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‘Digital Infrastructure’ Foundational to Integrated Transportation

Concepts like mobility data specifications are serving as the foundational pieces of digital infrastructure that will enable the development of more integrated and complete urban transportation systems.

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A rider with Santa Maria Regional Transit in California uses a smartphone to access digital ticketing technology.
Submitted Photo: Modeshift
Creating a truly integrated transportation ecosystem will require a form of digital infrastructure built on a foundation of shared data, common language and more collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Experts explored the idea of "digital mobility" as an organizing force for more multimodal and seamless urban transportation experiences during a panel organized by CoMotion LIVE earlier this month.

“I do believe that if cities are able to use the digital infrastructure and have better insight and ability to manage the multiple modes of transportation and travel on the street, it will create a more efficient, a more equitable and a safe, climate-friendly system. And so that’s what we’ve all gotta be all working in lockstep to achieve,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, executive director, Open Mobility Foundation (OMF), and the former transit and mobility director in Seattle.

The OMF has been a leader in the advancement of concepts like the mobility data specifications (MDS), which sets up a common language around the sharing of mobility data among public-sector transit agencies and transportation departments, and the many digital transportation platforms supporting new forms of mobility like scooters, ride-hailing and even sidewalk delivery bots. These specifications are used by at least 300 cities in 21 countries as an international standard — “a common language” — that cities can use to manage micromobility.

“Digital infrastructure isn’t really a brand new concept for cities,” said Hastings. “For decades, cities have had intelligent transportation systems technology. They’ve had transportation operations centers.”

Newer forms of transportation can be managed within this overall system with the help of MDS, allowing transportation officials to orchestrate an expanding symphony of mobility options, thanks to digital infrastructure.

“So now, that information, in many ways, can feed into the existing transportation operations centers that cities have. They can feed into the existing digital infrastructure and give them much more comprehensive insight into how people are moving and traveling on the street,” Hastings explained.

To get to an integrated transportation system, supported by digital infrastructure, cities and other stakeholders will have to take on non-siloed postures and attitudes, said Audrey Denis, strategy manager with Cubic Transportation Systems.

“We have a lot of the technology pieces, and what is required is us moving from those individual systems and silos to an integrated transportation network,” said Denis during the panel discussion.

“When we think about our goals in terms of really moving the needle on congestion, as well as emissions, we need to think about how we use our infrastructure more efficiently, because we can’t really build our way out of these challenges,” she added.

Account-based ticketing, a tool that gives riders one tool to pay across modes, is one example of some of those silos coming down.

Technically, integrated ticketing and transportation is “very feasible,” said Denis. But the larger challenge has been moving the conversation among policymakers to bring down silos that have separated stakeholders and the public.
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 Yreka, Calif.


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