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Open data crucial to mobility services

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The Government wants to enable a sea change in how people, goods and services are moved around the country by resolving barriers to data sharing.

Publishing a call for evidence on the future of mobility, it is asking what measures it should introduce to enable access to data, while still protecting privacy and security.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) experts have suggested that public transport operators, taxi companies, car clubs, bike share services and even carmakers, should be obliged to make their data accessible to mobility companies.

They told MPs on the Transport Select Committee, who are investigating the potential of mobility and the barriers to its implementation, that access to data is vital for the development of services.

It now appears ministers have recognised the importance of open data, having previously argued against Government intervention.

Just two months ago, Jesse Norman, who has responsibility for the future of mobility and MaaS at the Department for Transport (DfT), told the same select committee MPs that “nationalising data” could stifle innovation.

There is no suggestion yet that companies could be forced to share data, but the consultation acknowledges better access will be a key enabler for innovation in transport and it is a priority for the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge; one of four ‘grand challenges’ revealed in the Government’s industrial strategy – Building a Britain Fit for the Future – published last November.

Johan Herrlin, CEO at transit data experts Ito World, said: “It’s encouraging to see that efforts are being made to better understand how data can be used to improve the way people and goods move around the country. But for these revolutionary trends to work, high-quality data – delivered in real-time – must be at the fore.

“People will only change their travel habits if they can trust the information they receive, plan their journeys and have a good user experience. Otherwise it all falls apart.”

The Government has taken an important first step by persuading train operators to publish more real-time information.

Rail minister Jo Johnson says it will enable tech firms to develop more sophisticated travel apps. It will also examine how data is collected, stored and published and improve clarity over which data is commercially sensitive, and what data can be used for what purposes.

Furthermore, it says that it will explore, with the rail industry, what incentives could be introduced to drive further innovation and data sharing, on top of that already planned.

Chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group Paul Plummer said: “Technology gave rise to the railway, connecting Britain, and the rail industry wants to channel this spirit to help produce cutting-edge products and services that can be exported around the world.”

A Government study has already identified the transport benefits, practical considerations and enablers associated with big data, while the Local Transport Data Discovery project will report shortly on the main barriers to local authorities publishing and exploiting open data, and recommendations for overcoming them.

Meanwhile, the Bus Services Act 2017 enables regulations that could require local authorities or bus operators to provide data about local bus services. Government is currently consulting on these regulations.

The Future of Mobility call for evidence covers similar ground and has been purposely launched alongside another consultation looking at ‘last-mile’ deliveries.

It wants fleet operators to outline what the barriers are to delivering goods more sustainably and what incentives might be needed for firms to replace diesel delivery vans.

With air quality restrictions planned in towns and cities across the country, Norman argues that new transport modes could provide the answer for delivery firms, with new electrical methods of delivery, including cargo bikes and electric vans, playing a key role in the last-mile delivery of goods.

He said: “We are on the cusp of an exciting and profound change in how people, goods and services move around the country which is set to be driven by extraordinary innovation. This could bring significant benefits to people across the country and presents enormous economic opportunities for the UK, with autonomous vehicles sales set to be worth up to £52 billion by 2035.”

The last-mile and future of mobility consultations close on September 10.

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