Multimodal Mondays: International Data Privacy Day

data privacy

Multimodal mobility is fast becoming the biggest opportunity for us (as service providers and operators) to design seamless-interconnected journeys and to reimagine movement within urban cities. Multimodal mobility is the term used to describe integrated transport – seamless connectivity between different modes of transportation, such as buses, ferries, trains, trams, ridehailing, bikes, e-scooters and even walking.

As today (January 28th) is ‘International Data Privacy Day’ – kicking off #MultimodalMondays 2022, Sandra is joined by Marla Westervelt, Head of Policy at Coalition for Reimagined Mobility for a chat about effective policy and data standards when it comes to movement of goods and people.

Watch the micro-webinar below! Keep reading to learn more about our expert guest and for a brief summary of their data privacy discussion. Check out our 2021 episodes here.

YouTube video

Expert Guest

data privacy day

Marla Westervelt

Head of Policy | Coalition for Reimagined Mobility

Marla has spent the last decade working in Transportation Policy. She started her career in Washington D.C where she spent a lot of time working on Federal level transportation policy, financing and funding. From there she went to L.A Metro where she became one of the Founding members of the Office of Extraordinary Innovation where she was able to do more on-ground implementation of their ideas. She then moved on to Bird, were she spent her time working on data sharing and helping cities and intermediary groups figure out how to collect and manage data. She is now Head of Policy at the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility (Reimagined Mobility) which is a global coalition of industry, government and academic leaders shaping policy for more equitable and sustainable solutions that leverage technology to improve the movement of people and goods around the world. Reimagined Mobility is a project of SAFE.

Multimodal Mondays: International Data Privacy Day

Can you elaborate a bit more on what the Coalition is all about and why we need it? 

The Coalition for Reimagined Mobility (ReMo) was founded in 2021 and is a global coalition of industry, government and academic leaders focused on policy for the movements of goods and people.

Over the last 50-70 years we have built our cities and transportation systems around technology and the automobile. However, CEOs from companies like Ford have reached out to say that they don’t want the world to be built like this anymore, but need to know where they stand from a policy point of view and how as a business can they start to adapt and still help get to where the want to go, when they want to go, without focusing on this one technology solution.

What do you think will be the most important development in 2022 for multimodal travel from a data perspective? 

If you look back at the last few years at the Pandemic, from a data perspective, we got really excited about customer facing data accessibility. For example, making sure that we have occupancy counts on our cars, and being able to share this data through GTFS and to make an extension. I think that stuff is really great and sexy, but I hope to see more on the back end during 2022.

When we think about the movement of people, we need to figure how all our systems can be interoperable, which then leads to a better customer experience. This builds on a lot of the work that organizations like CALITP or Mobility Data are already doing. We aren’t able to have these connections and transit agency needs to buy a whole suite from one vendor and its really hard to integrate anything else into it, like a shared mobility option. So if we want to solve this customer user experience, we need to solve the back end issue.

The same is true for the movement of goods. As we know, we are in the midst of a supply chain crisis. Right now, especially with climate change, we are going to have to prepare for squeezes on our supply chain at a more frequent rate and we are going to have to build in more resiliency. This means figuring out how to communicate better amongst all the fragmented stakeholders in the full supply chain – which means open data standards.

When it comes to passenger transportation, we have be talking about open data standards for a much longer time and we have more public sector operators who are comfortable with sharing data, so now we are trying to have that conversation on the goods side. However, it is inherently more challenging when bringing a group of privately owned companies to the table who have never shared data to this point.

Let’s talk about multimodal integrations – be it mobility hubs or MaaS: One of the challenge of MaaS and frankly most MaaS platform providers (eg Transit, migo, etc ) face is getting the ever growing new shared mobility side integrated. And all of them collect similar data points but nothing is unified. In Europe the TomP group works on standardization of these standards to support cities in their urban planning efforts through a special API. What do you think we need in North America? 

Europe does a really good job at developing standards, but not necessarily a good job at standards that are minimal viable products very implementable and driving private sector adoption even when they don’t have to. And this is problem that we are having when it comes to GTFS. GTFS is not the European standard, but European public transit operators are producing GTFS data because it’s a lot easier to produce.

We need to be focusing on global level standardization on whatever the problem is and what is the most lightweight think we can do.

