Advancing the shift toward the digital era is a prized commodity whose value has increased exponentially across sectors, unlocking insights and driving the most consequential decisions. That commodity, of course, is data.
Though tech giants like Google and Facebook have been the most prominent integrators (and merchants) of data, they’re hardly alone. Startups and legacy industries are harnessing big data to transform and revolutionize the ways their services are offered. Among the sectors sitting on the richest mines of data is public transportation, with municipalities and service providers boasting decades of data on urban transportation and mobility. For mass transportation to secure its place in the mobility landscape going forward, the integration of data solutions and technology is essential.
An oil mine of data
The mobility ecosystem is undergoing a rapid change. Amid increasing emphasis on mobility-as-a-service, the industry has seen unprecedented investments in recent years, with $28 billion poured into mobility and transit startups in 2017 alone. These investments are propelling autonomous vehicle technology, electric fleets, and infrastructure to transform the way people move about their cities.
Cities boast a treasure trove of data illuminating key trends in mobility. Mobile devices, CCTV cameras, public transit tickets, and more provide a wealth of information and in-depth insights about the movement of people within cities. Data about infrastructure usage is flourishing, as well — city officials are equipped with information about how many people are using different modes of transport, traffic flows and jams along roads and public transit routes, and parking spot usage. Moreover, data on the timeliness of public transit, travel time along different roads and routes, and parking availability allow cities to better understand the quality of mobility services on offer. In the age of mobility-as-a-service, this data represents powerful fuel.
Unleashing data’s potential
To facilitate efficient, consumer-centered urban mobility, city data must be open and shared. This will require a cross-stakeholder commitment to data transparency, with private mobility service operators collaborating with public agencies. For instance, Uber possesses a bank of data on mobility demand, while cellular parking companies maintain data on the demand for parking in different spots throughout cities. While the dynamics of public-private partnerships on data usage will vary from one municipality to another, cities should have ready access to mobility providers’ data. By taking possession of such data, or at least securing open access to it, city officials can optimize urban planning and make the investments and policy decisions necessary to support a mobility system that provides quality service to consumers.
At this critical time in which new forms of mobility are being integrated into commerce and people’s daily commutes, data optimization is particularly vital to the survival of public transportation. Sitting on decades of historical data, public transit operators hold the key to vast city insights, and the integration of data from across the mobility landscape will be a tremendous boon to transit authorities in their efforts to improve public transportation quality and preserve public transit as a viable option in an increasingly competitive mobility marketplace.
Transportation is inextricably linked to the economic growth, development, accessibility, and population growth of the world’s cities. City transit providers, then, have a vested interest in harnessing new technologies and services to meet the growing consumer demand for a point-to-point, cost-efficient, and on-time mobility experience.
Securing the future of public transportation
A data-centric approach to mobility will enable planners to design better transit routes, dynamically adapt mass transit to demand patterns, and engage in multimodal mobility planning. As cities prepare for the dawn of the autonomous age, cities that leverage data and technology will possess the actionable insights needed to help planners determine where autonomous vehicles will act as a more effective mobility option than mass transit.
Without adaptation, public transit faces extinction in the autonomous future. This is a scenario that cannot come to pass; mass transit is the only mobility form that is equipped to effectively move masses of people around cities in an affordable, environmentally friendly manner.
Fortunately, cities enjoy immense amounts of data at their disposal. By turning that data into action, they can secure the future of public transportation and fuel powerful mobility worldwide.
Amos Haggiag is the CEO and co-founder of Optibus.