Micromobility and Data Standards – The Implications within Europe

By Giles Baily, Head of Policy & Partnerships, Vianova

The Mobility Data Specification (MDS) protocol was created based on the need for cities, and operators, to have a basis for communicating and managing the potential growth of shared smaller vehicles in their cities. Initially much of the conversation was about the potential of autonomous vehicles, but the reality of shared micromobility became an immediate user case. For all of these vehicles, issues were being raised about real time management, development and then enforcement of regulations, and an understanding of how the market was changing.

MDS is an open data specification for mobility systems that was initially developed in 2018 by the Los Angeles DoT. It enables the management of micromobility devices such as shared scooters and bicycles, but also has applicability for other types of shared transport and devices such as ridesharing.

MDS is delivered through a standardised API on the operators’ side called a Provider API and on the city’s or “agency’s’” side known as an Policy API.

Earlier standards such as GBFS, which focuses on traveller information, do not provide the level of detail needed for cities to perform the enforcement, regulatory or planning needs, or real time trip analysis for the delivery of effective and efficient mobility. While there are other locally developed data standards in Europe at present such as SIVU, and some cities are considering developing their own data standards to manage micromobility devices, MDS is a readily available and workable solution that is also being used on a global basis.

In particular, it is a flexible, evolving standard designed for regulators and their management and enforcement of free-floating mobility services, both historically and in real time.

Thus, cities can use MDS specified data to: craft informed policies based on data-driven insights; enforce policies (fleet size, speed, parking…); measure and ensure progress toward city goals; support urban planning decisions; and monitor daily device activity.

Importantly, the MDS standard is widely used in the industry in multiple global markets and thus, widely understood and applied by city authorities, academia and consultants as well as many micromobility operators. Cities using the standard in Europe include Zurich, Helsinki, Brussels, Lisbon, Lyon, and Hamburg. The data standard is being developed and supported in an open and collaborative process by the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) based in California. Thus, there is the opportunity for cities and others to influence its development in order to meet relevant concerns.

Should Europe develop its own standard for our unique needs? Clearly, this is a possibility and may be considered useful in order to spur local innovation and talent development. However, does yet another data standard provide any real consumer, industry, technological or other advantage? Or, is it a barrier to industry efficiency and market access and increases the cost of operations and complexity across micromobility? This is particularly the case as many of the micromobility operators are global, or trying to become global, businesses from both an American as well as a European perspective.

The MDS standard also has advantages for operators. It enhances communication and collaboration between the operators and city authorities and allows the overall micromobility market to be more effectively and efficiently managed with more accurate analytics. This enables operators to be considered long term mobility partners with city authorities.

Cities have always collected mobility data in order to manage their transport systems whether this is for ticketing, vehicle emission zones, traffic control, passenger counts, etc. As the capabilities of data capture have increased, so has the depth of this data capture. This has enabled new technological solutions to be developed such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and intelligent transport systems (ITS). Micromobility is no different and the data standards that are applied will capture substantial amounts of data.

It is critical, like the rest of the data already captured by cities, that this data is managed, in a European perspective, within the rules of GDPR. This needs to consider issues of data proportionality to use, privacy, storage, and access. The use of the data also needs to respect the competing nature of operators. As we have already seen in smart ticketing as well as bus service contracting, this can be managed and delivered effectively and does not provide a basis for not attempting to effectively manage and develop cross modal and integrated micromobility systems.

The use of MDS data in European cities is still relatively new. Cities are working to see how best the data standard can be used to meet their needs and are not necessarily choosing to enforce its use across all local operators. This is likely to change over time as the benefits of the standard become more apparent and that the MDS Provider, Policy and eventually Agency APIs provide many of these benefits. Cities are also realising that the need for accurate, real time data on micromobility will enable pressing policy goals for urban mobility to be managed.

First and last mile mobility solutions, such as offered by micromobility, are increasingly being discussed and developed by cities across Europe to enhance the multi-modality of the transport system. This has been seen in Hamburg, Germany via a micromobility service trial in 2019 in an outlying suburban region. If these services are to become a core part of the transport solution for a city, and as we are finding in some European cities, may even end up being subsidised, or taxed, the accuracy of the deployment of the services must be understood and the authorities must have the confidence that the service is meeting the stated needs and being managed effectively.

City authorities have the fundamental responsibility for the delivery of comprehensive, efficient and effective mobility for their populations that also meet the needs of global sustainability and climate change. Micromobility is part of this solution and city authorities are keen to take charge of how these services are developed within their jurisdictions. This includes via the use of operator licensing and obligations to collect and provide accurate and useful data for micromobility vehicle management.

Our latest discussions at European forums have indicated that the MDS standard is being seen as having a series of inherent advantages for the management of micromobility by operators and that cities are coming to realise that it offers essential advantages in the effective operation and development of micromobility services. These advantages will only increase over time as new types of shared services are developed such as e-mopeds and ultimately autonomous vehicles.

More UMDaily articles about data standards:

Why the Urban Mobility Data Debate Matters to Public Transportation

U.S. Micromobility Battleground: Data, Privacy, and Regulation

In the Quest For Open Data, How Do Cities and Transport Operators Move Forward?

About Vianova: As an emerging thought leader in the area of mobility and urban space management, Vianova is keen to work with cities that are eager to promote new transport modes such as micro-mobility, enforce reasonable and fair rules of deployment on territories, better integrate these new modes into the wider transport system, as well as better manage public spaces to meet the broader needs for efficient and sustainable mobility. We are working with a range of cities, private landowners as well as operators to deploy this vision.