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Purpose, excitement and brilliant people: Why I’m joining FiveAI

I spent the last seven years as Managing Director of Surface Transport for London — a £3.5bn business that takes care of all passenger transport in the capital, apart from the Underground. During the London 2012 Olympic Games, I was responsible for ensuring everyone — Londoners, visitors, volunteers, athletes and more — got to the right place, at the right time. My career has been a long and rewarding one. Here’s something I’ve learned along the way: whilst London’s double-deckers and tube trains are iconic and beloved, transport must move with the times.

FiveAI has big, bold plans

At TfL I championed innovation. No easy task amidst a bureaucratic organisation staffed by 30,000. Shaking things up, I’ve discovered, demands a deep understanding of what’s gone before. Throughout my career, I’ve been fascinated by London’s ever-evolving, social and cultural history and will continue to work to ensure that the lessons of the past are fully recognised in our plans for the future. This approach is at the heart of my latest step — becoming an advisor to FiveAI.

I share in the team’s aim: to transform Europe’s cities, for everyone. FiveAI is doing this by bringing together the best minds in AI, engineering and mobility. This constellation of talented individuals is collaborating to deliver a fully autonomous, shared transport service for Europe’s metropolitan hubs. The business’s bold founders want to build a true global player. Because if the UK and Europe don’t lead on this, the US and China will. Making it happen is a mammoth task, but one the team are 100% capable of.

It’s vital Europe gets AV right

Many potential providers are giving lip service to positive societal and environmental change, in order to gain acceptance, promptly start competing with public services and pocket consumers’ money. The autonomous trojan horse method, if you will. I’ve been approached by many of these creatures, and their propositions failed to excite me.

FiveAI was different. The founders (Stan, Ben, John and Simon) don’t simply want to bring a new consumer service to market — they want to create the conditions whereby Europe’s cities can flourish, and Europe can become a genuine force for good in the global tech scene. FiveAI wants to complement and enhance London’s existing transport network, creating a meaningful service for society and citizens.

All this demands a deep understanding of the transport status quo, and complex thinking about the future of our cities. Let’s tell it straight: autonomous vehicles are simultaneously the most threatening and the most exciting thing for our metropolises. The benefits could be huge: from free-flowing cities, to safer, more accessible, more affordable transport and increased inclusion, productivity and creativity. We need to ensure we achieve all this, without harming the planet. It would be a tragedy if in 50 years we found ourselves with yet more congestion and pollution.

That’s why it’s so important that the technical challenge is approached in the context of other challenges. What kinds of cities do we want to live, work and play in? And how can we do right by the environment? Creating a shared service is key. We’ve got to be incredibly clever about all this, fusing technical expertise with social vision and moral responsibility. FiveAI’s leadership understand all the challenges involved in succeeding in London and beyond and have the people and plans in place to ensure we get it right.

I’ll be sharing my transport expertise

I’ll be bringing my detailed knowledge of London’s transport system to the FiveAI table. Policy and mobility are significant pieces in the AV puzzle. I’m thrilled to be working alongside Director of Public Policy, Lucy Yu, having crossed paths in numerous policy areas, including road pricing and transport security — she in central government and I in transport administration. This kind of heritage and expertise is one of our true differentiators from potential competitors in the US and China.

My key takeaway from my time at TfL? London is not homogenous. Never assume London is Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea. It’s not all dense retail, packed populations and swanky cars. Our city is really a series of interconnected towns. When we talk London transport we must never base our plans on Oxford Street and the Embankment. We must think of Bromley, Hornsey Rise, Barnet, and East Ham. It’s vital to acknowledge such complexity and diversity, and to develop solutions that work for one and all.

My ‘translation’ skills will make a difference

I’m excited to join FiveAI on their journey, and to offer up my skills as well as my knowledge.

Throughout my career, I’ve done my best to understand and empathise with those on all sides. Back when I was a bus operator, I had a licence to drive a bus. Indeed, I still have one. I would drive on a Saturday afternoon, to get a real understanding of the frontline and the challenges employees and city dwellers face. That insight served me well and, today, I bring those kinds of explorations to bear on whatever I’m working on.

I’ll be helping FiveAI uncover and navigate the cultural complexity of their mission, thinking about how best to connect with and cater for London’s diverse communities, and how to ensure we see the full picture when it comes to the potential impact of new, disruptive technologies on the young, old, poor, and less mobile. What I’m talking about is an expanded definition of ‘translation’ — one that accounts for nuanced, hard-to-pin-down interpersonal work and the huge value it can unlock for society and business.

As I’ve discovered in retirement, there tends to be a shortage of white hair in the start-up scene. So I’ll be dedicating much of my time to acting as something of an interpreter, bridging the gap between two very different working worlds. Central government and local government need pioneering ideas and action, courtesy of the very best tech, creative and entrepreneurial minds. As a seasoned public and private sector professional, I can ensure everyone’s speaking a shared language, and FiveAI’s deeply exciting mission and message lands clearly and compellingly in the governmental and regulatory camps. FiveAI know that delivering positive social impact and big business tech success can go hand in hand. Indeed, done well, each can ensure the other thrives. I’m passionate about helping government, investors and society hear and understand that.

Here’s to doing good and having fun

I keep referring to my excitement, but that’s exactly what I’m feeling. My job at TfL was the best in the world, and the last full-time job of my career. I’ve enjoyed success in both the public and private sector and, now more than ever, purpose, fun and brilliant people are at the top of my agenda. FiveAI has all three, so joining as an advisor felt natural and right. I found myself referring to “we” long before contracts were even signed.

I’m counting myself lucky to still be involved in deep innovation at this stage in my life and career. My retirement wish? May I live long enough to see FiveAI fuse world-leading tech with transport service excellence, in such a way that people’s existences are changed for the better. May we all lead safer, more efficient, healthier lives, so effortlessly that we barely give a thought to who made it happen.

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