Make Transport & Mobility Data FAIR

There is a growing awareness of the role and benefits of good data management and usage. Industry, academia, legislators and even day-to-day consumers of digital services now see or receive the advantages of structured, standardised and stewarded information for both humans and machines.

The transport and mobility sector is, like many others, currently going through a huge transformation. Ever-faster technology systems updates & integrations are expected and increasing customer demands for complete and more real-time updates means that data is now a critical business resource for all transport providers, system suppliers and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms.

But it is no longer good enough to consider structured and stored data as “something the IT Department look after”, every data producer and publisher in a mobility organisation now has a responsibility to ensure that data is F.A.I.R

Data, unlike the Kevin Costner movie is not a Field of Dreams… if you build it (produce / publish data), the don’t come (and find it). Transport data has to be published in such a way that is can be easily discovered by an entire ecosystem.
Many different websites and online lists of mobility data now exist, each describing similar and overlapping data sources and each potentially identifying or describing different versions, potentially with differing timeliness / frequency of data. But websites, although human-readable, are not the best way of helping system-to-system integration of multiple trusted data sources.

What is ideally needed is one directory of data (or more than one, as long as they either cover different data sets or automatically duplicate or reference each other) covering all modes of mobility across an entire transport ecosystem.

In short, what is required is a centralised service, something akin to the Domain Name Service (DNS) used for finding internet websites or the Sort Code system used by the UK banking sector to exclusively identify the persistent location (physical branch and digital address) of each account.

Data is made accessible when the person or system requesting it can do so easily or without unnecessary restrictions. Unfortunately there could be multiple restrictions to getting the data once its location has been found:

  • the data cannot be accessed in a standardised way
  • the technology is restricted (e.g. by propriety protocols and/or licenses)
  • unnecessary authorisation is required (e.g. API keys)

To mitigate this, transport data should be provided via a technology / protocol that is free (no-cost), open (sourced) and thus globally implementable. E.g. HTTP, FTP, REST, etc.
Note: This is not to say that All mobility data should be global and free (perhaps only that data defined as truly Open on the Data Spectrum ), other types of data can and should be limited or monetized as is commercially, ethically, or practically required.

Furthermore, data tends to disappear or degrade over time (typically because there is a cost to hosting and maintaining it). Therefore storing the metadata (e.g. details about the data publisher / owner or the original source location) can be a cheaper or longer-term option

Data works best when it is merged, integrated or used with other data. Making data exchangeable and readable by humans & machines (without needing specialised or clever converters or algorithms) means using common entity definitions, standards or vocabularies across an entire sector or ecosystem, preferably ones also commonly used by the analysts, architects, developers & testers in similar or related sectors.

An obvious example of this for transport & mobility would be to ensure that any technical data interoperability standards created or adopted also take from or align (e.g. easily map) with those used across the location & geospatial sector and the Smart Cities sector.

Open Data initiatives have been gaining pace and acceptance across the mobility sector, with transport organisation and authorities publishing easily findable, accessible and (mainly) interoperable data sets online. (Perhaps less so from MaaS Platforms right now… but this will come into effect eventually either by choice or obligation).
Use of this data by others (e.g. external parties for analysis, objective insight and service improvement) has obvious advantages and promotes trust in the data and the publisher. But unlike technical interoperability, where there is the need to ensure as much data as possible works with other data… often it is legally necessary to restrict data usage or prevent freely published data from being subsequently changed or monetised without permission.
It is therefore important that any transport & mobility data source (whether it is Open or Shared / Smart) defines how it can or cannot be replicated and/or combined in different ways, along with a clear data usage / re-usage license.

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