transcript – Season 2 Episode 2: When is a bike not a bike?

January 2019

Cycle hire and public bike share schemes are thriving in many towns and cities across the globe. The bikes and their infrastructure are a valuable source of data, that can help identify faster and safer routes, reduce costs for maintenance and provide seamless customer journeys.

In our latest podcast, host Eoin Ó Murchú is joined by Philip Ellis, Co-founder and CEO of Beryl and Kirsty Gladwyn, a Transport Consultant at PwC and previously operational director for the London cycle hire scheme, to talk about how technology and data analytics is positively disrupting urban transport.

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Transcript

Eoin Ó Murchú
Hello, I am Eoin Ó Murchú, and welcome to reimagining capital projects, a podcast series that explores the impact of innovation and evolving technologies on the capital project, infrastructure, and wider real estate sectors.

Today, I am delighted to be joined by two new guests, who specialise in urban transport disruption. Kirsty Gladwyn, a transport consultant from PwC, who was previously an operational director for the London cycle hire scheme; and Philip Ellis, a co-founder of Beryl, a bike share tech start-up. For those of you, who read Forbes, you may recognise him from the 30 under 30 for industry.

Welcome to you both.

Kirsty Gladwyn
Great to be here, thanks for having me.

Philip Ellis
Thank you very much.

Kirsty Gladwyn
We should say I used to work for Phil, he used to be my boss when I was an employee at Beryl; so we go back a little way.

Eoin Ó Murchú
Hopefully, we will hear some good stories over the next few minutes.

Today, we will be looking at the role of technology, and what it has done in disrupting urban transport, particularly around user habits and needs. This is something that’s at the core objective of Beryl. How much do our listeners know about your company for starters?

Philip Ellis
The thing that we are probably best known for to everyday person on the street is providing the cycle safety equipment to the Santander bike share scheme. So, if you’ve seen the green bike laser projection on the bikes, then that’s the thing that we are best known for. We’ve grown that up from a consumer business, sold a range of cycling products all over the world, as well as working with bike share in other cities such as New York, Montreal, and from a couple of weeks’ time in Glasgow as well.

Eoin Ó Murchú
So, a pretty global enterprise.

Philip Ellis
Yes.

Kirsty Gladwyn
And you’ve now started to look a lot more at bike share itself, and you’ve kind of, reoriented the business a bit towards that market, that’s right?

Philip Ellis
Yes, we started, as I said, as a cycling safety business, and with our contracts with bike share, we’ve effectively tried to move ourselves higher up the value chain in delivering bike share contracts, so going from a lighting supplier to a lighting supplier including all on-bike technology, using IOT technologies and providing some additional data on the bikes. We’ve naturally continued that on into a full product that can serve bike share pretty much in its entirety.

Eoin Ó Murchú
That’s pretty interesting, so you’ve taken it from initial start-up idea to something quite broad, and technology has been at the heart of it. I am just curious, what impact has the information, you mentioned IOT, the data capture information you’re gathering, having on urban transport disruption, maybe from a public and a private perspective.

Philip Ellis
First of all from a private perspective, we are a very consumer focused business, that’s where we’ve come from. The impact of technology, particularly ubiquitous connectivity and GPS, means that consumers are able to make more dynamic decisions about how they chose to get around the city.

Eoin Ó Murchú
You are talking about things like transport apps and stuff like that.

Philip Ellis
Transport apps from a consumer perspective, it means that you are far more comfortable and you trust the information that your phone is giving you through the transport app, and you will make decisions based on that, rather necessarily than decisions based on your routine. It is a big opportunity there because then it allows those private companies, or it could allow cities if they provide a similar sort of data framework, to help direct people toward the journeys that ‘you’ want them to take.

Eoin Ó Murchú
That’s interesting, you are getting almost live data backing from bikes and using that to inform decision making of users.

Kirsty, how is that changing peoples’ experiences when it comes to transport in the whole, particularly in urban and major cities?

Kirsty Gladwyn
People’s expectations now are much higher and they expect to move seamlessly between train, tram, tube, bicycle, whatever mode they want to use, and they expect that to be available wherever they are. But, I think we should talk a little bit more about data for a minute, because all of that data that is being gathered has a value, especially when you consider it across all those modes, whether or not its publicly or privately delivered. Phil, what’s your view on making this transport data public, including the data that you collect, because you must think there is a value to the data you’ve got, what’s your view on sharing it out freely?

Philip Ellis
I think there is a definite trend and a correct trend to make data public and real time. Let’s assume that we are able to meet the security concerns in terms of knowing exactly where people have been and also anonymising that. I think, it’s totally fair that for a private company such as ourselves or any other private company that is profiteering off the public roads in the public realm, if a city has a coherent requirement for that data, then absolutely should have it.

Kirsty Gladwyn
So, you would feed in the data that was generic, about where people are moving or what transport they are using that day at a generic level.

