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Context

The Mobility Data Interoperability Principles were developed by the co-authors with significant input from co-signers and generous reviewers in support of a common vision for interoperability. Additional information about the development process and implementation can be found in its respective section.

Background

The mobility landscape is complex. People have individualized abilities, preferences, and mobility needs that shape preferences around where, when, and how they travel. Transit agencies and other mobility service providers, likewise, are extremely varied. The variety among transit agencies and other mobility service providers creates an opportunity for more people to have their mobility needs better met. But fulfilling this promise requires a level of interoperability and cooperation between transit agencies, other mobility service providers, and transportation technology companies that is yet to be realized.

Over the course of the last decade, passengers have enjoyed increased access to mobile apps and real-time information to help them choose the modes, services, and trips that are right for them, but still lack a complete picture of their available options because of technical and political information silos – not to mention unequal access to technology. Nonetheless, expectations have risen, as real-time transit information, on-demand ride hailing, and micromobility options become embedded in daily life.

More than ever, meeting the needs of travelers requires the complete interoperability of mobility data used by transit agencies, mobility service providers, and transportation technology companies.

Vision

More than ever, meeting the needs of travelers requires the complete interoperability of mobility data used by transit providers and transportation technology companies.

All people can, equitably:

  • Discover and make informed choices about their mobility options in scheduled and/or real-time by utilizing the highest possible quality of information with the least possible barriers to accessing that information;
  • Maintain their privacy and security; and
  • Travel with the minimum possible friction arising from accessing data related to their mode(s) of travel.

Mobility service providers can:

  • Interface with other mobility providers to meet riders’ needs;
  • Use the best available data to support analytics and real-time decision-making for their planning, scheduling, and operating needs;
  • Select the best available technology and equipment to provide their service without vendor lock-in; and
  • Easily use their data and data from other mobility service providers to increase rider satisfaction and the customer experience through service efficiency and service quality.

Transportation technology companies can:

  • Develop new and innovative approaches to serving the needs of mobility service providers and riders;
  • Use widely-adopted open standards for the transmission of all data that allows transit agencies, other mobility service providers and travellers to meet their needs;
  • Easily integrate with other companies’ hardware and software to send and receive planning, scheduling, and operating data; and
  • Quickly identify and resolve data issues with their products.

Researchers can:

  • Affordably access, process, and use data from a variety of mobility technology components without having to re-create data processing pipelines or obtain costly vendor licenses.

Transportation System Managers can

  • Easily access, aggregate, and cross-reference mobility operations and traveler needs data at a system level across transit providers and jurisdictions;
  • Utilize mobility data in the context of land use, population, environmental, and other data to inform short- and long-range strategies and policy; and
  • Support the above visions for other stakeholders.

What is interoperability?

Interoperable technologies can natively exchange data in a format that each can understand.

Interoperability enables:

  • Travelers to see all relevant mobility options along with complete directions, travel time, reliability and cost in the trip planning application of their choice, because mobility service providers publish their availability using open standards.
  • Trip planning applications to interpret the information published about transit vehicles’s locations, trajectories, and estimated stop arrival times.
  • Transit planners to understand the needs and experiences of riders in order to plan future service by enabling their transit planning applications (e.g. scheduling software) to directly use ridership, mobile data terminal (MDT) and location data from on-board hardware.
  • Mobility service providers to more easily receive the mobility technology components that meet the needs of their uses because components are better integrated into a larger mobility technology system, in which the transmission and ingestion of data is utilizing open standards.
  • Mobility service providers to insert or merge service alerts manually or dynamically generated from one system into another.
  • A service planner for a mobility service provider to notify their arrival prediction software, the public, and other mobility service providers of detours in an open standard from the same, reliable source.
  • Transit operators and other mobility service providers to easily and affordably cross-reference, quality-check, analyze, and report on operational system performance across multiple dimensions and indicators using data from multiple mobility technology components and systems.
  • Transportation system managers are able to easily aggregate transportation demand data (e.g. number of intraregional transit trips served in a given month) from mobility service providers because they are available in an open standard.
  • A transportation technology company to lower development and maintenance costs and increase predictability by having a clear understanding of how to interface with neighboring system components.

In short, interoperability means everyone in the mobility industry can speak the same language when it comes to mobility data.

Why is interoperability important?

The easiest way to see the importance of interoperability is to look at what happens when interoperability isn’t present. Currently, transportation technology companies have built proprietary ways of representing information that likely are similar to, but slightly different from, those used by other companies. In order to communicate with any other device, their applications have to be programmed, generally at additional expense, to understand one another. In many cases, this additional expense or hassle is replaced with countless staff hours doing double- and in some cases triple data-entry. The common results in either case are:

  • Transit agencies and other mobility service providers encountering an extreme amount of friction in order to manage and operate service (especially changes to the service),
  • Transportation system managers being unable to understand the full picture of the system in a consistent and up-to-date manner,
  • Transit agencies and other mobility service providers experiencing difficulty accessing, validating, and aggregating the information they need to assess how the system they fund actually functions, and
  • Extreme friction in time and cost in updating and upgrading any technology component to meet new requirements or take advantage of additional innovations.
  • Travelers receiving information that is not reliable, diminishing their trust in mobility service providers.

The high friction thus results in a technology marketplace where there are minimal incentives for:

  • Incumbent transit technology providers to increase interoperability or innovate high-quality products and service, and
  • Additional transit technology providers to enter the market.

The current lack of interoperability restricts all mobility stakeholders from performing to the best of their ability. The result is often a poor customer experience, hampered innovation, and frustration for all parties. The broader impact for the transit industry is a reduction in the attractiveness of transit systems, which limits overall ridership growth. This is a grave loss to a society in which greater transit utilization is necessary for improving social and economic equity and environmental sustainability.

An interoperable mobility industry would improve service quality and efficiency. Interoperability would also promote the ability of the transit providers and other mobility service providers to adapt to continuing changes in the mobility landscape, to more effectively plan service, and to spur innovation among transportation technology companies while helping them to contain costs. In other words, interoperability will support more cost-effective solutions for the generation and application of mobility data. This improved cost-effectiveness will conserve public dollars and promote the equitable distribution of benefits across both larger and smaller, better funded and cash-strapped transit systems.

Interoperability is also the only way to progressively build the mobility ecosystems in a given area, allowing it to integrate, new modes, new partners (public or private) and new systems. It provides the ability to scale quickly. Another key aspect of interoperability is to insure that the local knowledge is always coming AND transferred back to the Transit agencies (when transportation technology companies compute full/part of the data) AND the Transportation system managers to ensure its reliability.

How do these principles support interoperability?

The Mobility Data Interoperability Principles will help the transit industry and other mobility service providers move toward interoperability by encouraging the adoption and implementation of adopted and proposed open standards originating within the industry itself. The Mobility Data Interoperability Principles will clearly designate the roles that mobility providers and transportation tech companies must play in order to achieve interoperability. The Mobility Data Interoperability Principles will also serve as a benchmark for measuring individual organization’s commitment to achieving interoperability.

How were the Principles developed?

The Principles were initially developed in Summer and Fall of 2021 using a collaborative and public process which involved several dozen public organizations, non-governmental organizations, academics, and private industry. More detailed information can be found on the process page.