Oxfordshire Mobility Model: MIMAS project update – January 2021

Benefits of MIMAS - for Oxfordshire, Third Parties and Beyond

Transport models are an integral part of the planning process for major developers and planning consultants who work in close consultation with councils such as Oxfordshire. Typically, these models are used as evidence to demonstrate the impact of new housing, employment or other commercial locations. This ensures appropriate investment is made in transport infrastructure to ensure congestion on the road network is managed and citizens can efficiently travel as part of their daily lives, traditionally using a personal car.

Traditional transport models typically run on aggregated, historic data acquired by local authorities and planning stakeholders every few years. These models typically focus on a ‘predict and provide approach’ of analysis where future traffic on the road network is predicted and capacity is added to meet this. This presents a series of challenges for building better places – from new public transport routes to sustainable housing developments – to both the Council, and developers. A number of other challenges can be broadly categorized into three main areas: 

  1. Adapting to changing behaviours: above all, transport modelling is about supporting the people and the economy of a community, whilst minimising the environmental impact. How the transport landscape is evolving is a key consideration to build places which work for the community.
  2. Technical challenges: Transport modelling is challenging and complex with new approaches needed to ensure modelling is fit for purpose.
  3. Process & Workflow: the way stakeholders interact with transport models and use them efficiently as part of the planning process is an ongoing challenge.

Below we summarise some of the key challenges in each of these areas – and how we are looking to solve them with the new MIMAS platform.

Adapting to changing behaviours:

Oxfordshire County Council recognised that a new approach was needed to support the changing requirements of people moving around an ever more complex transport landscape while also following sustainability targets and evolving needs of the community. Some key challenges include:

  • Changing work patterns – long term trends such as working from home, flexible working and a move from 9-to-5 workflow patterns continue to impact transport, and have been accelerated by the COVID pandemic.
  • Sustainable and active travel – behaviours of individuals are changing, driven by ambitious climate and net-zero targets in Oxfordshire

These challenges are far from unique to Oxfordshire – with many councils across the UK experiencing similar behavioural changes across their populations and net-zero targets. MIMAS is built to be dynamic, allowing a user to interrogate the model and get fast results, allowing multiple scenarios to be tested quickly to respond to evolving needs of the community.

Technical Challenges:

A new approach to transport modelling is necessary which can evolve, taking into account more granular and varied data from new modes of travel, and a faster and more dynamic interaction with the model to get results quickly. In addition, solutions need to integrate with future data sources (including CAVs, MaaS platforms etc.), taking an Open Data Standards approach, and supporting future ITS implementations. Some of the key challenges include:

  • Existing tools can take a long time to run and output results – there is a need for faster dynamic interaction for results, powered by cloud computing
  • Existing modelling usually provides highly aggregated results – there is a need for more detailed outputs to base decisions on
  • Challenging to integrate higher frequency and more granular data (e.g. not just peak/non-peak) and data refreshes (i.e. less than every 5 years).
  • Existing tools are less scalable and transferable – across geographies and depending on requirements

To solve these challenges, MIMAS has been developed as a cloud-based strategic modelling solution which combines an agent-based approach to transport modelling with analysis of the latest data from a variety of real-world sources. Features we are developing – both described in other updates, and still to come look to address the key pain points we have identified in creative & innovative ways.

Process & Workflow:

The planning application process for new developments is far from simple, with many stakeholders involved both from the Council, developers and third party planners. Often, model areas overlap between different projects or initiatives  – and there are improved efficiencies which could be solved by working together better.

  • New models are typically created in a bespoke manner for projects & developments, with analysis computed separately
  • Difficult to agree model criteria for simulation. A move to a common or ‘federated model’ will improve cross-working between consultants, developers and council planning teams.
  • ‘Predict and provide’ approach – as mentioned above. Usually a transport strategy may be fixed with infrastructure sized accordingly, rather than more holistic, iterative decision making using lots of different scenarios
  • Collaboration is difficult between council and developers without a simple single ‘view’
  • Significant expertise is required to build and interpret models. 

Key to the success of MIMAS is understanding how it fits into the broader planning process as a platform to support determining planning applications – and works to support planners, developers and the council to continue to evolve the transport landscape in Oxfordshire. We are engaging with stakeholders such as planning consultants and developers across this landscape regularly through workshops as part of our development process – if you are interested in getting involved, then please do reach out via the contact page on the website.

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