Philip Ellis
Oh yeah. So, a city, and cities more generally, and the industry at large can choose what that set of generic data might be, which I think at its most obvious is the routes that people are going, and associated data with that. That doesn’t necessarily preclude massive opportunities for private companies to innovate off of data that sit outside of that core piece of data that cities actually want to know; where are people currently and where are they are trying to get to; and how did they get there. Beyond that there is many other layers of data that private companies may be able to turn into value.

Eoin Ó Murchú
I guess, one thing from your perspective might be how you maintain your assets and how you maintain these bikes, would you agree? What are the key challenges around this from your perspective?

Philip Ellis
Predictive maintenance is obviously a thing that is massive in absolutely any industry where you have maintenance, repairs, and operational elements, but particularly in transport. Within bike share specifically, your big cost driver is your redistribution and your service and maintenance. So, using more accurate data on the use of your bike or the use of your asset, might allow you to make more informed decisions about when to service it. So, you only service bike that actually needs doing it, and crucially you don’t take it out of service, and so remove its revenue generating potential, unless it absolutely needs to come into the workshop.

Eoin Ó Murchú
To me that sounds a lot like AI, is that fair?

Philip Ellis
Yeah, it should be and I think it can get there, and there are examples of bike share systems, and of course, examples of more cost intensive industries using AI for this purpose. I think within bike share itself, the big opportunity that some of the private enterprise sees on the use of AI, is actually as much associated with the driving up revenue, so making sure the bike is in the right place at the right time. You can see, for example, if you run out of bikes next to a particular train station at 8 am every day, and its Tuesday and it’s sunny, and certain football team are playing that evening, whatever else it might be, you know in time through AI and through the data modelling that you should have more bikes.

Eoin Ó Murchú
So, there is almost machine learning?

Philip Ellis
Yeah.

Eoin Ó Murchú
That’s very interesting. Kirsty, have you seen this around, maybe, asset owners in this space.

Kirsty Gladwyn
Well, so, on the redistribution point, that’s really excellent one Phil, and I think, yes reducing the cost of maintenance on bike share schemes would be a massive win, but equally at the moment, distribution is a really manual process, it involves normally a person in a truck to pick up bikes and move them across town and so the opportunity to use AI to help nudge your users into dropping their bikes somewhere is slightly different, to just help the ebb and flow of that motor transport and to make it available for the next morning so that you can persuade people to drop a few bikes at Waterloo East, instead of Waterloo main station, then you are helping that redistribution a little bit and just going that bit further.

Eoin Ó Murchú
That’s really interesting, and I guess what you are touching upon there is almost to the wider transport needs for a city. For me, I am just curious to know what you think the future of transport in cities looks like from a bike perspective or even beyond that.

Kirsty Gladwyn
I think there are four ways of looking at this, it’s personal, it’s autonomous, it’s connected, and it’s electric. We talked a bit about the autonomous and connected already, so I will just expand on the personal one, which is that it’s not just about there being lots of motor transport out there, it’s about retaining the option for the user to pick their preferred mode of transport.

So, you might want to take a journey across London on a bike and you might want that to be the fastest route, but equally you might want the most pollution free route. There were different ways for the user to engage in their journey and to be able to select the options that they want for their journey. Transport is going to become more and more highly personalised, and that for me is also about the self determination of the user. You want that person to retain a choice, but equally think about autonomous cars, means not always having to get in a vehicle that is autonomous, sometimes you actually want to drive and having your own car could fulfil other basic needs that you might have. So, personal is the first and probably the major one that we haven’t covered today.

Eoin Ó Murchú
I am curious to know as well because what you’ve described there as well could also be interpreted as ‘agnostic’ transport solutions, ‘I don’t know the way, I want to get from A to B and I don’t care how I get there,’ and I suppose transport apps are driving that, is that something that you see in this tech transport space, Phil?

Philip Ellis
I think private companies would say that if you deliver the best customer experience, the customer won’t actually be agnostic to the form of transport they will get. You will have brand loyalty to the provider of the service that you like the most. The opportunity there is; and that’s great for consumers because it means everyone is going to focus more heavily on delivering you that experience that is good and that might be good to different people. Somebody might judge it on economic terms, what’s cheaper; some people might judge it on environmental terms, and some people might judge it on comfort.

Eoin Ó Murchú
I guess, coming from a start-up perspective, it’s almost challenging trying to break into this kind of space of a market that is almost dictated through years and years of habits of customers, particularly, almost years of ways of working, particularly on government entities, I am curious, Phil, what it’s like as a start-up, particularly in the transport space, which is so well defined in peoples’ minds to come in and try and disrupt it, particularly at that, sort of, local and we’ve been more of a local government or national level.

Philip Ellis
Yeah that’s a good question, and to be fair for our company, we are a supplier often to the people, who are actually owning that end customer relationship. We have a couple of different experiences of how we are able to work with these big complicated organisations, transport authorities, or big outsourcing customers.

With regards to working with governmental organisations, they are rightly risk averse, and that’s not necessarily done or said in a negative way, that’s almost one of the roles that they have to play. So, to work with a start-up, we were very fortunate to convince the prime subcontractors in this country and in the US that we had credibility and we had a product that their client would want.