So it’s not necessarily having a standard that has all the bells and whistles, but starting with key problem we need to solve today, because that is something that is going to be lower in cost for a business to be able to produce and likely you will be able to grow from that.

When you are talking about MaaS versus the movement of goods, there are very different stakeholders at the table with different reasons for not wanting to comply. Right now, with the movement of goods, everything is analogue based and we have the technology is the 21st to solve this. When we are talking about MaaS, it’s a different conversation. There is a business conversation to be had. For example, if we start asking carshare companies to start producing data, we need to figure out who consumes this data and how each of the agencies should get paid.

January 28th is International Data Privacy Day and data and data privacy has been a “hot topic” (or shall I say hot potato) for the past few years in shared mobility. Private companies such as Uber, Lime/Bird are creating massive amounts of data. How should this data be used and what is required to ensure privacy for the users?

Working for a global organization, one of the things I have learned is that people have very different relationships with their data, and data privacy so it’s hard to make any blanket statements about this. What I can say is that we are collecting way more data that is necessary for any use case. I think we have the opportunity to start to really figure out what these use cases are, to define more clear retention policies and then get rid of the rest of the data. There is data that is going to help us as operators and cities, that does not necessitate lots of granular data about individual movements.

How can we use data to serve demographics that are not currently being served by shared mobility services?

When I worked at Bird I had to navigate all sorts of data requests and so many cities requested the demographics or the riders. When this happened, I would have said no, because that is personal data and we can’t share that but the fact of the matter is, we didn’t have that data. We could use data science to try and pinpoint who the rider might be, but that was not data we were collecting. And the best way to really collect this data is by using the old school tool, surveys within the communities who are using the service and finding out things like, what does a usual trip look like for them and what barriers do they face when they are traveling.

We also don’t have a lot of great data on what a trip might look like for a woman during the day, who is taking care of her family for example. When we look at the pandemic world, is the office every going to be the same? So we need to be collecting more data through these human methods.

It’s important to highlight though, that even though we do have gaps in our data collection, just because it is imperfect, does not mean that we shouldn’t be leveraging it as a tool to help us make our decisions. But we shouldn’t use it solely as the tool to make these decisions, we also need to consider other things like, ‘what are the financial implications?’ ‘What are the political implications?’ ‘What can I do in my tenure?’ etc. All of these things are inputs and what is important for us as professionals, is understanding the limitations of each, so that we can make the best informed decision using the information that we have.

What do you believe are the most critical data pieces to help empower governments to do a better job in managing the curb? 

Governments need staff with higher data literacy. These positions can be hard to hire for particularly in the context of what we are able to pay. I think we also need to get better at figuring out how to procure technology products, so that it’s not just making sure that we have some expertise in house, but that we also have contracts that speak to the types of services and products we are trying to buy.

Another thing governments are going to need is a clear understanding of what policies are necessary to protect their constituents. Going back to the privacy issue, we need to figure how to protect them and at what level of government does this protection happen? What does this mean for how we store, retain or dispose of data in-house? And how do we communicate this clearly?

The final thing needed, and probably the hardest, is having the time and space to test new things. We all have constrained budgets, and for public transit agencies having the ability to try something new and to fail, does not fall within their scope. But its so important to have this ability, especially because this industry falls right at the intersection of the public and private sectors

What’s next for the Coalition of Reimagined Mobility?

Year one for us was really a building year. Year two we will be getting our hands dirty. We will be releasing our first paper this fall which will be on open data standards for digital freight. So, how and why are we developing open data standards and what is it going to do to help reduce emissions and improve operations through the full supply chain? In addition, we will be releasing a paper in Fall that will be looking into the market regulatory structure for passenger transportation and trying to unpack the economic challenges that we presently have. We are going to give a suite of ways on how you can actually shape the market to help make transportation affordable, accessible and equitable and the trade offs you are going to have to make.

Any last thoughts?

Data is not a panacea. It’s really exciting that we are producing more of it, but we should be harnessing ways to understand and process that data for the public benefit. It’s an input amongst a large suite of inputs. It’s an imperfect input. If we are able to set up systems that will allow us to look at the data for what it is, we can use it to help improve our cities and hopefully be able to better serve people, by putting them and the planet first.

If you would like to watch more of our #MultiModalMondays webinar series’ visit here.


Struggling with profitability of your shared mobility service? Get in touch