23 APR 2019

Data-driven mobile solutions paving the way for the future of urban mobility

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Marek Rannala

Mobility Statistics Product Manager, Positium

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Note: This is a guest post by Marek Rannala, Mobility Statistics Product Manager at Positium. Positium is a data analytics company specialising in mobile positioning data for official statistics. They research location data to understand people’s activity spaces and improve modern statistics with timely and accurate data.

Cars have dominated urban environments around the world for over half a century. This situation has led to cities losing their human element, with the ever-increasing number of cars demanding colossal infrastructure changes to accommodate them, taking up public space, and having a harmful impact on people’s health. Driven by modern data analytics capabilities, cities are looking for solutions to make mobility in urban areas sustainable. To do that, we need to understand the mobility of people.

Mobility is a complex combination of a multitude of factors, including human needs and choices. A personal car seems to have numerous advantages, making it impossible to compete with. As usual, simple stand-alone solutions will not help in the case of complex problems.

The latest promising solution is the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – a service that helps a person to use an optimum combination of sustainable travel modes: public transport, rental bicycle, scooter, taxi, carshare, rental car and an unlimited amount of walking. The service takes care of planning the trip using a combination of travel modes and allows the user to pay for it within a single mobile app and even subscribe to a monthly service.

The one-trip service comes in handy especially for tourists and visitors, as you just need to install the app and start using it. As the first analysis of data from the Whim app in Helsinki has shown, users of the service are strongly inclined to sustainable travel modes; so the MaaS concept looks promising.

There is just one thing: MaaS requires good-quality public transport, with the accessibility and frequency of the service being key factors. This is where Positium comes in. Positium provides insights about where people stay and move, based on the passive positioning of mobile phones. This is basically the travel demand, independent of which travel mode people are using.

Traditionally, for public transport, the demand has been derived from ticketing data, registry data on homes and workplaces, and also from surveys, covering a percentage of the population. While nowadays electronic ticketing data provides information on public transport use (which is only part of the demand) in an efficient way, registries are still static, contain many types of systematic errors and cannot give any knowledge other than where people live (registered place of residence) and work.

Surveys are even more problematic. While it is increasingly difficult and costly to gather even a few percent of the population into a proper sample, it is also general knowledge that people are not very accurate in describing their own travel habits. Passive mobile positioning is based on anonymous mobile use data, aggregated into population groups with an accuracy of a mobile base station’s coverage area, eliminating privacy concerns.

This means that all the clients of a single or several mobile operators are included, giving a good random profile of a society. Also, the data is available 24/7/365 in near real-time, while providing a possibility to go back in time and monitor changes over several years.

The latest local example of putting all this into practice is designing a new bus route network and a public bicycle rental network in Tartu in 2018. The networks are designed to connect to each other, providing seamless and flexible mobility options.

In just one year, Positium provided information on the mobility demand, based mostly on mobile positioning data, and WSP Finland used the data to design a totally new bus route network. The number of lines was reduced from 27 to just 13, service frequencies increased up to 10 minutes, while retaining the same accessibility and annual number of bus-kilometres.

Both networks will be launched in July 2019. We are yet to see what the impact of a big data-based combined service will be in Tartu, but it is certainly a big leap towards making the MaaS concept available in Estonia. For monitoring the impact, again, ticketing data, mobile app data and mobile positioning data will come in handy.

What would be the takeaway from all this? Big data, mobile solutions and comfortable payment systems have the power to change the world in a way that has been impossible so far. Mobility is just one domain that is at the beginning of a transformation; in the coming decades, a lot of changes can be expected to occur in other domains as well. Be ready!

Read more about Positium’s solutions at www.positium.com.

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