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Transatlantic collaboration in mobility data standardization

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

In the rapidly advancing landscape of shared mobility and digitalization, the need for collaboration on central digital technologies becomes vital. While established Nordic partnerships are working well within Europe, cooperation with the United States in this area remains limited. Recognizing the success of mobility actors in the United States in regards to standardization efforts, a Nordic initiative aimed to bridge the gap and contribute with valuable insights to transatlantic collaborations.

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In the past decade, mobility actors in the United States have been successful in creating new technologies that have spread globally through pragmatic standardization work. Initiatives such as Mobility Data Specification (MDS), General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and OpenTripPlanner are therefore central to combined mobility also in the Nordic countries, but Swedish involvement in these contexts today is limited and uneven. This means that wishes and requirements from the Swedish context are not implemented to the degree that would be desirable in these technologies. Discussions with interested parties in the Nordics and Sweden reveal that moving forward with such demands and wishes requires both competence and resources that few individual organizations have the opportunity to muster. 

At the same time, the Nordic countries are well advanced in terms of national coordination, harmonization and reuse of public transport data. Both Sweden, Norway and Denmark can today publish and reuse nationally comprehensive data sets for the public transport industry in accordance with established standards. However, this ability is currently lacking in, for example, actors at the state level in the United States, who see this type of data sharing as central to an increased seamlessness between different cities, for example. Here, experiences from Nordic organizations such as Samtrafiken and Entur, as well as results from initiatives such as "Kraftsamling öppna Trafikdata" (Arnestrand, Lundh, Rudmark, & Östlund, 2017) are valuable in a United States context. 

The response 

The project, Shared Standards for Shared Mobility, sought to examine how Swedish/Nordic long-term participation in United States standardization initiatives could be organized and financed. Through such increased coordination, better technical support for Swedish/Nordic requirements regarding mobility can be created, and the United States contexts can benefit from Nordic experiences. The second aim of the Shared Standards for Shared Mobility was to facilitate knowledge exchange regarding data sharing and harmonization of public transport data from Nordics/Sweden to the USA. The project also aimed to investigate how more long-term cooperation with mutual benefits could be established. 

The project partners consisted of RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI).

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“The project has provided invaluable insights into what actually drives public sector participation in transatlantic technology standardization initiatives, and that standards play a pivotal role for technology transfer within the mobility domain. However, stronger US-Swedish collaboration will require addressing emerging EU regulations on data sharing.”

Daniel Rudmark, Senior Research Leader, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI)


Implemented activities

 Digital accompaniment 

The project investigated how previous work in Sweden that uses open transport data could be transferred across the Atlantic. Among the options discussed, digital accompaniment for the visually impaired in public transport was the most interesting. ( By using new technical solutions such as more detailed satellite navigation, augmented reality (AR), and open traffic data, the accessibility of public transport for people with disabilities can increase, primarily for those with visual impairments. The goal was to, by developing digital twins and accessibility-adapted navigation solutions based on stop information, enable these individuals to travel more sustainably and safely, through an increased understanding of e.g. mobile navigation in complex environments. Since the solution was based on the open standards GTFS, GTFS-RT and the map platform OpenStreetMap, there were great opportunities to easily move the work to new contexts, e.g. in the United States.

During the project, talks have been held with several American actors, including the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP). One condition for implementing cooperation, however, was that Cal-ITP would receive a larger grant from American authorities that they applied for in competition. As Cal-ITP did not receive the grant, they couldn't proceed with the project proposal during the Future Mobility project. 

Talks have also been held with Johns Hopkins University and the city of Baltimore. Both parties have expressed interest in future collaboration, for example regarding future calls for tenders within Vinnova's collaboration with the National Science Foundation.

The project engaged with the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) and delved into the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) and Curb Data Specification (CDS). [1]

Roundtable discussions, particularly one on micro-mobility with a focus on MDS, were conducted in Sweden. Key figures from OMF, including Executive Director Andrew Glass Hastings, presented the latest developments and plans for MDS. Discussions emphasized MDS as a tool for cities to manage and monitor micro-mobility services, like e-scooters and delivery robots, highlighting its role in fostering sustainable and efficient urban mobility.

The project HelsingBotica came about as a direct consequence of these discussions and through additional network support from Future Mobility. HelsingBotica is a research project that explores data sharing for micromobility and delivery robots in the city of Helsingborg. The aim is to contribute to the development of infrastructure for the vehicles of the future by developing capabilities for data sharing between micromobility and the city. The project focuses on identifying feasible pilot tests for delivery robots and showing how data is exchanged through MDS. An important aspect is that the project can also contribute to the development of walking and cycling infrastructure. This is done by understanding and analyzing how the physical infrastructure affects the performance of micromobility vehicles and pedestrians, and how this can contribute to an attractive and safe city. The project involves several actors, including the city of Helsingborg, Univrses AB, Hugo Delivery AB and VTI, and strives to increase knowledge about the condition of pedestrian and bicycle paths and address road safety issues. 

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“Future Mobility has been instrumental in providing contacts and sharing their networks, facilitating collaborations that otherwise would have virtually been impossible to achieve.”


Project outcomes and learnings 

1. Concrete challenges drive transatlantic engagement

The project underscored the necessity of concrete challenges to drive engagement in transatlantic standardization efforts. While issues related to electric scooters were deemed resolved, the emergence of autonomous delivery robots presented an opportunity for proactive participation.

2. Regulatory and technical interoperability misalignment

Regulatory interoperability emerged as a significant hurdle, fueled by the complexity of the European regulatory landscape, particularly GDPR. Even though the technical capabilities within the standards were attractive, Swedish entities feared straying from EU-centric standards due to uncertainties surrounding compatibility with existing and future European regulations.

3. Pace of standardization: a European challenge

The project highlighted the disparity in the pace of standardization between the United States and Europe. While United States initiatives like MDS progressed rapidly through user-driven, open processes, European standards such as NeTEx followed a more extended cycle, prompting discussions on the suitability of the European standardization system for digital standards.

4. Mapping regulatory opportunities

There is a critical need to map regulatory opportunities for public entities to leverage global de facto standards not developed within the EU. This is essential to prevent potential scenarios where less suitable EU-developed standards are enforced, limiting the market for system providers. 

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