Pioneering the implementation of MDS in European cities with Vianova
The past decade has seen the swift development of on-demand mobility and delivery services. On the one hand it has delighted consumers in demand of more flexibility and immediacy; on the other hand it has often left cities overwhelmed with plenty of new vehicles on the pavement or sidewalk.
Today’s vehicles — i.e. cars, scooters, bikes — in the end are nothing new and have been in the urban landscape for quite some time. What’s new is the way they are serviced by multiple on-demand mobility companies and used for multiple purposes by citizens — e.g. commute, fun, etc. Also, today we have these already well-known vehicles, but tomorrow it will be something else: autonomous cars, pods, flying cars, jetpacks, drones, etc. The form factors are going to keep changing from one iteration to another, and there will be a growing need for a digital tool dedicated to cities in order to help them get organized, manage, design and understand what is happening in the public space as well as the impact all these mobility devices and services have on transit.
Historically, and since the beginning of the on-demand mobility era, cities have been kept in opacity and denied a fair access from what was really happening on their ground. Most players have initially insisted on aggregating data before sharing it, if they were sharing it at all. Yet, and in exchange for a public space made available to a number of mobility operators, cities would benefit a lot from this data to inform their local transportation policies accordingly. For instance, the data could be used to improve safety, ensure the respect of parking and circulation enforcement zones, ensure an equitable distribution of mobility services across the city, empower more sustainable means of transportation and improve the quality of life in cities.
But, where to start when data comes from so many various sources ? How can cities standardize the way data is processed into information and that information can be converted into actions ? Few weeks from now, in September, the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) framework will celebrate its 1st year anniversary. Introduced in 2018 by the Los Angeles Department Of Transportation (LADOT), this framework aims at standardizing how cities receive data from mobility operators — e.g. shared bikes, e-scooters, etc. — that operate on the public curb space. So far, MDS has been implemented in 50 cities in the US, and Vianova is now leading the way for Europe, starting with Zürich ! But what is inside MDS precisely ?
The MDS framework is based on a set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). In Los Angeles, mobility providers are required to share data with LADOT. The MDS framework defines the APIs that the city’s Department Of Transportation will use in order to pull this data from mobility service companies operating on the city’s public road. Today, MDS consists of two APIs:
- One API is called Agency API. It enables mobility providers to send real time data about their vehicles to the Agency. The Agency represents the city and can be a third party data management platform, for instance, like the one we are building at Vianova.
- The other API is the Provider API. It enables cities to request historical data directly from mobility providers. Thanks to the Provider API, the city receives information about the start, end, and route of each dockless vehicle trip. The city also collects information about whether the vehicle is out of service or battery, or in the process of being rebalanced — i.e. moved to another part of the city.
In a near future, the MDS could also enable cities to alert operators about events like a demonstration or construction work, or allow them to notify in real-time mobility service providers when their vehicles are parked outside of a proper parking area. Finally, we can also imagine that at some point, cities will be able to actively incentivize mobility companies’ behavior: for instance by adjusting vehicles’ parking fees based on congestion or pollution peaks, or when trips originate in low-income areas.
From early September, we will first start with the implementation of MDS’ Provider API in the city of Zürich, before ultimately rolling out Agency API. This will provide Stadt Zürich with a crucial tool to manage micro-mobility services available in the city. Also, as more cities adopt MDS, it is important to create more consistency around its use, notably formalizing its governance structure as well as the way data is collected and transformed. At Vianova, as a European startup embracing GDPR, we have committed to compliant data collection and privacy from day one. On top of MDS safeguards that guarantee data is secured and anonymized, and does not contain any personal identifiers of vehicles’ users, we are adding our own steps for more privacy and security, such as data aggregation and minimization.
As MDS expands into new cities and new modes, it has the potential to transform relationships between local governments and the mobility companies they have struggled to regulate. MDS definitely has the potential of being a breakthrough for transportation policy, and we are thrilled at Vianova to pioneer its implementation in Europe.
This article was originally published on our Medium