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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

The Fog of War: The problem with queueing and why data is important

In the military there is a great expression – the fog of war – which is all about how confusion can reign on a battlefield because of all of the unknowns that happen.

There was a recent article in the Washington Post about the issue of waiting in line, and how the typical first-come, first served system of queuing is incredibly efficient. We have a big interest in the issue of queuing, and I guess a somewhat pathological desire to reduce it. Our platform was created in order to help busy logistics hubs reduce this big problem and all of the inefficiencies it creates including lost productivity, wasted land use, stress, congestion and environmental impacts. It is not a simple problem to solve, but still a problem that needs solutions nevertheless.

For us though, a lot of this comes down to decision making about when to actually arrive at a location which in many respects is all about data. The freight industry remains incredibly inefficient – it’s highly fragmented and completed reliant on manual and paper-driven processes (even to the point of actually using fax machines)! A report a few years ago highlighted that the UK construction sector loses £3 billion a year due to inefficient logistics as just one example; trucks drive empty for 20 billion miles a year in the United States – that’s effectively equivalent to travelling to Mars once a day when the earth and Mars are at their closest point.

Having access to data and being able to use it to make better decisions is fundamental in many sectors – think financial markets for example. Cities are starting to work on this in a big way; the World Council on City Data has now established a common standard with 20 cities around the world and is expanding that to a massive number of other cities. London has the London Datastore upon which is built hundreds of applications to help people make better decisions in many parts of their daily lives.

What worries us though is the absence of freight-related data in many of these data sets – having commuter data is great, but freight has a big impact on congestion within cities (and on things like air pollution, and is over-represented in problems such as cycle safety). We regularly get to see some fantastic reports on smart cities and city data – truly insightful on a huge range of indicators, but with the very clear exception of freight related indicators. This will of course be tough given the way the freight industry works, but as cities become more densely populated, and trucks continue to cause issues on transport infrastructure, it will be crucial to really start to understand what is going on in order to manage freight better – it really goes back to Lord Kelvin’s thesis about how you need to be able to measure things before you can manage them, and this is why we will be working with London Datastore colleagues to encourage the sharing of more freight-related data.

James Swanston is Founder and CEO of Voyage Control