/ MOBILITY & TECH
Mobility Data Specification: Background and Perspectives By Martin R. Arroyo
RANSPORTATION NETWORK COMPANIES (TNCs) entered many large American markets around 2012.
City leaders were unsure of regulatory requirements necessary to manage this new mode of mobility service. Transportation professionals worked together to develop a data format called the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which is governed by the nonprofit Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). More than 115 cities are using MDS to help understand and manage the impact of mobility providers operating on the public right of way. Although MDS is mainly focused on scooters, some believe that if widely adopted, it can transition to other transportation providers such as TNCs and even future transportation modes like drones. Some mobility providers have resisted attempts to share data with city regulators, citing consumer privacy and competitive concerns. Cities and mobility companies appear to disagree about the risks and benefits of sharing MDS, which has implications that may impact the future of mobility operations. Cities may withhold permits to operate or mobility providers may decide not to operate if certain data is required.
The Specification Transportation professionals have always been interested in standards as a way of allowing interoperability, ensuring uniformity, avoiding confusion, and ensuring safety. GitHub’s MDS page notes that MDS is based on the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and the General Bicycle Feed Specification (GBFS). GTFS and GBFS were known and accepted by cities because they allowed stakeholders to understand, manage, analyze, and visualize data. Third-party data companies would get this information and produce content that cities could use to understand what was happening on the public right of way. There was little pushback from vendors and cities regarding the handling and use of GTFS and GBFS. In terms of mobility data, GitHub explains, “… the goals of MDS are to provide a
standardized way for municipalities or other regulatory agencies to ingest, compare and analyze data from mobility service providers, and to give municipalities the ability to express regulation in machine-readable formats.” MDS is a data feed that consists of mobility data in a standard format. There are three main parts of the data; ■ Provider: data in a standard format that the vendor submits to the municipality. ■ Agency: information that is sent from the municipality to the vendor. ■ Policy: where operators can get information related to municipal regulations such as speed, geofences, etc.
12 PARKING & MOBILITY / NOVEMBER 2021 / PARKING-MOBILITY.ORG
Context In the mid 2000s many municipal transportation leaders were attempting to get TNCs to share data to better understand the changes this type of mobility service was bringing to the transportation ecosystem. Some transportation leaders became interested in a project that would allow municipalities to receive verifiable operational data from mobility companies. The reasoning was simple: Mobility companies access this information to understand their operating environment. Why shouldn’t cities, which allow the mobility service on the city owned right of way, have important