By Christophe Arnaud, CEO, Blue Systems 

The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.

Christophe Arnaud of the Bolloré company Blue Systems explains how smart mobility platforms will help cities improve compliance and lay the foundations for MaaS. 

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From Carsharing to Smart City Platform

I began working for Bolloré fourteen years ago and was involved in optimising airport logistics before moving to the Smart Mobility division in 2014. Clean tech and smart mobility have always been my passion, so it was the perfect opportunity. Back then it was all about carsharing as Bolloré introduced Bluecar, showcasing our unique lithium metal polymer (LMP) battery technology. But carsharing needs to be supported by stricter measures against single-car ownership, and the long-term prospects for the business did not quite justify the necessary investment. The question for Bolloré was, how to leverage existing assets and expertise to develop a profitable business in the mobility sector while still changing the world for the better, one city at a time. 

Having run a carsharing service called BlueLA in Los Angeles, we established a good working partnership with LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation). In 2018, they had what seemed at that time a crazy ambition to connect all mobility operators and gain an actual informed oversight over the mobility ecosystem and data for the benefit of residents and visitors of the City. Not just crazy…but also pioneering. 

Mobility Data Architecture for Smart Cities

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us; what the steam engine was to the first industrial revolution, data is to the fourth. LADOT managed to have all its mobility operators (excluding the big ride-hailing players Uber and Lyft) connect their APIs with the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), now the standard for exchanging data between cities and mobility operators. The city accesses operators’ data via their own purpose-built API and enforces regulation through the Policy API, which is connected to operators’ back end. The platform thus provides cities with aggregated data of mobility users, plus opportunities to encourage compliance – all in real time. For example, the Policy API can be used to cap speeds in a pedestrian zone or increase services in underserved communities. The potential uses of the MDS are endless

In addition to Los Angeles, our Smart Mobility Data Platform is also deployed in London, Grand Lyon and San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley. 

Laying the foundation for MaaS

While mobility as a service (MaaS) receives huge attention, there is a nagging question: Why Can’t Anyone Build a Thriving and Sustainable MaaS Business? The answer perhaps has something to do with diverging interests of cities on the one hand and Big Tech on the other, with the added complication of data protection. It could be argued that MaaS will only work in the context of smart cities dedicated to decarbonised, equitable patterns of mobility. Our solutions give cities the tools to aggregate and analyse all mobility data, with charts and maps to track movement in real time. As Ramses Madou (from our customer – San Jose DOT) put it: “…we are able to optimize enforcement of safety regulations and urban planning and make data-driven strategic decisions.” 

Whose Data is it Anyway?

Data protection is a hot political issue. We were clear from the start that a) data belongs to cities and not to us and therefore we will not monetise it; and b) we collect data from vehicles, infrastructure, and aggregated user behaviour, not people. This stance has made it easier to work with cities and to collaborate with operators. Ultimately, residents and visitors of our cities will benefit from better mobility services. 

Public-private Partnerships to Deliver MaaS

I foresee a time when all major cities will have a smart mobility platform to aggregate and process data from private mobility operators as well as from public transport. Indeed, Los Angeles is just about there, with only the two big ride-hailing services holding out. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is great for the private sector. Once you give cities an opportunity to aggregate all that detailed data, you have an ideal foundation for end-user mass applications. These MaaS apps will be developed by private companies and delivered to cities as a white label, (we’re already involved in one such project). 

There are three key advantages to having the city mediate between operators who provide vehicles to users and software companies who develop MaaS apps. 1) It allows cities to meet their mandate of delivering safe and equitable mobility; 2) it encourages competition, giving smaller players protection from Big Tech monopolisation; and 3) end-users benefit from greater competition and stronger consumer protection.

The Future of Compliance and Revenue Collection

There will always be a dynamic tension between private actors, driven mainly by profit, and public actors, driven by the need to collect revenue to maintain infrastructure and serve their residents. Taking this into account, our business is premised on three pillars: monitoring and regulating everything that moves, monitoring and regulating all fixed assets, and enforcing regulations through e-fining. This allows us to serve cities in a variety of ways. For example, in Paris, we have a contract to monitor parking meters, giving the city a real time view of parking spot usage and helping manage e-fines. 

We will continue to partner with cities to help them improve mobility services for their residents and visitors and lay the data foundation for MaaS. It’s important that cities take control of their mobility data and ride the wave of the IoT revolution. As city official Pierre Soulard said of our work in Grand Lyon: “… the Platform allows us to connect operators, analyze their data in real time and test the implementation of public mobility policies, in order (for us) to achieve MaaS.”

To meet with the Blue Systems and other major mobility actors, don’t forget to register for Autonomy Digital 2.0, happening May 19-20, 2021!