Ten transport trends expected in 2017

James Stamp, UK head of transport at KPMG, highlights that a number of emerging factors in the transport sector means business-as-usual will not be an option in 2017, and business models will need to change.

1. Local power

As politicians become more and more aware of the need to engage with their local electorate, the need to address local issues will be paramount. We expect more transport policy to be directed at local level: from who owns and runs the local buses to the way in which national infrastructure providers (such as Network rail) work with their local customers.

2. Information is King

With the ubiquity of smart-phones and social media, most passengers know more about what is going on in real time than the workforce of transport operators. Transport employers will need to equip their customer facing staff with the tools to deal with this information asymmetry, or lose the trust of their passengers.

We can expect further developments in the ways that transport communicates with customers, and less announcements which tell you the train is late due to the lateness of the inbound train. This will require better, more effective, and more collaborative sharing of data.

3. Know your customer

Operators need to understand more about their customers: not just where they are, but who they are and why they are travelling. With this knowledge, it will be much easier to foster loyalty, generate ancillary revenues, and deal with disruption.

We think that 2017 will see further advances in the ways that companies engage with passengers to make them want to share useful data.

4. Disruption is the new normal

The demand for transport will outstrip our ability to build new roads, railways, and runways, and therefore dealing with disruption will be a continuing fact of life. Operators and infrastructure providers will need to become more adept at dealing with disruption, both operationally (to minimise the impact), and from a customer perspective (recognising that dealing well with a passenger when things go wrong can build more loyalty than any other factor).

We think that predictive techniques to anticipate and ameliorate the impact of disruption will become more common in 2017.

5. Mobility. It's a service

Most customers don't often just want to take a plane, bus or train. They want to get from home to work to meeting, via the most (price or time) effective way of getting there. They don't want to use six websites to do it, and they don't want to re-book themselves (and pay again) when disruption happens.

Thus we expect asset light businesses to try and own the whole customer journey, and to push the traditional operators to being a Business-to-Business service provider. However, we also expect the traditional operators to fight back.

6. Brexit means Brexit

Over the next 12 months we will learn a lot more about what this phrase means in practice. What is certain is that companies will need to start to adapt their business models (or at least their contingency planning) to preserve their existing business goals. Apart from the issue of market access, the most pressing issues for transport will be across supply chain, procurement, people, and financing.

We expect companies to undertake detailed reviews of their business critical operations, and to develop back up plans, whether in recruitment policy or operating licence.

7. Consolidation

In cost critical times economies of scale and operation remain key. Where regulation and foreign ownership restrictions allow for it, companies will continue to acquire, joint-venture and form alliances.

Expect 2017 to bring more M&A activity. We also think that transport companies will look to form alliances outside their traditional fields of expertise in order to bring complementary skill-sets or to own more of the whole customer journey.

8. Crisis? What crisis?

Companies that are sub-scale or have been bumping along the floor of their financing facilities may find a return or higher oil prices or interest rates too much to bear. However, one company's crisis means another's opportunity: what assets, customers, or operations can be picked up cheaply?

We expect to see more transactions and opportunities coming from more robust competitors picking over the bones of their weaker rivals.

9. The weakest link

Even those companies with the most robust and efficient balance sheets have suppliers who potentially form the weakest link in their supply chain. Given the prevailing geo-political and economic uncertainties don't seem to be going away soon, there will undoubtedly be failures in supply chain that will cause issues if not spotted soon enough.

We expect to see much more focus on supply chain resilience (whether that's vehicle suppliers, or specialist scheduling software providers). Companies may turn to acquisition or diversification of supply chain to preserve security of supply.

10. Rise of the machine

We are not predicting jet packs or hover boards to be ubiquitous just yet, but we do think that automation will advance more rapidly than many expect. As more vehicles acquire capabilities to perform more advanced tasks, disruptors will become more aware of the opportunities this brings.

As such, we can expect to see companies preparing for a future where driverless vehicles, low car ownership, and driverless delivery fundamentally change the old assumptions about how transport and logistics is done.

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