By Sandra Witzel, Head of Marketing at SkedGo

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a spotlight shone on the need for greater data sharing to inform government policy and track public transport use. Operators have used open-source data to let passengers know how busy their train carriage may be to help them make informed decisions about the best time for their journey.

Without open data, it is near impossible for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to provide a personalised travel experience that is a genuine alternative to the private car. This requires a commitment from all players in the mobility sector to share their data, from governments through to transport providers and associated services, such as ticketing and payments.

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A change in mindset

Open data calls for a different mindset, working in partnership rather than taking a walled garden approach. Fortunately, more organisations and countries are opening up their data. This serves passengers, transit providers and authorities from access to information to offering insight on how to improve the transport system for travellers. There is a great deal that the industry can learn from their experience.

In the US, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) introduced the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), providing an API that allows cities to gather data from mobility service providers. In LA, shared micromobility operators have to provide real-time information, including trip data, costs, vehicle locations and usage.

This work is being taken further. The Open Mobility Foundation (OMF), based on the MDS, aims to see how this standard can extend beyond micromobility to other forms of transport. This sharing of data can help cities manage demand, monitor the utilisation of vehicles – including in under-serviced areas – and support policy choices such as environmental initiatives.

More inclusive mobility

Data supports greater inclusivity too, sharing information on whether there is wheelchair access to platforms, if ramps and lifts are out of order – or even curb access, where individuals have to use footpaths between transport options. This data is critical to ensure transport is more open to everyone with restricted mobility, from wheelchair users and the elderly, to families with pushchairs or someone carrying heavy luggage.

It can even help people with other conditions. Take, for example, the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) in Australia. It trialled its app using accessibility data from Transport for NSW (TfNSW) via SkedGo’s MaaS platform. This meant travellers on the autism spectrum could more easily find services and train cars that were less crowded. Access to more direct routes can also help to reduce travel anxiety.

In the UK, Transport for London provided access to its free API for real-time routing data. It resulted in 600 apps integrating this information, which includes step-free access at rail stations, better supporting people with accessibility requirements. In January 2020, the Bus Open Data Service was introduced in England to share bus timetables, locations and routes as well as data on fares and tickets. Sadly, it didn’t make accessibility data a requirement, which was a major missed opportunity.

A collective approach to transport data

The progress being made in Scandinavia is particularly interesting. The Finnish Transport Code has legislated for open transport data to enable MaaS to flourish, laying the foundations to harness the power of digitalisation and a more holistic, joined-up transportation ecosystem.

Another great example is the Nordic Open Mobility and Digitalization (NOMAD) which aims to share mobility data so people can travel seamlessly across different Nordic countries using multiple modes of transport. It is frameworks like this, demonstrated through pilots, that can help to crystallise the benefits of MaaS – not only for citizens and tourists but for transport providers and transit agencies too.

Redefining travel with data

By sharing data we can start to redefine the transport landscape and our attitudes towards travel. Given the issues our towns and cities face, from congestion and environmental concerns to the liveability of urban spaces, we need a fresh approach.

Open data is central to this future. As companies, governments and other players embrace new collaborations and business models, more innovative ways to solve our real-world mobility issues will be created. This is what makes MaaS so exciting.

Together we can inspire greater confidence in the transport options available, allowing individuals to plan, manage and pay for their journeys from one simple app, be alerted to any problems along the way and reroute where necessary – all in real-time and without the usual frustration when figuring out alternative transport options.

By making data readily available, we can take the hard work out of moving around our cities and regions, which may help to increase ridership, more sustainable travel, and finally, encourage people out of their private cars. And while data is only one part of the mix, it is fundamentally important if we are to reap the full rewards that MaaS has to offer.