The role of data in regulating urban mobility

The role of data in regulating urban mobility
Source: Deloitte Portugal
VoxPop - People, Processes & Technology towards the digital transformation of the urban mobility system of Lisbon

A changing mobility landscape

It is a fact: urban mobility is going through an enormous transformation, which key drivers are technology and changing consumer habits, patterns and culture.

All over the world, citizens and governmental entities are demanding for cleaner, more sustainable and more efficient alternatives to fulfil their mobility needs, bearing in mind the environmental agenda of protecting our planet.

Managing these new mobility alternatives can be challenging. Public space must be allocated in a way that mitigates the negative externalities caused by the transport system without jeopardizing its economic viability. With cities becoming increasingly connected and smart, the challenge to create a new mobility system that could offer faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient, and customized mobility will depend on how mobility data is used and how the mobility system is deployed, governed and regulated.

What roles can cities play in the Future of Mobility Data?

Cities can play three major roles in the Future of Mobility: acting as data regulators, data ecosystem enablers and imposing data-driven regulations.

As data regulators, cities aim at collecting just the necessary data, while ensuring clear data ownership rules, being privacy and security issues paramount for all mobility stakeholders. In the second role, data ecosystem enablers, cities can create an official data access point that enables better service solutions within the integrated mobility ecosystem.

Finally, as mobility regulators, cities can use the data to monitor the performance of mobility providers, to analyse and get insights, to regulate and to enforce. On the scope of this project, this third role will be addressed, focusing on the challenge of regulating the use of public space for micro-mobility services, such as e-scooters.

Public Space Regulation Models for micro-mobility services

Micro-mobility, which refers to short-distance transport (less than 8 kilometres), has the capacity to offer city residents an alternative to dodge stressful situations, by offering higher average speeds, avoid being stuck on traffic jams, ease of parking, a lower cost of transportation, and ultimately, health improvement, by fresh air traveling.

In addition, referring to micro-mobility is not specific to any technology. This term turned popular with the spread of dock less bike-sharing services and e-scooters, and it is rapidly becoming an efficient and reliable transportation mode within cities. Furthermore, it does not require much more additional investment in infrastructure, as it leverages bike lanes and public space that already exists in the majority of cities.

Despite not being a new mode of transport, only recently, specially driven by technology advances, such as the growing use of smartphones, GPS tracking, connectivity, mobile payments, micro-mobility options are now, more than ever, actual alternatives to mobility, with exponential adoption rates. It does have, however, the tough and fraught challenge of promoting safety and the uncluttered usage of the public spaces (streets and sidewalks) that protects the public’s right-of-way rules, which has to be triggered by local governmental institutions and companies through incentives and regulatory policies.

Considering the fast growth in the number of shared micro-mobility trips and the introduction of e-scooters on the streets, local governments need to define and establish rules, regulatory standards and policies to regulate the micro-mobility system in their cities, having in mind the best public outcomes.

A common question asked by local governments when approaching ways to regulate e-scooters is where these vehicles should park. Typically, local regulation may forbid, for example, the use and parking of e-scooters on sidewalks. However, is virtually impossible for the local police force to be on every corner of the city supervising each e-scooter’s user. Therefore, the use of real-time data is key.

Some cities have implemented ways to know, in real-time, if e-scooters are being parked correctly. An interesting approach consists of securing a direct communication link between the e-scooter operator and the infrastructure manager (i.e., the municipality).

The municipality receives georeferenced location data of all the e-scooters in use in the city. These data can then be inputted in a platform containing all the authorized e-scooter parking spots. If the e-scooter is misplaced, e.g.: parked on a sidewalk or in the middle of street, the platform will identify it and send an e-mail to the operator, to resolve the issue and reposition the e-scooter to an authorized parking spot right away. Without this procedure, the police would have to tow away the e-scooter, wasting valuable law enforcement resources and incurring on hefty penalties to the operator.

This is one of many ways cities can incorporate data to successfully regulate urban mobility. Within the VoxPop project, the city of Lisbon is studying urban planning tools and practices, data standards, state of the art regulation models, and other topics related to the role of data in regulating urban mobility, more specifically, e-scooter regulations. Added to that, workshops involving shared mobility operators and other municipalities are being organized to support the design of a regulation model for the city of Lisbon.