Data has transformed all manner of industries, and the transport industry is no exception. That's the conclusion of a recent report from the Urban Transport Group.
"Emerging data will mean transport users will become far more fully informed about their travel choices whilst at the same time transform the ability of transport authorities to plan and manage transport networks and services more efficiently and effectively," it says.
It then outlines a number of the key challenges and opportunities that transport authorities need to tackle to make this happen. The findings emerged from a workshop held during the summer of 2016 that featured input from a range of stakeholders in this issue.
Transport authorities are increasingly mandated by law to open up their data. This trend is only likely to continue, with legislation such as the Bus Services Bill requiring private operators to open up data around fares, routes and so on.
The hope is that by doing this, not only can third party developers build interesting new services on top of this data, but transport providers themselves can improve their offerings to passengers.
The power of data increases significantly when it's shared in such a way that multiple sources of data can be combined to provide a richer, more contextualized picture of the passenger.
A central challenge to overcome in achieving this is the issue of who owns the data, and how secure that data is. One possible solution is for legislation to support open and transparent sharing of data, as with the Bus Services Bill. This is an area where joint approaches are crucial.
As the value of data increases, so to is the importance of privacy. There has been a growing volume of legislation in this area, both at national and international levels, with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in 2018.
A third major challenge to overcome is around the quality of data. Poor quality data has been identified as a major barrier to successful utilization of big data. Data inter-operability represents another key challenge. Standards need to be devised that support the architecture and structure of the data, and the means by which it is stored and transferred both inside the system and between organizations.
This also raises important questions over who should oversee and regulate the storage and general management of this data and ensuring it is of suitably high quality.
Skills and capabilities
The final challenge revolves around the skills required to both work with and manage the data requirements of the transport industry. This includes known skills shortages in areas such as legal and governance, data analysis and the management of data. In mobile data alone, new algorithms and approaches to data management are required, and these skills are certainly new to the transport sector.
The transport sector will have to compete with other, often more glamorous and lucrative, sectors in the fight for this talent. On the plus side however, the industry is well versed in working with large, complex data sets, and the report is confident that the industry can rise to the skills challenge it faces.
The report hopes to be the first step in a wider body of work to help shape the future of transport, but, as the report identifies, it will need a wide range of stakeholders to work together to ensure the industry capitalizes on the possibilities in front of it.