Mobility Data Sharing Merges with COVID-19 Response

June 5, 2020 - (6 min read)

By Greg Rodriguez and Annie YJ Chang 

The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a temporary halt on our mobility, but it has not steered us away from building more connected and resilient communities. If anything, it is the opposite. As we look to slowly reopen our communities, we must make critical transportation-related decisions. Data will serve as a powerful tool in enabling strategic and timely decisions in this ever-evolving landscape. The question is, how do we streamline mobility data sharing so it’s frictionless?

What is Mobility Data

The use of data for transportation planning is not new. Travel demand modeling collects and analyzes data within the context of long-range transportation planning, which influences funding and project prioritization within regions. The General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS) has been in place since 2015 as an open data standard developed to assist with planning around bikeshare. The General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) is a data sharing format developed to support sharing of transit schedules and associated data. The development and standardization of these data sharing platforms has resulted in information sharing to promote efficiency in planning, deploying new mobility solutions, and more effective trip planning.

However, the mobility industry is rapidly evolving, and there is a critical need for industry alignment around data sharing to realize the benefits and mitigate risks. For example, shared mobility services that have proliferated our streets and are hailed or reserved through digital platforms, such as shared cars, bikes, and electric scooters generate an enormous amount of data and hold the potential to provide valuable insight for modernizing city policies and managing the public right-of-way.

Evolving Considerations

Today, it is important to consider where data comes from and the expectations around how it is used. More recently, digital apps provide geolocation data that is collected through our use of mobile devices to secure goods and services with the push of a button. The power of convenience through new digital applications is great, but attention is needed to the evolving considerations around data collection and management, data ownership, privacy, and data security. This becomes further complicated when we consider the use of digital applications for contact tracing and merging the use of data with privacy health laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Finding Common Ground

As the use cases for data expand, we must find common ground and understanding on the responsible and effective use of data, especially when such data may contain information linked to an individual, such as geolocation. With the mission of creating a scalable framework to streamline mobility data sharing, the Mobility Data Collaborative convened leading mobility stakeholders. The Collaborative identified the following themes that informed the development of the Guidelines:

  • Focus on data governance, including consideration of contracting and privacy.
  • Identify opportunities for outreach and education around terms and conditions within data sharing agreements or permit conditions, including the role that licensing plays in data ownership.
  • Coordinate dedication of resources towards training and monitoring evolving privacy best practices and the application of new rules and regulations, including the California Consumer Privacy Act and General Data Protection Regulation.

As noted at the outset within the Guidelines, the goal of this project is to identify gaps and barriers in the current approach to mobility data sharing and to propose solutions through practical and workable recommendations. The purpose of the Guidelines is to support the safe and effective sharing of mobility data – not to inhibit it.

Cites Can Leverage these Guidelines

Adopting the Guidelines as a foundational cornerstone for mobility data sharing allows for crucial risk management. The use cases being discussed include planning, right-of-way management, and regulation.

Even during the ongoing public health emergency and discussions around the use of digital applications to assist with contact tracing in response to COVID-19, we see both the value and wariness around the use of location specific data. As the public becomes more aware of how geolocation data is being shared through digital applications, engagement and education around how data is being managed and used to benefit users grows in importance.

The Guidelines support the development of a framework that promotes the responsible use of data by all sectors. They also consider complicated issues like privacy, contracting to establish clear roles and responsibilities around the safeguarding of data, and risk assessments, all of which are important for maintaining public trust and the continued sharing of data by users.

The objectives and recommendations of the Guidelines provide a starting point for considering not just the collection of mobility data from dockless micromobility devices, but also the integration of a digital application focusing on contact tracing in response to COVID-19 and future health emergencies.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned during the development of the Guidelines by the Collaborative and its members include:

  • Sharing mobility data is a complicated and evolving issue – this is especially true as new regulations continue to come online and court cases are decided, thus fostering the opportunity for better communication and information sharing across sectors.
  • Collaboration is needed across sectors – this should not be an issue that is private sector vs. public sector, but instead interests should be aligned to support the safe and responsible sharing of mobility data based on use cases where appropriate risk assessments have been completed.
  • Resources are needed to support the standardization of processes – examples include privacy risk assessments and complying with open records requests and requests for data from law enforcement.
  • A number of education and outreach opportunities to collaborate around exist – this includes contracting, monitoring new privacy focused rules and regulations, and best practices established around the management of data.

These lessons learned will be used as foundations for additional work streams through the Collaborative focused on facilitating the safe and effective sharing of mobility data.

Equity Considerations

The excitement around the use of data to solve mobility inequities, in addition to helping us navigate out of the current public health emergency is justified. A challenge is that the interest and opportunities around the analysis of mobility data specifically has led to data collection before considering important foundations around data collection, contracting, and risk assessment.

Collaborative Future

Through collaboration and coordination, there is the opportunity to align interests across sectors, make sure risk mitigation measures are in place, and to consider engagement with consumer groups around privacy and data use. The opportunities around the use of data and resources can be maximized to support connected, resilient, equitable and healthy cities, towns and villages.

The full Guidelines can be read and downloaded here.

About the Authors

Greg Rodriguez is a Mobility Policy Principal at Stantec and served as Technical Lead on the development of the SAE MDC Guidelines for Mobility Data Sharing Governance and Contracting

Annie YJ Chang is the Director of the Mobility Data Collaborative and the Head of New Mobility at SAE International