In these recent weeks I have travelled a lot across Europe spending an average of 4 nights a week in hotels. My travels have been highly multimodal and, apart waterborne, I have taken all means of transport also for a single leg.
Transport was an autonomous discipline when I attended my university courses in mid ’80s. Then, in the ’90s transport “flirted” with ICT and this was when the term Intelligent Transport Systems was created. ITS have had many evolutions (e.g. infrastructures, services, e-payments, etc.) to reach the today’s common buzzwords of Intelligent Mobility and Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
In the last decade the couple Transport+ICT joined Energy and this opened a new, wide, multi-disciplinary area. This regards vehicles – electric ones (EVs) in particular – as well as charging infrastructures. The latter should be connected to Smart Grids to work well and Smart Grids should be part of Smart Cities. As we can see, the fast evolution of transport in the last 40 years has been impressive.
All the disciplines mentioned before, which once belonged to individual silos, have one thing in common: data.
Nothing could properly happen and work well without having a deep knowledge of data generated by transport services, passengers, sensors geo-location, intelligent cars, digital maps, etc.
From many sources we have read that “Data is a key enabler for innovation in transport and for improving the user’s experience“. Without geo data we wouldn’t know where to go as pedestrians or passengers (e.g. Google Maps) or vehicle drivers (e.g. Waze, by the way also owned by Google).
Without data, we couldn’t run public transport at the best of its capacity (when this happens…) nor having autonomous vehicles travelling in our cities (scarcely represented in these days, though) or having electric vehicles that know which is the closest charging station according to the real-time energy consumption detected by the tens of sensors installed on board.
The more data we have the better, we could say, but data has to be collected, stored, processed, and protected from cyber-attacks. Moreover, the data collection process needs to be regulated (GDPR is the tool in the EU but other countries follow other rules, sometimes not fully compatible with GDPR) and individuals need to agree on being tracked and traced if they would like to receive highly customised services. Many like that but many others don’t and this reduces the number of data that can be processed.
Data must be open, have a compatible format, and – most importantly – be shared. As a matter of fact, data generated by different means of transport (e.g. airborne, waterborne versus buses for instance) has historically different format and for this reason a fully multi-modality is not currently possible.
If data is not shared, it would be useless to have it. One of the reasons why Mobility as a Service hasn’t worked properly as expected and forecast a few years ago was due to the fact some transport operators didn’t want to share their passengers data arguing that those were “their” passengers, thus data that they generated belonged to that single operator. Nothing proved to be more wrong, however it slowed down dramatically the evolution of MaaS that still now we can appreciate.
As it appears clear to everyone, data is key. It must not be a coincidence the 8th Future of Transport conference, held in Brussels on 28th March 2023 that I attended, and the “Transport data strategy” recently published by the UK Department for Transport paid a lot of attention to this topic: it concerns the future of our mobility!
EPN Consulting and EPN Consulting Research and Innovation Founder & CEO