Highway and transport authorities are gradually becoming more aware of the benefits of an asset management approach at both officer and member level. Initiatives such as the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP), which support and encourage the uptake and dissemination of good asset management practice, have focused to date, quite rightly, on getting the basics right – including common specifications, contract efficiencies, right-first-time treatments, collaboration in delivery, robust priorities and making the compelling case for investment.
Getting the basics right unlocks the opportunity to fully maximise our assets’ potential – both for our customers and for asset owners. But it’s easy to take a functional view of highway assets – their purpose is to get you from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible, mindful of the environment. If we get the basics right then we will generally achieve this, but we all know there is so much more opportunity with highway assets.
Highways assets are an integral part of our everyday life and influence it in so many other ways – they can transform the look and feel of an area simply through their design, layout, features and materials, for example, simply repaving an area can completely change its look, feel and usage – which is well demonstrated by the transformation of Upper Street Islington.
Highways can also provide spaces that encourage and support social interaction and they can encourage businesses to set up and grow, for example the £34m Tottenham Hale scheme replaced the gyratory, delivered a bigger and improved bus station, and created new public space with trees, benches and additional cycle parking, providing a modern area for local residents and public transport users to relax, meet and catch up.
The challenge is to maximise the potential of our highways assets in a manner that supports growth, improves customer satisfaction and also creates opportunities for generating income.
In doing this we must recognise that not all roads and streets are the same – one of the biggest challenges is balancing the different demands on streets and roads and supporting the different functions and priorities in each location. TfL’s nine street type definitions – which range from Core Roads, like the A40 Westway, to City Places, like Exhibition Road – enable each street type to be linked to a set of service standards and a toolkit of potential interventions – the right solution in the right place.
The street types provide a clear framework for the improvement and maintenance of streets in London – furthermore we are improving our understanding of customer ‘delighters’ and ‘pain points’ to help us fully maximise our assets’ potential. Customer surveys help identify these – and it’s no surprise that some of the most deep rooted customer pain points arise from ponding water, poor ironwork condition and street clutter. This informs our business-as-usual activities and the need for targeted programmes of work, for example, the introduction of pedestrian countdown at traffic signals has delighted our customers so we now have a well-defined programme to roll this out much wider across London, conversely carriageway defects have been established as a key pain point for cyclists so we adjusted our defect thresholds accordingly.
Through street types and understanding customer delighters/pain points we are successfully building on the basis of having well maintained assets – and now we can take it further, we can make our assets work for us and generate income. In a densely populated city, space is at a premium and people movement and footfall is high – two aspects that benefit us greatly. For example, in this digital age the service providers need somewhere to locate their telecommunication devices and advertisers want locations where they will interact with a large customer base. Also, providing safe pedestrian crossings at grade means we can find alternative uses for subways such as pipeways for utility services, reducing future disruption from utility asset management. Our highway assets represent real revenue potential.
Our river piers and bus stations also have considerable potential for commercial development – we are looking to create revenue streams making the best use of our assets. This could be, for example, in the form of food and beverage outlets, retail, over station development, joint ventures, placemaking or sponsorship. Imagine a redeveloped pier, which attracts more users but also provides a supplementary cultural offering on the Thames such as a cinema or walkway with coffee shop. We have worked up a proposal for the Southbank, which although purely indicative is an example of the type of asset development we are considering. We believe, water, as an asset, has inherent value as a destination and attracts visitors; development can work in synergy with the natural value of water and generate income, particularly from food and beverage.
Asset management may mean to many simply getting the basics right, to us at TfL we must move our asset management journey to an asset development journey and use innovation and partnerships to get the most out of our assets and delight our customers.
Dana Skelly – Director of Asset Management, Surface Transport, TfL