By Florian Stratz & Julia Kaefer, Partner Managers for Datadriven Mobility, NVBW – Regional Public Transport Agency Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Mobility does not stop at borders, but travel information and tickets still usually do. So how can we tackle the lack of real-time and fare information for cross-border travel? And how can we avoid the necessity to install multiple mobility apps for daily commutes or transnational tourism? Open data policies, in combination with cross-border cooperation within the mobility sector, will help to fix these problems.

So far, our mobility system relies mostly on physical infrastructure that has been assembled over hundreds of years. Specifically in Europe’s border regions, transport connections are reduced to few entry/exit points like bridges or other crossing points, as it is the case along the river Rhine which separates France and Germany. Since a few years, the transport system in general struggles to support the growing demand for passenger trips. As we see a shift from straight trajectories and single-modal mobility behavior towards a more multimodal system with various fares and schedules as well as new, innovative mobility options, users can easily lose track of all travel alternatives available. Therefore, the user’s need for an improvement of existing information systems is inevitable. Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) applications promise a suitable solution, as they enable to book different mobility options as seamlessly as possible with just one single app and with tailored fares. Luckily, the buzzword “MaaS” is not just a glimpse of hope on the horizon, but in many places already a reality.

Commonly shared data: the key enabler for MaaS

We need to think about data sharing and data governance if we want to support mobility innovation and transition to ‘data-driven mobility’ – because emerging technologies can definitely make the movement of citizens more comfortable and sustainable. However, in order to truly unleash the potentials of MaaS- fulfilling the potential to provide sustainable and convenient travel alternatives to a private car on short distances- the data of different mobility providers needs to be commonly shared. Hiding data – such as real-time information on the availability and location of shared e-scooters – behind proprietary APIs and limiting licenses massively restrains the potential values that could be generated by MaaS. This becomes particularly clear by looking at close-to-border regions, where local MaaS-apps already include different regional mobility providers, but often are not able to easily integrate existing mobility solutions from the other side of the national border.

Building cross-border mobility data ecosystems

Local mobility data hubs, such as open data platforms, provide solutions for an efficient data exchange through the harmonization of data standards and consolidation of data licensing. These data platforms enable centralized access to information about location and real-time availabilities of all existing sharing-services, if applicable. Countless MaaS apps and information retrieval systems profit from this service, as these data sets and APIs can be integrated directly.

At the EU level, the topic of open access to multimodal mobility data is defined within the Directive EU 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 “on open data and the re-use of public sector information.” Based on this directive, EU member states are currently building up national access points for mobility data. However, private mobility service providers are not yet considered in existing open data obligations. Therefore, these providers need to be explicitly convinced to open up basic information of their services for the integration in multiple information systems.

Connecting regional, federal or national and European level data platforms and harmonizing data standards and licensing will tremendously reduce this complexity of data sharing – especially across borders – and finally lead to a mobility data ecosystem that truly unleashes the potentials of MaaS. In addition to the joint policy work at the EU level, substantial benefits can be generated by exchanging experiences and re-using best practices across borders at the operating level.

The trinational Upper Rhine Valley – a multifaceted border-region in the heart of Europe

As we’ve seen, there might still be physical, technical, and legal barriers for a well-functioning MaaS system. However, we can observe already several promising initiatives which tackle these issues. On the European level, for instance, there is the “EU-Spirit” initiative, which is an internet-based, cross-border travel information service for customers of public transport. It is based on existing local, regional, and national travel information systems, which are interlinked via technical interfaces in a second step. The initiative’s service provides door-to-door travel information for customers who do not only travel within one country, but between regions of different nation states. This service is free of charge and provides the information in the customer’s mother tongue. Up to now, providers from Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, and Sweden offer the EU-Spirit service. However, it lacks the multimodal component citizens call for these days. In another, more recent attempt to harmonize data sharing, the Nordic countries joined forces in the ODIN (Open Mobility Data in the Nordics) project.

On the regional and local level, we also observe promising initiatives e.g. in the Upper Rhine Valley, which serves as an ideal test field, since within this tri-national border region, French, Swiss, and German cross-border mobility is a daily reality. Here, transborder mobility is being facilitated by public bus lines or increasingly integrated cross-border railroad services. There are living lab initiatives tackling the issue with open data and sharing best practices. On both sides of the Rhine and on the local, regional, and state level, there are strategies with the aim of supporting seamless and comfortable travel options. In line with existing partnerships in the French-German cooperation scheme, cross-border data sharing of multimodal mobility options as well as exchange of information on new mobility is one of the key measurements of interregional cooperation in the heart of Europe. With a joint data management and better usability of existing data, this will make a difference for approximately 100.000 daily commuters in this area. Moreover, shared mobility data will support the city and infrastructure planning in the region and enable connected mobility in order to foster sustainable mobility.

Some key players are already working on data sharing and innovation, include the Fluo journey planner for the French region Grand Est, as well as the German MobiData BW platform of the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Both initiatives serve the principle of open data. Digital information facilitates the alignment of public and individual traffic management in a more precise way. On behalf of the Ministry of Transport Baden-Württemberg, the state-owned regional transport agency “NVBW – Nahverkehrsgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg mbH” (Regional Transport Agency) is building up a federal state-wide mobility data platform called “MobiData BW”. It bundles data of a broad range of partners i. e. authorities from the public sector, municipalities, and providers of mobility services. MobiData BW serves as a central and neutral hub for digital mobility and data services in Baden-Württemberg. The intention is twofold: on one hand, the aim is to foster climate friendly mobility by supporting active mobility and increasing the visibility of sharing services – and on the other hand, as a starting point for the development of a new mobility business ecosystem.

A connection of these data hubs in France and Germany will enable an ecosystem in the region that can ultimately achieve better interregional mobility. Public-private business partnerships, like the KVV’s (a public transport operator) project regiomove in the Karlsruhe region, which is close to the French border, can use this data for its pioneering MaaS project. The goal of regiomove is to connect the existing public transportation network with new mobility services and with the communities in the region of Karlsruhe and beyond. No matter if it is tram, train, bus, bike-sharing or car-sharing, nor if it is rural or urban, they all become integrated in one platform. By doing so, regiomove provides for easy-to-use alternatives to personal cars, or what is effectively the basis of a sustainable future mobility: intermodal, digital and (inter-) regional. On one single account one can plan, book, and pay for intermodal journeys with an increasing number of possibilities – even an e-scooter!

In the end, the goal is to provide such services for everyone in the region, on any side of the border, for real change in the mobility experience. Despite the many borders that exist in Europe, we are deeply interconnected, and our mobility systems need to celebrate this reality. Data management is vitally important today and will become essential in the near future. This living lab of the Upper Rhine Valley and examples like regiomove can serve as pilot cases for more cross-border mobility initiatives yet to come.