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Populus Tapped as Data Management Platform for Chicago Scooters

The smart management and analysis of micromobility data is part of making the devices integrated pieces of the larger transportation ecosystem and vision, experts say. In Chicago, Populus will help manage this data effort.

A mobility hub in Millennium Park in Chicago in May 2022.
Skip Descant/Government Technology
Chicago has selected a transportation management company to oversee not just its new e-scooter program, but curb management as well.

Populus, which collects and analyzes micromobility data, has been selected as the data management platform for Chicago’s scooter program. The city is also piloting Populus’ curb management technology.

“The city of Chicago is one of the key cities that are part of Populus’ Curb Innovation Cohort,” explained Regina Clewlow, CEO for Populus. “Our platform empowers cities to digitally share new curb rules, bring in data from fleet operators and use data-driven decision-making for allocating more space to commercial deliveries.”

In October of last year Chicago moved forward with finalizing a policy to allow micromobility operators to add to the city’s rich mix of transportation modes. Up to three scooter companies will be able to operate in the city, following selection through a competitive process. The scooters will share data with Populus’ Mobility Manager platform, which will also receive data from the city’s Divvy bike-share program.

Company officials point to Populus’ role on the steering committee for the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) and the Open Mobility Foundation as why the company is uniquely qualified to lead the micromobility management process in one of the country’s largest cities.

“Our team has played a key role in standardizing and supporting smart mobility policies,” said Clewlow.

The management of mobility data is a unique new role for cities, as they turn to it for planning and decision-making. And micromobility systems that work more efficiently and serve more users can help to reduce car trips and advance sustainability goals, say observers.

The issue is often framed as “Americans prefer to drive,” said Peter Norton, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, and author of the book Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving.

“This is absolute nonsense,” he added, speaking at the 2022 National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago, “because if you build an environment where you have no good choices except driving, then the predicable thing happens, and people drive. So we do not know what people prefer."

“If we make environments where people have choices … all of a sudden we discover demands that are invisible right now,” he added.

Other experts have stressed the essential nature of micromobility data as a foundation for building systems that are equitable, efficient and integrated into a complete transportation ecosystem.

“What makes data big is not necessarily the amount of data, but the predictive measure that’s built upon, that it really allows us to make more informed decisions,” said Amanda Leahy, associate planner at Kittelson and Associates and president of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

“For example, when new infrastructure is built, how many people will use it? Will personal vehicle use decline? How will it affect the price of housing? What is the risk of displacement? How will benefits be distributed? And who will benefit most?” Leahy offered, on a recent panel addressing active transportation, and organized by StreetLight Data, another transportation technology company.

“Leveraging data requires new data management technologies, and models. New data integration techniques to combine the varied and multiple sources,” she 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.