Seismic shifts are afoot in the transportation and mobility sector. This is a time of profound transformation in the choices we have (or don’t have) about the way we move, and with transformation come new opportunities and challenges. Mobility, defined as the movement of goods and people, is a key enabler of freedom and access. It is connected to everything, and it has far-reaching effects in the social, economic and environment domains1. Mobility, as in the ability to go from A to B, is key to economic and social mobility and a major determinant in household health, education and welfare, because it either provides or hinders access to those services or destinations2.
The neighborhood you grew up in impacts your economic mobility. Studies3 have shown that, the shorter the commute time of the workers in your neighborhood, the more income you will earn later in life. Other studies have shown what many of us who have lived in big, sprawled cities have experienced: that a long commute time is detrimental to overall happiness4. Compact and dense cities, conversely, typically have shorter commute times as the goods and services that people need on a regular basis – getting to school, work, healthcare services, parks and playgrounds, etc. – are more easily accessible. In addition, the way we move affects our environment and the planet. Globally, the transportation sector is responsible for 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion5. So, the easier, safer, more efficient, accessible, and sustainable our mobility choices are, the better our quality of life will be.
It is clear then, that mobility matters, as does the way we move. Rapid population growth and its associated demand, along with new mobility technologies, have dramatically expanded our choices. In many cities, we can now easily hail a ride, share a bike, or e-scoot our way through town (i.e. the sky is the limit! Or, wait, maybe not actually); or a combination of these modes, to suit our fancy. While the options look quite different depending on the level of economic development and resources available in a given city, we generally have more options to move around than we did before.
At the same time, post 2020, we also know what it is like to not be able to use any option at all – the COVID-19 pandemic showed us the essential role played by transport and the social, health and economic costs when the free movement of people, goods and services is severely constrained or even curtailed altogether6. Indeed, the long-term effects of the pandemic on our mobility patterns are yet to be fully assessed and understood.
As we change the way we move, the way we power our vehicles is changing too. Devastating climate change effects have propelled highly visible policy commitments (e.g. Paris Climate Agreement) at the global and regional level to decarbonize our economies. In the U.S., a slew of announcements by automakers planning to electrify their vehicles over the next decade or so is a strong indicator of what is to come, along with government plans (both in the U.S. and in other parts of the world) of a previously unthinkable scale.
A fundamental element of this transformation is data. We need data to design better and more sustainable transportation systems; to develop new products and services that address customer pain points; to build safer vehicles; to deploy those bikes and e-scooters you see around town, and to enable myriad other applications. Data, as an asset, has been referred to as “the new oil” – but instead of being at risk of running out, it is increasing exponentially every day.
In this article, I will discuss some of the ways in which data and mobility intersect; why this is an increasingly important topic as we look ahead at the (imminent) future of mobility; and some of the implications and questions that we will need to ask ourselves as data is generated, accessed and utilized in service of mobility solutions. Consider it a high-level look at the tip of the iceberg.
We generate data as we move from A to B, whether by walking (hello cell phone location data), taking the bus, hopping into a bus, Uber or Lyft, or using our own car. While in the past mobility or transportation data were collected largely through surveys or manual counting methods using humans, the advent of big data and technological innovation has opened the floodgates and created a treasure trove of ready-to-exploit data. Road data, traffic data, crash data, travel demand data, location data, parking data, sensor data, the list goes on and on. All of these data help transportation and city planners, as well as mobility service providers, determine, for example, bus and metro schedules; how long you will wait at the traffic light; concrete ways to optimize existing infrastructure and build new assets, and the specifications of algorithms that make things run smoothly as you move around.
Major technology leaps that are now underway in automotive connectivity will enable vehicles, roads and other infrastructure, and our smartphones and other devices to “talk” to one another through wireless communications. Connected vehicles are equipped with sensors that enable them to communicate several data attributes wirelessly, providing rich data about the vehicles and their surroundings. Such data can help us increase road safety; better understand traffic patterns and ease congestion; learn from driver behavior; and pave the way for more intelligent transportation systems. Higher connectivity means more data, which brings new opportunities for companies in the automotive ecosystem7 – and, likely, new challenges.
