Improving mobility with data sharing

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
We provide transport companies with information about our mobility behavior when we use various modes of transportation. Researchers at the University of Basel and two technology and mobility consulting companies have jointly investigated what requirements could be put in place to ensure this mobility data is better utilized.

You take the train from Basel to Bern. When you arrive, you rent an e-bike at the station for the final stretch. Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and the bike rental company know this thanks to the data you provide to them. This information helps both of them to record train occupancy and the distances traveled with their modes of transport - which, in turn, makes planning for the future easier.

However, the datasets from the two providers are not linked to one another. Each party collects and manages the data according to the applicable data protection provisions. This data is not shared with others, resulting in data silos. However, combining these different datasets with one another could provide insights as to how the existing infrastructure in Switzerland could be used more efficiently and in incorporation of new mobility services. Expanding highways or the rail network is not possible in many areas due to limited space.

As part of an interdisciplinary project, researchers at the Faculty of Law at the University of Basel, on behalf of the Swiss Federal Roads Office (FEDRO), evaluated from a legal perspective how access to mobility data could be made easier and under what conditions it could be used. The report is available since September 2023.

A clear legal framework is needed

The researchers evaluated interviews with various interest groups who could use a possible future marketplace for mobility data. "Data suppliers and users have a basic need for this type of platform. Governmental mediation could increase the trust of those involved," says Apollo Dauag, a research associate at the Faculty of Law and co-author of the report.

However, a clear legal framework is needed for this in order to create trustworthy data spaces. In this process, it is key to ensure that the legal framework for data sharing is defined and the parties who have access to the platform are clearly regulated. "Data is valuable. Companies expect it to give them a competitive advantage - something which they, of course, do not want to give away," Dauag says. However, everyone could benefit from this secondary use of the data - which is why the parties are willing to share information.

The report offers ten approaches and an overview of the steps required to implement the respective platform. The Federal Act on Mobility Data Infrastructure (MODIG), which is in development, intends to clarify the rights and obligations of the stakeholders involved. "The data’s accuracy, up-to-dateness and quality must be assured, alongside security to ensure that it cannot be manipulated," says Dauag. He is confident that the way has been paved for a platform to be implemented.

Risk of more data?

The networking platform for mobility data is not intended as a data cloud, but rather as an intermediary between providers and users. Provider A has data on X; provider B has surveys on Y. However, the data remains decentralized. Dauag does not think that these new possibilities will result in more data being collected. "Quite the opposite: if data is shared, then individual mobility providers will not have to collect the same data."

However, he notes that many people are skeptical of data being disclosed and this has to be taken seriously. He argues that transparency is just as important as real-life freedom of choice when it comes to what data you want to give away. "If you want to create added value with data, you have to be responsible in how you deal with it," says Dauag.

Potential for the future

Even though the study only relates to mobility data, a similar model in other areas is also conceivable. The EU has named a total of nine sectors in which the exchange of data could offer added value, including the agricultural sector and industry. Not least, Dauag believes it could offer potential benefits when it comes to health data, particularly electronic patient dossiers. "However, medical data is much more sensitive than information on mobility," the legal expert says. "That’s why it is all the more important that things are done correctly for a mobility data platform - to prove that it works," he stresses.

If the mobility service providers know how many people arrive at a specific location at a specific time and with which destinations, they can provide more targeted services for onward travel.

It would also enable users to get the most out of the different modes of transport. If the app shows that there is a high risk of traffic on the highway for a certain stretch at a specific travel time, I could potentially choose to catch the train or travel at a different time of day. This would relieve the load on the road network as well as making travel more enjoyable. "This would make it easier for people to plan the most direct, fastest or most pleasant route from A to B," Dauag says confidently.

Original publication

Peter Geissbühler et al.
Möglichkeiten zur Nutzung neuer Daten (NuNDa) (2023)