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Mobility data could give cities new tools to improve equity

Illustration of arrows going in different directions, casting shadows with binary code in them
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As mobility data is amassed from ride-hailing, dockless bikes and e-scooters, cities need tools to responsibly track, store, and analyze it.

The big picture: With cities collecting that mobility data, in some cases as a condition for transportation companies to operate, they are facing a new challenge: how to be responsible stewards of this influx of data.

What's needed: It's imperative that cities anonymize data and store it securely — but it's also important for cities to be transparent about what data they're collecting and make it available for analysis by city officials, residents, academics, and other stakeholders.

What's happening:

  • The city of Los Angeles developed the Mobility Data Specification which establishes how data could be uniformly formatted and shared among multiple stakeholders.
  • A group of cities, including LA, and private and non-profit organizations recently partnered to form the Open Mobility Foundation, which aims to use new mobility technology to improve safety, equity, and quality of life while adhering to strict privacy and security practices in how data is collected and managed.

Between the lines: These programs establish best practices around user privacy and transparency, and foster the use of data to ensure equal mobility access to all residents, even when data is initially collected by private companies.

  • If companies and cities adhere to the Mobility Data Specification, which is promoted by the Open Mobility Foundation, then cities could compare their data analysis and make common policy decisions in a collaborative and transparent way.
  • Cities could also use mobility data to plan infrastructure updates that could expand mobility options and accessibility, and ensure that available mobility services are equitable and that no neighborhoods are left behind.

What to watch:

  • Efficient and accurate data collection will be crucial for enforcing policies around mobility services, including the number of vehicles or devices allowed in a given city.
  • As mobility data is combined with other data sources such as census findings and retail data, cities could begin to make planning decisions and investments differently.

Sudha Jamthe is director of DriverlessWorldSchool and teaches AV Business at Stanford Continuing Studies.