Five key takeaways on emerging data for transport

Uber app

Urban Transport Group and the Future Cities Catapult recently held a ‘Getting Smart on Data’ workshop, looking at the potential of emerging data in transport. On just my second day as a researcher with the UTG, it was a truly fascinating event and a dive head long into this dynamic area in transport. We bought together stakeholders from multiple transport authorities, from a range of roles including IT and transport modellers and planners, with representatives from industry and academia, to engage in conversations and shape the debate about the role of emerging data for transport.

Here are my five key takeaways from the day.

  1. Data is EVERYWHERE

We are generating data all the time, whether through our use of smart ticketing, our spending patterns, or location data from our phones. 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years. A growing volume of this data is at the disposal of the transport sector, however much remains inaccessible. In addition, the data that is being generated is diverse, diffuse and is being held and generated by numerous individuals and organisations, which creates barriers.

  1. Opening up is important

There has been a drive for increasing openness in data, with the UK Government opening up vast amounts of data through data.gov.uk and many other organisations following suit. This allows people to come into the market and gain added value from this data, for example, over 5,000 developers have registered for to use the TfL open data resulting in the development of hundreds of apps, tools and services. This is generating benefits for users of transport and enhancing the customer experience.

  1. But protecting people’s personal data is also critical

Individuals retain rights to data protection and it is important that developments in using emerging data adhere to existing and new regulation on this. This will be particularly prominent in transport, where personal data is collected through smart cards and other mechanisms, and in exploring options for utilising mobile data in transport, as this can take the form of sensitive personal information about travel patterns.

  1. The opportunities are massive

The potential of using new data sources for transport planning and modelling is huge, with mobile data in particular providing an invaluable resource for understanding people’s mobility behaviour. This holds promise for transport authorities to tap into emerging data, for improving analysis and generating new insight.

  1. The sector needs to keep pace and skill up

While the opportunities arising from emerging data sets are vast, the skills required may be missing from the traditional transport planning and modelling communities and they will need to explore ways of up skilling and drawing in new talent from the data and coding communities in order to fully exploit these opportunities. The pace of innovation in emerging data is fast, so the transport sector needs to work hard to keep up.

The event set me thinking about how much data I generate on a daily basis, whether through the location services on my smartphone or using my smart card on the bus and my contactless payment card for my shopping. Personally, I think questions around trust, security and transparency are key to managing and capitalising on the vast swathes of data that have, and will, emerge and making the best use of them for improving transport planning, modelling and services.

This is an exciting area so watch this space for more!

To find out more about data in cities by visiting the Future Cities Catapult website.

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