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The potential for making data-informed decisions is a major feature of our new transportation infrastructure. Incredible amounts of data about travel patterns are generated every day. The amount of data that is currently collected (or could be collected) can be overwhelming. In order to separate the signal from the noise, it is important to articulate use cases and prioritize the applications of data.
The concept of use cases (and their very close cousins, user stories) comes to the transport sector from the technology industry, particularly Agile software development. In order to quickly think through how new software should interact with other systems, engineers design use cases – hypothetical or real problems and scenarios – as a rhetorical device to refine and improve their products.
What is a Mobility Use Case?
Simply put, a use case in the shared mobility space is the type of transport problem a city would like to solve using data. Clearly articulating a use case will help all the actors do a deeper dive on the features such as:
- What kind of data is needed
- How frequently the data is collected
- How precise or anonymized the data can be to still fulfil the need
- How “real-time” the data must be to fulfil the need
- Who should have access to the data
- How data is visualized and interacted with
A use case is different from a feature, or a technical requirement because a use case does not specifically call out how a solution will be implemented, only that a problem or question exists. A use case lays the groundwork for a more detailed technical discussion about features or requirements, but it starts from a non-technical place.
Coming up with Use Cases
When designing use cases, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is doing something specific for a particular reason (or put yourself in your own shoes)! The most important parts of a use case are the actor (who is trying to do something?), the action (what are they trying to do?), and the justification (why do they need to do that particular thing?) At Vianova, we often start a discussion about our use cases by filling in the blanks on the following sentence, common in the world of software development.
“As a _____ I want/need to be able to ________ so that _____”.
In the mobility space, this sentence leads to specific use cases such as:
- “As a public transport planner, I want to be able to see the connections between micro-mobility and public transport so that I can decide if additional parking infrastructure is necessary.”
- “As a mayor, I need to be able to ensure operators are following the rules we established so that I can hold them accountable if they are not.”
- “As a citizen, I want to be able to see real time availability of shared mobility devices so that I can find one close to me to use.”
Using a sentence like this helps to clarify what the challenge being solved is, and helps someone better think through the type of data necessary to answer the question and the appropriate workflows that must be designed to accommodate it. The use case may need to be refined over time (often we begin with a big use case, that ultimately gets broken up into several smaller, more discreet use cases).
Not all use cases are created equally, and not every use case will be fulfilled immediately. In some situations, even if a use case is interesting or important, further work will find that it is too difficult or cumbersome to implement, or all parties do not equally prioritise it (to use an expression, “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze”). Resource prioritisation is an important part of the use case process.
You can learn more about some of the use cases that have been successfully fulfilled using data provided through two existing standards, the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS), which is managed by MobilityData, and the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which is managed by the Open Mobility Foundation. Because both standards are governed through an open process, both rely on users to identify use cases, which begins a discussion about new features that could eventually be added to the specifications.
Cities will have to constantly reassess their list of use cases based on new on-the-ground information, and they will gradually gain a better understanding of how the data inputs that are being used to fulfil some use cases can be repurposed to fulfil others. This process is iterative and on-going, because priorities can change as the result of external factors and internal needs.
Cityscope Use Cases
As a software company, Vianova delivers solutions to support cities fulfilling their mobility use cases. Because we work with many cities, we prioritise the use cases that are shared across multiple cities; and collect, aggregate, and analyse data that meets many needs. This chart is an example of some of the use cases we fulfil now using our Cityscope platform, which may apply to multiple cities. Below are just some of the use cases that we have met for cities:
If you have a use case that is not on our list, we would be happy to work together with you to develop it further!
About the Author
Alex Pazuchanics is the Head of Policy and Partnerships at Vianova, where he helps cities meet their mobility challenges through innovative use of data and policy. Previously, he was the Mobility Solutions Manager for the City of Seattle, where he managed sustainable, shared, electric, and autonomous mobility programs in one of the fastest-growing and most innovative cities in the United States. He is also the former Assistant Director for Policy, Planning, and Permitting at the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, and the lead author of Pittsburgh’s Smart City Vision: “SmartPGH”.
Vianova is a data platform that helps cities better integrate and manage shared, connected, electric and autonomous transport solutions in the urban space, enabling better use of city infrastructure, and promoting safer and more sustainable mobility. Vianova has offices in Paris, Zürich, and London.
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