A recent ITF report (Data-Driven Transport Policy – Corporate Partnership Board Report, 2016), drawing on a workshop with industry leaders, policy makers and academics, examines how the abundant data available can help policy makers to set frameworks that deliver better transport services summarizes Sharon Masterson, Manager of the Corporate Partnership Board of the International Transport Forum at the OECD
Mobility is how a city breathes. Every day, the world’s urban centres bustle with people going to work, school, the cinema, sightseeing and many more activities. Mobility, in all its different forms from walking to mass transit, is the enabler that puts all these activities within citizens’ reach – an enabler for access, and hence for choice.
The International Transport Forum at the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), an intergovernmental organisation with 57 member countries, fosters a deeper understanding of the role of transport in economic growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. It aims to raise the public profile of transport policy research and analysis, and most recently has undertaken several interesting studies on urban mobility, data driven policy and regulation of app-based ride services.
In a world that changes rapidly, making the right decisions at the right time is vital for policy makers: In the face of new developments in both technology and services, regulations can often be outdated before the ink dries on the paper.
In transport in particular, change is ripe. Disruptive innovators like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuxing, Ola and other for-hire passenger transport services are revolutionising the transport landscape and confronting governments with a core question: How can regulators keep up with the fast pace of innovation?
Many of the new players in transport rely on real-time data analysis to support their business models and inform strategic decisions. This offers policy makers the opportunity to, in their turn, apply a data-driven, empirical approach to transport governance. By tapping into the information that service providers gather, authorities can continuously monitor the performance they are interested in – the technical state of vehicles or customer satisfaction with drivers, for instance.
The result could be summed up as “data-rich regulation light”: Rather than setting comprehensive rules to catch all eventualities, regulators can focus on key indicators linked to their public policy objectives and intervene whenever necessary. The result is a win-win-win: Customers get better service. Governments exercise oversight more effectively. Entrepreneurs are freed from cumbersome bureaucracy and can focus on developing their business ideas. The result can be a society that is more dynamic and innovative. “Over regulation stifles creativity”, as Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig observed, “It gives dinosaurs a veto over the future.”
The amounts of data available are growing exponentially and could reach 44 zettabytes in 2020 (see figure 1) as the cost of data storage is continue to drop steeply. Much of this digital information comes from new data sources of particular relevance to the transport sector, in particular mobility data from smartphones.
Such location data offers rich insights into peoples’ mobility patterns – where and how they travel, how often and for what purpose. For transport planners and policy makers such insights can help improve operations and achieve public policy objectives, for instance encouraging the shift towards more sustainable transport options.
New strategies help ensure privacy and data protection while still allowing authorities to extract useful information for real-time regulatory interventions. The “Safe Answer” framework pioneered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, for instance,enables authorities to query operator data under a vetted framework and to use the outputs without proprietary data being released at any point.