Local Authorities

How Bristol City Council gained complete trust in its highways data


“I kind of lost the team.”

That’s how Shaun Taylor, Head of Highway Maintenance at Bristol City Council, describes the moment his team lost patience with the data they were getting from SCANNER – despite all the hard work that had been put in, by Shaun, his team and the supplier, to get it to give them what they needed.

“That’s a difficult place for me as a manager, if the team don’t trust what you’re telling them to work with.”

This is the story of how Shaun not only succeeded in getting his team to trust their data but changed the way Bristol City Council operates and views its highways maintenance.

The story of why Bristol became one of 42 local authorities across the UK that trust Gaist to provide their highway condition data.

In search of a return on investment

The story begins when Shaun joined Bristol’s highways maintenance department, bringing with him a wealth of experience in construction and engineering.

He found that SCANNER wasn’t really telling him what he needed to know and that Bristol wasn’t using data to its full potential. So he looked to see how they could make improvements.

“Because we're paying all this money out, we need to be seeing some return from it.”

Unfortunately, those results were not forthcoming. “The outcomes were not telling me what I needed to know, despite all the investment and the attempts to try and make it work.”

The final straw

To make matters worse, austerity hit.

Not only was the technology not giving Shaun the information he needed but he had lost budget. He had lost staff. And he had lost a lot of local knowledge with experienced engineers retiring.

And Shaun’s team were not happy. They were telling him he was wasting their time sending them to streets that didn’t need maintenance – while driving through other streets that should have been flagged for attention.

It was all enough to keep any highways maintenance manager awake at night.

Breaking point came when they resurfaced a high street with brand-new hot rolled asphalt. The following year, SCANNER said the road needed resurfacing…

So Shaun challenged his team to find a better option.

Enter Gaist.

A blind test

Shaun’s team reduced their use of SCANNER to the bare minimum and asked Gaist to undertake the same routes.

“We compared Gaist with SCANNER and we saw the differential in the results and I asked the team to check what they thought.”

To do that, Shaun didn’t tell them what either Gaist or SCANNER had said; instead, he asked his experienced engineers to go out and make their own assessments.

The outcome?

“SCANNER was still telling us results that didn’t work for Bristol.”

And Gaist?

“The reaction from the team was that this tells us where we need to go.”

100% accuracy

Since that initial test, Shaun has worked with Gaist to fine-tune the service so that the schemes Bristol needs are identified.

“Now we have an agreed methodology where Gaist will inform us of our network and the road condition but also the priority of those roads for surface dressing and resurfacing.”

Once again, he got his team to carry out a blind test.

“The results were 100%, actually. There was no road which my engineer said ‘No, we shouldn't be doing what they're telling us to do on these roads’.”

Prevention is better than cure

Just as important as its carriageways are Bristol’s footways. Which is why Shaun’s team have worked with Gaist to develop a cost-effective methodology for looking after them proactively.

Deterioration modelling of bituminous footways – 80% of Bristol’s network – allows Shaun to carry out preventive maintenance with slurry seal at £2 per square metre, instead of spending £20 per square metre to dig out and replace a rotted surface.

As Shaun is keen to stress, prevention is better than cure. Gaist enables that to be the cornerstone of how Bristol maintains its highways and footways.

Safety first

Bristol was also one of three local authorities to trial Gaist’s SafetyView for safety inspections and it has now just entered into a new five-year contract.

“It’s certainly massively improved service delivery. We’ve not used it in court but it’s prevented us going to court because the evidence is extremely clear.”

What’s more, says Shaun, “the Gaist inspection has stopped any defects being missed”.

Shaun adds that SafetyView also brings a number of safety benefits – hidden benefits that are not necessarily costed. “To me, it’s not all about those FTE efficiencies. It’s about providing a better service and making sure it’s safer.”

It’s about eliminating risk – particularly on high speed roads where driving along at 20mph while other traffic speeds by is not a very nice thing to do. “By having a camera which you can drive up the road at 60mph along with every other car, that eliminates the risk.”

SafetyView has also been particularly useful since the pandemic began. “When COVID came you couldn’t put two highway officers in a car together.” With SafetyView, you don’t need to.

Becoming data driven leads to a proud moment

With Gaist, Bristol’s highways maintenance has become data led. Before, Shaun relied on local knowledge and individuals; now, he’s able to rely on the data. This has led to a number of benefits.

First, says Shaun, “I don’t hear from the team anymore”. He means that in a good way. He no longer has them saying to him: ‘Shaun, this isn’t working’.

Productivity has gone up. That’s even compared to a few years ago, before Shaun’s team had to be reduced in size because of austerity cuts. “I'm getting more out of the team now than when we had four officers roaming the whole city. I've only got two now and they're producing more work.”

And Gaist’s data helps bring in more investment. “This data enables me to present to senior administration up the chain and influence policy-making decisions.”

It has also led to one of Shaun’s proudest moments. This year, in Bristol City Council’s corporate strategy, there is a line about maintaining, repairing and renewing the city’s infrastructure.

“To get the administration in Bristol to sign up to say one of our goals is to ensure we have a well-maintained highway network and we’re going to invest in it, for me, as a manager of that section, that’s quite a step-change.”

This data enables me to present to senior administration up the chain and influence policy-making decisions "
Shaun Taylor, Head of Highway Maintenance at Bristol City Council

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