The main aim of the ATOM project was to design, develop and assess options for the provision of a service to European Commission officials based on the use of transport models and the results derived from such models. This is termed an ‘Analytical Service’, and would support efficient transport policy formulation and research within DG TREN. This study is part of a group of projects that are investigating the development of a European Transport Information System (ETIS) for the Commission.
The aims of this project were to:
- Define the options for providing Commission officials with analytical services based on the use of transport models, in the context of the Commission’s institutional structure and decision making processes;
- Assess the options against a set of criteria including policy requirements, costs and risk;
- For a selected short list of options, specify how the access would be provided and produce ‘prototypes’ or demonstrators for these options;
- Produce a Longer Term Options Plan that provides a link between this work, Phase 3, ETIS development and possible progress on standardisation of model interfaces and data.
The main impacts of the project will be on the capability of the Commission to improve decision making through a better quantitative analysis. There will also be wider benefits in terms of providing inputs to a longer-term strategy for a European Transport Information System (ETIS) and for standardisation of model interfaces and data input. In addition there will be efficiency benefits - constructing models is expensive and best use should be made of these investments. An increased awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of different models within the Commission will inform not only the future usage of models but also the selection of the best directions for future investment in models.
Clearly the more enlightened use of the quantitative methods associated with transport models for explicit transport policy at the European level should ultimately have efficiency and quality of life effects in the wider arena. In this way, the ATOM project seeks to help the Commission adopt the best of the working practices associated with transport models that are already in use at the Member State level.
The other main objective was to liaise with the related Spotlights Thematic Network. There has been good co-operation between the two projects with members of the ATOM Consortium contributing regularly to the Spotlights meetings and working jointly on the development of prototype tools.
The work in this study was divided into two main parts.
- From initial interviews with a range of users, the main service requirements were identified and then a range of options for meeting these requirements were assessed;
- Some of the more promising options that had been identified were then analysed further through the development of prototypes and of specifications for how these analytical services might best be provided. The recommendations were then assembled and are summarised in this Final Report.
The overall conclusion of the ATOM project could be summed up as follows: unless the content of the information that is accessed by users is of a suitable quality and reliability, major further investment to improve access to it is likely to be a less effective use of funds than improving the quality of this content itself i.e. the models and the data underlying them.
The interviews with the European Commission conducted in the early stages of the project yielded the following broad findings:
- Transport models are not yet widely used in DG TREN;
- There is a need to learn from usage at national level and from energy modelling at the European level;
- European level has special needs over and above those that arise at national level;
- Opinions on usefulness of models are split: if you have many models then how do you know they will produce the same result? Indeed, as was found in the ECMT comparative study of Trans-Alpine models, having many models often implies many different answers;
- Organisational problems exist in policy use. DG TREN needs a structure that will be able to make best use of the best models.
The results required from analytical services by DG TREN staff were as follows:
- General information and statistics of transport systems and past trends;
- Knowledge and analysis of the functionality of transport systems;
- A commonly agreed baseline is needed to make trends and forecasts of possible futures;
- Policy studies and impact assessments of policy alternatives for the management and investment in transport systems are required.
Some overall comments which emerged from the research within the project include:
- A case needs to be made for the value of models as a codification of existing knowledge, particularly in the context of comparing alternatives, and emphasising that in the transport field highly simplified models are not really an option;
- The institutional arrangements will depend on the scope and scale (particularly geographic representation) of the model – in this respect more concrete examples would greatly aid the discussion;
- Presentational issues are a key element in both building confidence and making models useful to policy makers and much more attention is required than has been given in the past;
None - see policy implications.
The main recommendations from ATOM can be broadly sub-divided into four areas: Data, Projections, Modelling Service and Results Presentation.
ATOM recommends the following options to the Commission with regard to data assembly initiatives by DG TREN:
- Standardisation/harmonisation of data definitions across EU. There is much still to do in this field and it is especially important as a fundamental ingredient for models.
- Consistent EU national passenger surveys of all travel are needed (both short and long distance).
- Improve quality, consistency & speed of publication of freight data (carriage of goods). Especially, improve data on domestic movements.
- Confront data licensing/pricing/access issues. The preferred and arguably most economically efficient way is to maximise access & use of data acquired using publicly funded means, as in the US.
A significant way of improving data transferability, quality and overheads in processing and aggregation for input into models is to use the Generalised Transportation-data Format (GTF). This format was originally developed under the BRIDGES project but has been considerably enhanced in the companion Spotlights Thematic Network project. ATOM recommends that DG TREN acts as “champion” for refinement of GTF. It should cover the short term costs to ensure the long term benefits:
- better models that are cheaper to run;
- better data;
- better policy decisions.
Ideally, DG TREN should initiate pilot studies to test implementation of GTF. Some SCENES files tested within ATOM WP4 and showed great promise in the approach.
Consistency is crucial in all areas of data acquisition, processing, transfer and dissemination: DG TREN should cooperate with other relevant standardisation institutions.
2. Projections – a Common Basis for Comparison
Consistency of assumptions in models is essential. Without consistent underlying assumptions, comparisons of findings between different models tend to confuse more than they inform. The main ATOM recommendations for a Projections Service are:
- There is a strong need for a comprehensive EU-wide set of standard transport projections;
- DG TREN is the logical candidate to OVERSEE their production and dissemination;