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Open data, vital for tomorrow’s mobility?

By: Lesley Brown 17 October 2018 no comments

Open data, vital for tomorrow’s mobility?

Paris, 11 October 2018: by opening up their data to application developers, transport organisations can improve the travel experience for customers.

Accurate information for multimodal trips, journey planning, and service status updates in real time… despite the  potential, this ‘opening up’ process appears to be far from straightforward. With an eye on France in particular, Trainline International held a round table in Paris to explore the issues.

In France, open data on mobility has been largely driven by local authorities, such as Rennes Métropole, which took a first step in 2009/10 by requesting operator Keolis, which runs the city buses and metro, to make its transport data available to the widest possible audience. Since then, government moves in this direction include the launch of transport.data.gouv.fr, a dedicated repository accessible to all, and a new bill (projet de loi d’orientation des mobilités, LOM) in the works designed to unlock data to help stimulate new services.

Who benefits, and how?

“Open data is a real revolution in today’s society,” reckons Jean-Marc Zulesi, member of the French Parliament and president of the innovation working group, Assises Nationales de la mobilité. Why? “Because by providing it, local authorities are helping optimise transport services, which in turn saves them money. Plus, offering what people want and satisfying their needs is bound to please.”

He sees open data as a kind of fuel for powering innovation. “I am convinced it will lead to a brighter future and better informed territorial development, which is good for the image of the French regions – both for visitors and people living and working there, or those considering a move. It is a driver behind offers like Trainline or Mobility as a Service [MaaS], which are helping provide solutions for everyday travel.”

At the same time, he warned against setting up open data systems for major cities only, insisting instead on the importance of paying attention to sparse transport networks [limited framework of routes, services] too – “which is vital if we are to mitigate the digital divide across France and provide mobility for the benefit of all. Right now there are transport gaps that we can fill in by harnessing open data [to provide services to meet needs].”

At government level, Ishan Bhojwani explained how transport.data.gouv.fr seeks to make the data supplied as legible as possible, thus acting as an enabler or facilitator for developing innovative mobility services. As of January 2018, 53 agglomerations across France had put their data on this repository, and another 50 were in the process of doing so. Figures that mean 55 to 60% of people in France can potentially benefit from any service improvements enabled by open data.

Homing in on rail in particular, the ability to improve the appeal, performance, and experience of train travel through new, data-driven apps is also something worth bearing in mind. Especially given concerns over climate change, air pollution, and traffic congestion.

“The train is the eco-friendliest way to travel. Through open data, local authorities can make journeys by rail more accessible to more people [e.g. accurate journey planners, timetables, connections], as well as boosting the simplicity and efficiency of services,” pointed out Carl Anderson, managing director, Trainline International.

‘Opening all data with no proper delimitations can cause strategic and commercial competitive disadvantages. On the other hand, the sharing of data and cooperation can stimulate innovation’ – p. 8, ‘The value of data for the public transport sector’, UITP, September 2018

Tapping into the potential

Although transport operators in France are gradually overcoming their fears and unlocking data, the shift still remains something of an uphill task.

“Our goal is to have a single platform for comparing all available transport options, but for this we need open data,” said Mr Anderson. “However many transport companies have their own data and identifiers, which means the data remains isolated and inaccessible.”

Reticence is in part down to companies wanting to keep customers on their own media platforms, to not let them ‘slip through their fingers’. But this thinking is counterproductive, reckons Mr Bhojwani. “If they want to facilitate mobility, it makes sense to go where the consumers are, and this tends to be popular apps that already exist, such as Google Maps or Transit. At transport.data.gouv.fr we are unbiased as to who uses the data,” he added.

For a service like Trainline, which is keen to develop its data-dependent, journey planning capabilities, the outcomes of the LOM bill are crucial. “We are waiting for it to be voted in and that operationally the system functions all the way, with the broadest and most effective open data sets possible,” said Audrey Détrie, director, France & Benelux, Trainline International.

“The LOM isn’t an end in itself. We mustn’t sit back once it becomes law. It has to be fully implemented” –  Jean-Marc Zulesi