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Data-driven transformation toward resilient and sustainable urban mobility

Published: 31 Mar 2021
Author: Thomas Deloison
Type: Insight

Digitalization has re-shaped mobility in the last decade. Many services have emerged, allowing people to locate, track, share, pay, rent and use different modes of transport in a more convenient and user-centric way. Several startups providing services and products have grown into corporate behemoths that can now influence the conditions, operations and planning of mobility in major cities of the world. Cities and governments have increased the collection and merging of data for traffic management and safety and are now pushing the boundaries to achieve smart city concepts. And that is only the beginning and brings into question how we share increasing amounts of data.

The COVID-19 pandemic calls for an increased resilience among cities, public transit authorities and operators and has induced an unprecedented change in the legacy commuting patterns, at the time when cities are working to reduce transport emissions and improve equity. The next years promise to be chaotic in urban mobility and will require energy and innovation from every stakeholder to cope with the fluctuating demand for transport, the economic crisis and to sprint with cities and countries in their race to carbon reduction. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella has heralded the arrival of a “second wave” of digital transformation throughout industry, and urban mobility is no exception.

These years ahead, as disruptive and stressful as they seem, are a generation-defining moment to change and adapt habits, value frameworks, models, technology, policies and governance to a future-fit scenario. Collectively, we must find the means to re-shape our urban mobility system to sustainably create true and shared value that will help increase access, reduce inequalities, reduce emissions, congestion and pollution while improving safety and efficiency of mobility.

Digital mobility services tend to get quite negative press these days for their unforeseen consequences on the planet and people, and rightly so. But as I often answer my kids when they eagerly collect the coins buried in-between our sofa cushions, when they ask how much they are worth, just look at the other side of it. Value is not always easy to spot.

It is possible to harness the transformative potential of digitalization and connectivity in mobility to generate value for each user, the public good, the private sector and the planet. A decade after the inaugural smart city expo congress, we have the technological building blocks, and some convincing use cases, to share and use the data we generate to create shared value. It will take unprecedented collaboration and questioning many legacy sectorial and institutional boundaries, but digitalization and data-sharing will enable profoundly positive changes.

Transport city leaders can use the current crisis to redefine urban mobility priorities and the means to achieve them. By putting data and resilience at the center of a vision for sustainable mobility that works across all sectors, local ecosystems will strive to create game-changing data-sharing capacity.

Sharing data from various sources and devices across sectors is far from being simple. Major barriers ranging from interoperability, lack of capacity, ownership, lack of trust, real or perceived competition and short-term monetization of data compose an inextricable status quo. The most compelling reason to move beyond this situation is that there is more long-term value in sharing data than in owning or selling it. The challenge for owners of mobility data is to understand that their data, if shared, has the potential to impact the entire mobility system and even have economy-wide impacts, which is arguably of higher incremental potential than the direct commercial opportunity. So, it is about finding and capturing the value that could be created through sharing data, and for non-owners to help them find it.

I often say that finding the answer to the complexity of data sharing will require finding the common interest in a data-enabled solution that answers a desired future-state. The example of shared investment and dynamic usage between commercial and public users of shared electric charging infrastructure within zero-emission zones describes this idea well.

Navigating the creation of sustainable value through data-sharing can be articulated around three elements: capacity, governance and contractual relationships.

Capacity

Value can be captured throughout the process of acquiring, aggregating, analyzing and using data. The value will be split between the stakeholders providing this process and the more stakeholders, the less value available at the end of the process. This also encompasses the technical elements of data-sharing such as communication protocols, standards, infrastructure and exchange. There, cities can leverage the existing capabilities of stakeholders across the urban mobility ecosystem and evolve away from captive, proprietary and usually capital-intensive data collection and aggregation systems. When resources are scarce, the ecosystem may well create a mechanism through which sharing or giving access to data creates value that helps cities to invest in building capacity.

Governance

Governance defines the way all ecosystem stakeholders could operate and why they operate. Governance of data-sharing capacities is a tool to achieve a vision, carried by an ecosystem or a network of stakeholders, all together forming an entity for change. This entity should have the responsibility to define and operate the governance of the data-sharing capacity. For example, a regional transport operator may have the responsibility to manage mobility across modes and sectors to enable the best level of services and could define the exact needs and streams of data to be shared between the ecosystem stakeholders and the connected commercial agreements accordingly.

Contractual relationships

At the heart of governance, the commercial relationship between the data owner, operator of the data repository and final users of data is key for setting up sharing agreements that will help to capture value. The conditions that define the contractual relationships between the actors that enable data-sharing will determine the ability of the data to answer common needs and create adaptability in data-sharing capacity. Distributed ledger technologies could have an important role to play here as proven by Sony’s Blockchain Common Database or “BCDB” for MaaS (Mobility as a Service).

For a policymaker, addressing these three elements on top of the technicalities of the creation of a data-sharing capacity represent a real challenge. But refraining from addressing the challenge is not an option as it has been proven to create bigger problems for the future. For example, poor decisions on standards can hamper the innovation potential of data and making the wrong call on collection and usage of data can affect privacy or competition and quickly erode trust in data-sharing, as can the wrong contractual approach to the private sector.

To find the right balance and build a data-sharing capacity that creates shared value, policymakers and local business leaders need an adjustable policy framework that connects decisions on the technical and policy side with the intended outcomes. To allow for a simple articulation of the actions and the operating model of a data-sharing capability, WBCSD, in collaboration with the International Road Federation (IRF) and SUM4ALL, has created a policy framework for data-sharing. Read the report here.

The framework articulates five interdependent layers to various levels of digital maturity across local, regional and national contexts to help define policies that will enable data-sharing that is fit to achieve local mobility visions. Across data collection and merging, data standards, communications, governance, accountability and finally use analysis; the policy framework helps to adapt policies and actions to fit the local needs and guides decision making with concrete examples and case studies.

The ability of policymakers to harness the power of data-sharing will not only allow stakeholders to create shared value but also help to avoid heterogeneous and organic development of data-sharing practices which often prove to be only partially good or, in some cases, directly harmful for the public by creating inequality or dissolving privacy. It will also enable trust through measures on privacy protection and ethical use to bridge the data divide and avoid monopolization of data analysis capability. Creating fit-for-purpose data-sharing capabilities to transform urban mobility holds the potential to generate incremental economic, social and environmental value, as we collectively build a sustainable future.

Local ecosystem leaders, private or public, can embrace a vision for sustainable mobility and develop the capacity to share data across sectors. Impactful use cases like MaaS, smart logistics, connected infrastructure, dynamic access rule management and data-based planning are promising ways to share data and create value through transformation of urban mobility systems toward sustainability. The pandemic and the challenges of the next decade call for extraordinary measures, at a time when behaviors and mindsets are gaining in elasticity, to change our mental models and shift our values to meet the expectations of the new generations for a sustainable future.

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