Science and Technology

Data access and sharing – crucial in managing network congestion

vehicle connectivity

In the fourth of a series of six articles, Professor David Hensher of the University of Sydney discusses the paramount need for governments to share transportation data with transport operators, planners, and providers.

“A key enabler of the value chain for Smart Mobility services is a city’s upfront investment in ITS and other intelligent infrastructure that generates key raw data… Public agencies, including city government, are seeing the economic value in making their data available at no cost… for private data owners, this raw material may be a saleable asset in its own right.”

(Buscher et al., 2014: 30 cited in Docherty et al. 2017)

One of the very real challenges facing government is the flow of information that can be used to optimise the efficient use of the transport network in the new age of intelligent mobility. From a network control and management point of view, the current concept of operations in cities needs to be reviewed and assessed in conjunction with the current and emerging technologies.

Once such assessment is completed, a defined strategic and tactical plans (targeting certain applications / services) will be required to close any gaps and deliver the opportunities identified. Funnelling the data available today is one of the main challenge for the transport operators, planners and providers to serve their respective business; it is kind of overwhelming.

Open, cloud-based Internet of Things operating systems exist today, and they allow infrastructure operators to easily connect their assets and perform data analyses without having to develop or invest in the requisite IT infrastructure.

The traveller of the future may get in their car, check the potential routes, and drive in a smooth traffic flow to a nearby train station, where they walk onto a train that departs just one minute later, getting them to work in half the time. The driving may be autonomous, guided by a smart infrastructure that tells the car where it can find the fastest and safest route.

Whilst the ‘open data’ movement offers myriad opportunities for more user-led and intelligent planning decisions to be made as a result of thousands of individual developers and users creating new ways to harness and distribute mobility data, the critical risk is that this shift in the control of knowledge and associated power may make governing mobility much more difficult in the longer term.

The state is already losing its position as the principal source of knowledge about travel patterns on the network relative to mobile phone operators and other players such as Google; with this information asymmetry also set to grow further through, for example, better peer to peer sharing of location data.

While governments own important data sources as well (especially integrated traffic control systems, public transport electronic ticketing data), they typically provide it free of charge to others who then process the data into a form where it can be usefully used to design travel planners, route guidance systems and even potential demand for new subscription plans that are multimodal.

The positive externalities of open data outweigh the negative, but there are ways for the state to avoid the negative. For example, it is possible to license access to free 3D infrastructure maps and service data such that anyone making commercial gain from this open provision has to provide the state access to some aspects of the data they generate.

Governments have been somewhat conservative in recognising the value of this asset, and just like physical networks such as roads and railways, they should start thinking about a charging regime along similar lines as user pays for roads.

Author: Professor David Hensher

Professor David Hensher is Founding Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at The University of Sydney. Among his many recognitions and achievements, David is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, and the recipient of the 2009 International Association of Travel Behaviour Research (IATBR) Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for his long-standing and exceptional contribution to IATBR as well as to the wider travel behaviour community. David has published over 600 papers in leading international transport and economics journals, as well as 16 books.

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