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Open Mobility Foundation Releases Next Generation of MDS

The Mobility Data Specification 2.0 includes data standards for other forms of urban mobility, beyond just bikes and scooters. The next generation of the specification can now be used to better manage taxis, TNCs and more.

MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village
MacDougal Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Cities now have a new tool to more fully understand how the various pieces of the mobility ecosystem are serving the region, and that innovation is also allowing those transportation providers to better communicate with the public sector.

This change is thanks to the release of the second generation of the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a language that allows for the standardized flow of data from mobility operators to the city.

Andrew Glass Hastings, the executive director of the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) described MDS as a “two-way common language. You can think of it as the way cities can speak and understand data from multiple operators.”

“It truly is this two-way form of communication that has become a de facto global standard,” Hastings added, speaking May 10 at the CoMotion Miami Conference. OMF is a nonprofit, formed four years ago by about a dozen cities, that has grown to include about 65 members.

The organization used the annual transportation and urbanism conference to announce the release of MDS 2.0, which expands its use beyond micromobility devices to the many other forms of transportation, such as taxis, transportation network companies, free-floating car-share operations and even sidewalk delivery bots.

“More important than those modes — and as much as I love those modes in the spec — MDS 2.0 is a demonstration that MDS has any number of future applications, as cities look to evolve at that pace of innovation,” said Hastings.

By including data related to taxi and ride-hailing operations, cities using MDS — an open source protocol — will be able to better understand these operations, and also better serve them, say officials.

“We had a huge reboot of our taxi regulations,” said Connie Llanos, interim general manager for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), offering an example of how MDS can now be used to better manage that industry.

“How could we create efficiencies that would actually help the industry thrive? Could we create zones for pickup and drop-off that make more sense? That actually bring more success and ridership for taxis? Let's think about that,” said Llanos.

Oakland, Calif., will use MDS to manage and regulate a car-share operation known as GIG. As part of the program, users do not have to pay for parking when leaving the cars in legal street parking or public lots. The city uses MDS to calculate parking fees it charges the operator of the service.

“Basically, all of the information about where those vehicles are and how long they’re spending at that parking meter,” explained Kerby Olsen, new mobility supervisor for the Oakland Department of Transportation, speaking at the recent Urbanism Next Conference in Portland, Ore.

As another example, Oakland received a $1 million grant to develop an e-bike lending program, which will deploy about 100 to 200 shared e-bikes as part of a “long-term loan” program.

“As a part of the grant we have to do some tracking,” said Olsen. “We’re really looking forward to applying MDS to do that.”

Discussions around the need for a next-generation MDS, that would include other forms of transportation, began about three years ago, said Angela Giacchetti, member engagement manager at OMF.

OMF officials expressed a need for “a lightweight version that can be applied to anything, so that we’re ready for whatever comes next. Even if we can’t imagine what comes next, what that new mode is,” said Giacchetti, speaking on the panel at the Urbanism Next Conference.

Applying MDS to new forms of transportation is part of the inherent ethos behind the establishment of data standard, said Hastings.

“Fundamentally, MDS was created to be able to keep pace with the innovation that was happening in the mobility space, as transportation was becoming more and more digitized, and continues to be more and more digitized, cities need the tools,” he added.
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.