New Coalition Aims to Help Cities Deal With Ride Sharing, Street Scooters
Ever since Uber launched with an almost casual disregard for city governments, it has been an uphill struggle for cities to deal with a tech-inspired onslaught of ride-sharing, bike-sharing, and most recently, scooter-sharing companies. While there is no doubt those companies provide convenience, and in many cases fill the need for an important but missing service, they have also exacerbated traffic congestion, caused safety issues, and in some cases cluttered up sidewalks with abandoned bikes or scooters. To effectively govern in that environment, cities have started to realize they need better data and a set of tools for making decisions and implementing policies.
Born out of an effort by Los Angeles to regain control over how its public rights-of-way are used by commercial services, the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) has been created to develop the needed software platform. The OMF is led by a group of cities and supported by institutional partners such as The Rockefeller Foundation, and corporate partners including Microsoft. Even scooter firms Bird and Spin have signed on.
Founding municipal members are Austin, Texas; Bogotá, Colombia; Chicago; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Miami; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Minneapolis; New York City Department of Transportation; New York City Taxi and Limo Commission; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Santa Monica, Calif.; Seattle; and Washington D.C. However, expect that number to grow rapidly as the OMF is officially open for business and soliciting additional local governments to join. The OMF is also looking for interested companies and individuals who may want to contribute to the development efforts or participate in committees.
What the OMF Hopes to Achieve
The OMF has four stated goals. First is increasing the safety of streets and sidewalks through better tools to monitor and manage various kinds of traffic. Second, ensuring equity by requiring that new forms of transportation be accessible and affordable. Third, improving the quality of life by making sure transportation options don’t block sidewalks or increase congestion, but do add to the sustainability of the urban environment. Finally, doing all this while protecting privacy by creating a data framework with world-class privacy and data security standards.
Mobility Data Specification (MDS)
The technical heart of the OMF is the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which grew out of work done by Los Angeles and Santa Monica. It’s a sophisticated API that allows communication between local governments and private transportation companies to assist in efficiently managing traffic and resources. The MDS is a free, open-source platform that will be shepherded by the OMF, with the project’s code hosted by OASIS. The current version of MDS used by Los Angeles is available on GitHub. The goals of the MDS include providing an open system on which commercial innovation can occur, and one that’s modular enough to be flexible in meeting the needs of a wide variety of local needs.
Why MDS is Important
It’s virtually impossible to effectively regulate transportation services if you can’t monitor them. The challenge was hard enough when it was confined to streets and cars. But with the rapid growth of micro-mobility options like rented bicycles and scooters, existing monitoring and management infrastructure is woefully inadequate. MDS provides cities with a framework for pulling together all the various forms of transportation-related data they collect and acting on it. A higher-level policy layer can implement a wide variety of options, such as congestion pricing, route recommendations, and capacity limits, or it can even serve as an alert system for operators to learn about transient issues like construction or accidents. If the OMF and its Mobility framework are successful, we’ll all have them to thank for a more pleasant experience whenever we’re in an urban downtown.
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