Oxfordshire Mobility Model: MIMAS project update – February 2021

A Local Authority Perspective

MIMAS is Oxfordshire County Council’s next generation of transport model. It is a scalable transport modelling tool designed for the move towards a self-service paradigm. This month we asked Laura Peacock, Innovation Hub Manager at Oxfordshire County Council a few questions to understand the importance of MIMAS from the council’s perspective.

Laura Peacock
Laura Peacock, Innovation Hub Manager at Oxfordshire County Council
Q: So why did Oxfordshire want a new model?

In the past 5 years the state of the art in transport modelling has evolved significantly, underpinned by the explosion of IoT, big data and modelling capabilities. Technical advancements across the industry are now opening-up possibilities to evolve towards combining strategic elements of modelling with real-time, operational scenarios. This provided the opportunity for further cost consolidation and efficiencies.

Considering the level of anticipated growth across the region, there was a significant opportunity to enable all stakeholders to enhance decision making capabilities using a new, yet easily accessible, mobility modelling service for Oxfordshire. 

The wider mobility landscape is undergoing vast and rapid changes, transitioning towards Intelligent Mobility. New services such as Demand Responsive Transport (DRT), Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) are opportunities to enhance the way we travel but, if not correctly implemented, could negatively disrupt mobility. The current model cannot effectively simulate these services. We needed a new model that could provide both Oxfordshire County Council, and operators, clear scenarios to test new services in a virtual environment so that costly mistakes are avoided.

Q: What are the biggest difficulties, risk areas or pain points associated with the current modelling approach?

There are several drivers behind the need to renew, upgrade or replace the OSM. These include:

Functionality Limitations

At the core of the need to change is the fact that previous model, although innovative at the time has several limitations which limit its usefulness. These included modelling around junctions. As this element is often central to the needs of third-party transport planners a significant amount of revenue opportunity has been lost as developers employed external consultants to model these changes. There were also issues around non-traditional peak flows, such as Saturdays for retail, and the often over-optimistic results produced around new developments where an actual traffic decrease is projected. This lack of functionality had the potential to negatively impact the travel experience across the county through increased congestion and associated air quality issues.

Internal Costs and Savings

Previous models have required staff with highly specialised training which has not been available internally to the council. Consequently, the council was reliant on support from external consultants, even for small and straightforward jobs. This arrangement was inflexible, often slowed responses to planning applications and increased overall costs.

Q: How does MIMAS improve on alternative solutions?

Firstly, MIMAS will provide a single user interface for mobility modelling for Oxfordshire and ensure a single point-of-truth for planners and developers using the model. The model will be persistent, with frequent data refreshes in the short-term, with the potential to ingest real-time data and constantly validate itself longer term.

The model will bring a degree of flexibility; it has the potential to ingest other models and new datasets. The transport model takes an agent-based approach, thus is brings additional opportunities, such as multi-modal modelling. It also has the potential to model new modes as new technologies emerge.

Finally, the user interface and system architecture have been carefully and thoughtfully designed with non-specialist users at the centre of the experience. As such, the tool will be easy to interact with, giving non-transport modellers direct access to the tool while allowing them to interpret the results themselves.

Q: What have been some of the challenges in delivery?

Everything about this procurement has been innovative. The Innovation Procurement Partnership (IPP) was the first ever of its kind for a local authority so we had to work closely with colleagues in legal and procurement to ensure we were following the right processes, although not having anything to benchmark it to meant that some actions took longer.

Bringing people on the journey was vital to the success of the IPP. This included every type of user and stakeholder, including planners and developers.

Unlike traditional procurement methods, the IPP is less defined with regards to the scope of the final solution. As the name suggests it offered the opportunity for the council and suppliers to collaboratively build towards the most suitable concept of a solution throughout the procurement process. It was very much a two-way process between the council and potential suppliers. Following the award of the contract, the innovation and collaboration between the council and its new partners has continued.

There is a lot more interest in MIMAS and this IPP, than a traditional model and procurement process, so there is greater pressure to get it right the first time. All eyes are on the development of the model.

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