Data is the key to the Transport of the Future

There’s no doubt in the minds of commentators that data will be fundamental to the emerging transport and mobility landscape (see reports from DeloitteDepartment for TransportRoland Berger). Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and shared mobility initiatives are going to have a revolutionary impact on how people and goods move around. The rise of these schemes has been accelerated in urban centres as authorities come under increasing pressure to improve air quality and reduce environmental impact. Multiple pilot schemes across the world have seen great success. For example, the Whim mobile app in Helsinki is often seen as the primary example of MaaS at work.

Time for Transport to Become Smarter with Data

Consider the sheer volume of user and journey data collected by services such as UBER and their contemporaries. If shared (e.g. with local authorities), this data would prove useful for optimising transport networks. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Any successful implementation of MaaS will rely heavily on the use of data and the sharing of it, by all stakeholders within the MaaS ecosystem. The ecosystem contains government agencies, transport providers, payment service providers, technology provider(s), and customers themselves. A recent Catapult Systems report illustrates the role that each actor performs within the ecosystem. Data transactions must be allowed to happen freely between stakeholders to improve service and customer experience.

MaaS represents a merger between the digital and the physical. Although it’s mainly in the final throes of testing currently, schemes have seen success across Europe (even right here in Birmingham), and Asia. Data underpins how schemes work, and can inform authorities to tackle congestion in urban areas and reduce inefficiencies (e.g. the amount of single-occupancy journeys taken). Stakeholders must be able to use data created and held by others. For instance, transport providers must share their data with the app provider to make resources like timetables and departure boards available to users.

Conveniently, this lines-up with the UK government’s Future of Mobility Urban Strategy commitment to “explore ways to use data to accelerate the development of new mobility systems.”

Challenges to Overcome

Implementing MaaS won’t be straightforward. Uniting stakeholders is a challenge, as each have their own interests. But, they must collaborate for schemes to succeed. With new data transactions happening between stakeholders, new legal frameworks need to be in operation before MaaS can succeed. Dr Joachim Taiber, CTO of the International Transportation Innovation Centre (ITIC), sees these frameworks as part of the “shared data economy for mobility services” which needs “standardised ways of performing data transactions considering security, scalability and sustainability criteria.”

Frameworks must allow stakeholders to share data in a free, consistent, but secure manner. Government will need to update data protection regulations accordingly, as a result of this. The process will require significant input from central government, which will likely slow the deployment of MaaS. To overcome this challenge, the government and transport authorities must prepare now for the changes.

The Future of Transport is Now

In the coming years, we’re going to see shared mobility and MaaS schemes gain popularity and awareness. Schemes have proved to be popular with users where they’ve cropped-up. Madrid has BiciMAD (bike-sharing) and Car2Go (car-sharing), New York has Revel (moped-sharing), and Singapore has BlueSG (electric car-sharing). A common denominator for these schemes? All collect and rely on data and use digital technology (almost always in the form of a mobile app). Data is at the heart of the future of transport, and that future is truly upon us.