As we go forward, it is clear that we will not be lacking for data. New applications and new sources of value will emerge as different streams of data are generated, aggregated and analyzed. Unlike tangible assets, the value of data grows the more ways it is utilized and the more insights that are drawn from it8. Enter data monetization, which refers to ways of generating measurable economic benefits from available data sources. As summarized in this article, companies can leverage data to improve their operations, productivity, and products and services or to create new revenue streams by making data available to customers and partners.
With data’s potential, value and volume constantly increasing, a company’s ability to capture and use data is a crucial competitive advantage. As we think about companies harvesting our data for their own benefit and potentially selling it to other organizations, however, questions arise around data ownership, security, and privacy. Who is in control of these data? How is it collected? Will the data be shared? How will it be protected from cyberattacks?
Indeed, the digital transformation we are witnessing at the vehicle level, while poised to improve the customer experience by leaps and bounds, also exposes new cybersecurity threats. Malicious hackers can target software vulnerabilities, compromising not only customer privacy, but also critical safety functions. In the face of these threats, cybersecurity is becoming an integral part of the core business functions and development efforts by automakers9.
More broadly, when we think about privacy, for example, we know that mobility data generated from GPS-enabled services like taxis and bikeshare can be extremely informative for city planning and decision-making, but it contains highly sensitive information about individuals10. When it comes to connected vehicles, while protections are currently in place, consumers are increasingly concerned with privacy, and the development of new technologies and applications is likely to outpace regulation anyway. This means that companies will need to demonstrate effective and transparent data practices to earn consumers’ trust – and their business.
This challenge will not go away. In fact, data sharing will be critical to realizing the full potential of new mobility solutions: success will depend on how well companies work together and manage and share data within mobility ecosystems11. This success will require a significant behavior change by mobility players with very different agendas and used to operating in a rather fragmented industry. Innovative, workable and responsible data sharing initiatives will need to focus on highlighting the long-term value that can be created by sharing data and the benefits of doing so for the entire mobility ecosystem12. For example, the European Union is considering various incentives for data sharing: compensating companies to share data, providing them with tax breaks, and investing public funds in new technology tools or recognition schemes for data sharing13.
Finally, to be willing to share, parties must trust the systems, regulations, and institutions that underlie the security of such exchanges14. In this context, data governance becomes a crucial issue. Governments, companies, and other stakeholders need to take a systematic and user-centric approach to ensure proper management of these data. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), one of the strictest data protection laws worldwide, is a prime example of an effort to encourage companies to design systems and services with data protection in mind. It sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal data, broadly defined, of individuals residing in the European Union, and it has direct implications for mobility data15.
Ultimately, we will need to balance the need for good planning, more safety, and better mobility choices with the rising concerns about privacy and potentially negative consequences of the exponential increase in the amount of data we generate on a daily basis16. As we move forward, there will be much more to consider on this topic. Using and reusing “the new oil” transparently and effectively will continue to be a shared responsibility and a key driver of shared value.
- Yadav, Piyush; Hasan, Souleiman; Ojo, Adegboyega; and Curry, Edward, (2017). “The role of open data in driving sustainable mobility in nine smart cities”. In Proceedings of the 25th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS), Guimarães, Portugal, June 5-10, 2017 (pp. 1248-1263). ISBN 978-0-9915567-0-0 Research Papers. http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2017_rp/81
- International Energy Agency, https://www.iea.org/topics/transport
- “Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – putting European transport on track for the future”, 2020 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:5e601657-3b06-11eb-b27b-01aa75ed71a1.0001.02/DOC_1&format=PDF
- McKinsey identifies more than 30 connectivity use cases for data to generate monetary value for both individual end-users and businesses. See more here: https://www.mckinsey.com/features/mckinsey-center-for-future-mobility/overview/connectivity
- “Using data and technology to integrate mobility modes in low-income cities”, Dana Yanocha, Jacob Mason and Jonas Hagen, available https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01441647.2020.1834006
- See https://www.wbcsd.org/Overview/News-Insights/WBCSD-insights/Data-driven-transformation-toward-resilient-and-sustainable-urban-mobility
- Id World Bank. 2021. “World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives.” Overview booklet. World Bank, Washington, DC. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO
- See more here: https://www.automotive-iq.com/autonomous-drive/articles/mobility-and-the-gdpr-an-important-but-uneasy-partnership
- See https://www.csis.org/analysis/understanding-transportation-emerging-economies