9 Mobility Data Challenges: Key Takeaways from the UK’s Urban Strategy

In an era where cars dominate our lives despite their immense carbon emissions, harnessing the power of data has become pivotal for improving our current transportation systems, especially for the public sector. 

The UK, in particular, stands at the forefront of this movement, leveraging data-driven strategies to transform urban mobility and meet sustainability goals.

In the 1950s, personal vehicles constituted less than 30% of kilometres travelled in Britain, a number that soared to over 80% by the late 1980s and has steadily risen since. However, this rise came at a significant environmental cost, with nearly a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions originating from the transportation industry. In response to climate change, the UK government has introduced urban strategies, harnessing data as a catalyst for change.

What is Mobility Data? 

Mobility data is the data recorded of technological movement, activities, or events in relation to spatial locations. This means every time you use a maps app, connect to your car, rent a bike in the city, or use your phone to pay for fares – They all contribute to mobility data. This data is being used by businesses, governments, and organizations to improve urban planning, enhance experiences and convenience, and encourage sustainable public transportation options.

The Power of Data-Driven Innovation

Advancements in data, artificial intelligence, sensors, and technology have accelerated transport innovation. For instance, there are over 3 million internet-connected vehicles on UK roads, highlighting the wealth of data available from private transportation alone. The UK government’s “Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy” outlines key principles, emphasizing safety, accessibility, and environmental consciousness. Central to these principles is the effective utilization of data from emerging mobility services, aiming to create cleaner, more efficient transportation systems.

Challenges in Mobility Data: Navigating the Roadblocks

As promising as it sounds, the journey towards valuable mobility data is not without challenges. The public sector must proactively address these roadblocks to ensure a seamless transition. According to the Department of Transport’s report on the “Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy”, there are 9 key principles for addressing the most present challenges facing modern mobility in the UK today: 

Ensuring Security and Safety: New modes of transport must be safe and secure from the ground up, requiring robust data security measures. This includes public and private modes of transportation, and any new technologies must be secure in design. 

For example, the question of safety in self-driving vehicles has been a hot topic in recent times. This requires self-driving vehicles to be approved with safety assurance procedures and meet the standards of the regulatory framework. This can be done through international forums, but in 2015, the UK published its Code of Practice for the safety testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads. 

Inclusivity and Accessibility: Ensuring access to transportation is crucial for individual freedom, societal well-being, and a thriving economy. This calls for a conscious effort from both government and businesses to consider the diverse needs of the population when formulating transport policies and services. 

The focus should be on expanding options in areas with limited public transport and ensuring accessibility for those without internet, smartphones, or bank accounts. There is great importance in actively considering the needs of the elderly and individuals with disabilities, for example stressing the necessity for ride-sharing services to accommodate users of wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and individuals with specific mental health or developmental conditions, or automating or creating new customer assistance roles as mobility becomes increasingly automated.

Promoting Sustainable Modes: Encouraging walking, cycling, and active travel for short urban journeys should remain a priority. The more people who opt for these sustainable options, the greater improvements in air quality, health, and congestion. By making choosing these options easier, the a greater chance of meeting global sustainability goals. 

In the UK alone, approximately 45% of trips taken by urban residents are under 2 miles which could be easily undertaken by sustainable, active modes of transport that support local economies and have huge benefits for health.

Zero Emissions Transition: New mobility services must lead the way in transitioning to zero emissions as soon as possible, reducing the carbon footprint significantly. The technology currently exists (while also continually improving), so accelerating the adoption of these types of mobility will help achieve zero-emission goals sooner rather than later. This ultimately means higher air quality and helps ensure that countries can meet future carbon budgets to increase the green mobility market. 

According to the “Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy” report, the UK’s goals are to drive at least 50% of new car sales to be green options, such as electric vehicles. 

Efficient Use of Road Space: Mobility innovations should alleviate congestion through efficient use of limited road space, promoting ride-sharing and consolidating freight. Over the years, the projection of growth in road traffic is an increase of 55%, worsening traffic congestion, pollution, and delays. 

This means that innovation that supports the more efficient movement of people and goods is important to reducing these problems. An example of this is the recent updates in navigation apps such as Google Maps and Waze that use mobility data to inform drivers of more efficient traffic routes to maximize fuel usage and reduce carbon emissions.  

Stimulating Marketplace Innovation: An open marketplace fosters innovation, ensuring consumers get the best deals and encouraging service providers to enhance their offerings. Increasing consumer choice creates a competitive, open marketplace for mobility that is needed to drive innovation and increase accessibility overall. 

Digitally enabled mobility services would make travel significantly more convenient for consumers. Journey planning would be easier, especially as consumers can integrate across different modes of transport using travel apps. The main challenge with this is avoiding monopolies or a fragmented market. 

Integrated Transport System: New mobility services should seamlessly integrate into existing public and private transport systems, offering diverse options to users. This means that mobility organizations are called to increase data sharing to ensure an open marketplace. This enables an improved user experience and ultimately increases the safety and efficiency of these transportation networks. 

Because data is the key to innovation, it has become an integral part of the 21st-century infrastructure of transportation. Data sharing has already increased significantly, and thanks to open data policies such as the Transport for London’s (TfL) open data policy, more than 650 apps are now being powered specifically using TfL’s open data feeds. The data sharing goes both ways, as TfL also receives anonymous crowdsourced data to paint the full picture of journeys in London to help improve its operations and drive innovation. This innovation can be seen in the adoption of Citymapper, one of the first journey-planning apps in London, which was enabled by TfL’s open data.

The Economic and Environmental Potential of Mobility Data

mobility data

By addressing these challenges head-on, the public sector can unlock a world of possibilities. Utilizing mobility data and connectivity as drivers of innovation not only aids in meeting sustainability goals but also bolsters the UK economy. This transformative approach paves the way for a future where mobility is efficient, accessible, and environmentally responsible. There are key questions to ask your organization to ensure that you’re using the data to its fullest potential: 

  1. Is the data easy to find and observe? Discoverability relates to the restrictions or access to your data. 
  2. Does my data have biases, & is it properly protected? This means addressing any privacy, security, or ethical concerns within your organization.
  3. Are there legal, monetary, or contractual barriers to accessing data? This means understanding what is allowed to be discussed and avoiding ambiguity.
  4. Does my organization prioritize data literacy? This means ensuring your entire organization knows how to share and extract knowledge from the data.
  5. Is there incentivization to invest in data? This means being able to make the case to access funding and resources to share the data with others. 
  6. Does my data meet quality standards? Proper data governance structures are required to standardize data and ensure quality is not impacted to fuel accuracy. 
  7. Are my data leaders empowered? Lack of prioritization of goal setting allows for unclear purposes and misuse of data.

By overcoming these challenges, the public sector can steer us toward a future where mobility is not just a convenience but a sustainable way of life for all.

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