Eoin Ó Murchú
So, you’ve almost gained that level of trust.

Kirsty Gladwyn
Yeah, your first routine though was to offer a safety benefit.

Philip Ellis
Absolutely yeah.

Kirsty Gladwyn
Actually to play on that risk averse side and to bring something to the table that improved the visibility of the cyclist and their footprint on the road, so that when they were in the blind spot of a double-decker bus, they could be seen. From a local authority perspective or city authority perspective, you are literally offering something that was going to help them save lives. It was that understanding of their risks and their worries that enabled you to have the conversation about all the exciting things that you could then bring to the table.

Eoin Ó Murchú
What I like about the solution you have is, it’s a simple solution, but it is really effective in what it does. What I am curious about is, was there, going in to work with a big agency, like a local authority or the wider London authorities for example, was there a kind of a cultural clash in terms of their ways of working, in terms of you are a start-up, you want to get things done quickly whereas they might have a more traditional way of doing things.

Philip Ellis
Yeah, I mean, definitely to a certain extent, but on the same side, running a start-up as an entrepreneur, you are fairly resolutely focus on first of all your core goals, which is, as you said Kirsty, cycle safety and protecting cyclist, encouraging cycling, but secondly, revenue generation, and it is clear that these opportunities generate good revenue, and so the culture clashes, or not necessarily culture clashes, but just the different ways of working was a real challenge.

Eoin Ó Murchú
I guess, from a bike perspective that’s interesting, because you are going in there to try and deliver product, and obviously be as profitable, and as effective as you can be, and gain a reputation for doing good work, but they are trying to solve a problem, that’s the heart of what they do. Take for example, the NO2 levels across the UK now it’s in the media quite a bit, the levels are exceeding the European standards in a lot of major cities. I suppose something like that is also a core mission statement, for an enterprise like yourselves.

Philip Ellis
Yes, we looked quite heavily at; now that you’ve got this amount of technology on the bike, we have the core pillars you need, power, GPS, connectivity; like what are the sensors can you employ on a bike or a scooter, or an e-bike, or whatever mode of transport to add to the cities understanding of things like that.

Yeah, we did look quite heavily at that, but then again as a start-up, we have to focus on the things that are again true to our values, which is our belief in cycling, that it is the cheapest, most environmentally friendly, most socially equitable, most enjoyable way to get across the city and so for us…

Eoin Ó Murchú
But I take a point there from the NO2 perspective, it’s all about reducing the pollution and then obviously that kind of scenario really aids well to it. I’m curious, Kirsty, I suppose to wrap up this discussion, really what are the biggest opportunities that you see in the transport disruption space and maybe what does the future hold for its technology within this?

Kirsty Gladwyn
I will leave you with two ideas, one is that it’s going to be all about the connectivity between the different modes, and the seamless customer journey, and that’s going to take advantage of both public and private modes of transport, and then the other one is about infrastructure. We’ve got two kinds of city in the world, we’ve got cities that are old and already have a load of infrastructure that we are going to have to figure out how to change that to take account of the new modes of transport, and you’ve got cities that are not yet born, where these new forms of transport are going to find it so much easier to just be the norm, and my question is how do you make sure that those cities don’t overtake cities that are older and already in existence.

Eoin Ó Murchú
So, Phil, from your perspective, what are the key opportunities that allow in the transport space going forward?

Philip Ellis
The thing that’s interesting about transport is, other industries are looking at how bike share, scooter share, e-bike share, and things like that have a role to play in mobility more generally. Automotive companies, technology companies, network companies can see that the behaviours that people have in using a bike share is more like getting around a city in the way that Kirsty described earlier, i.e., autonomous, you go exactly where you want to go, and personal, you get the service that you want to get.

I think that’s where there is a big opportunity for companies such as myself. Also interestingly there is a vehicle that we haven’t yet seen potentially, some sort of individual, personalised, electric-powered vehicle that meets the safety requirements, and potentially meets some of the environmental hazards of moving around the city as well. I don’t think this is going anywhere. There is relatively politically broad support for any policies that encourage people to get out of cars and to get across the city in a more environmentally friendly way.

Those sorts of things are coming out all the time. Even recently the city of London put the transport strategy out, which sets out a really bold vision, basically saying, ‘yes, we are quite serious about not letting people drive your polluting cars in our cities.’

Eoin Ó Murchú
A great sentiment to end this podcast on that. Thanks to you both.

It has been a really interesting discussion, and I really enjoyed it,

I want to thank everybody for listening to it, I hope you enjoyed it too. We will be back again soon for more discussion and debate on all things, innovation and technology.

In the meantime should you wish to learn more about transport disruption or the internet of things, or any other topics we discussed today, please check it at website at pwc.co.uk/reimagine. Please subscribe to the series to get all the latest episodes and please don’t forget to rate and review. All our past content is available on online too, so check it out if you haven’t gone through already. So, until next time, thank you all for listening.

Contact us

Alpesh Shah

Capital Projects & Infrastructure Technology Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7212 4932

Eoin Ó Murchú

Capital Project Services: Technology Select & Optimise, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 979 676

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