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Next-Gen Transportation Isn’t Going Anywhere Without Data

In a recent Meeting of the Minds panel discussion, transportation experts weighed in on how the future of urban mobility innovation will be tied to a wide range of data sources and thorough analysis.

by / September 15, 2020
Rail and bus transit move through Portland, Ore.

Effectively operating the transportation systems of tomorrow is going to take more than thoughtful planning; it’s also going to require a lot of good data, experts say. 

This process is already playing out with the wide adoption of standardized methods for collecting and using transportation data, namely through open-source software and the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which lays out a road map to connect mobility companies with local governments.

MDS is often credited with making emerging forms of mobility — bikes, e-scooters, rentable and sharable cars — integrated mobility options within the larger transportation ecosystem. These specifications are in use by about 90 cities around the world. 

“Which really makes it kind of a de facto global standard for micro-mobility data exchange,” remarked Jascha Franklin-Hodge, executive director of the nonprofit Open Mobility Foundation.
 
“It allows cities to get information about the services that are operating on their streets, the design effect of regulation and to communicate their polices back to mobility companies, all using digital channels,” said the former Boston CIO during a Meeting of the Minds panel discussion Sept. 9. 
 
However, the specifications are not without its controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed a case in Federal District Court in California this summer, seeking to halt trip-data collection by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Plaintiffs in the case claim harvesting trip-data from devices like bikes and scooters could be used to identify users and compromise their privacy.
 
As mobility technology develops, the kinds of data management MDS facilitates will play an even larger role, said Bibiana McHugh, manager of mobility at TriMet in Portland, Ore. 
 
The next generation of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) could evolve as a personal travel assistant, she suggested in comments on the panel. 
 
“'Siri, plan a trip from home to work, arriving at 8 a.m., and wake me up on time.' That’s, I think, where we’re going,” said McHugh.
 
A system like the one described by McHugh will require the integration of a number of different systems, which is where concepts like MDS and open-source architecture come into focus.
 
Roughly a decade ago, TriMet, along with Google, was one of the first public agencies to develop the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) which allows for trip-planning and other features. GTFS is now commonly used across numerous transit agencies. These open-source data developments are going to be the future for transportation planning, said McHugh. 
 
“Strategic technology choices, open architecture planning and design will enable future enhancements and buildouts for the flexibility of the future,” said McHugh. 
 
“There will always be movement of people and goods,” McHugh continued. “We will always need to focus on safety and put safety at the forefront. Government will always have a responsibility to serve the underprivileged. Technology will always be advancing, and need to be flexible. There will always be a need for public-private collaboration. And I think everyone can agree that the goal everyone has in common — even our customers — is a greener planet.” 
Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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