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Notes from the Field: Smart City Expo World Congress
At the end of November, our team was at Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. This annual event brings together private and public stakeholders working toward more sustainable cities. Urban mobility (a topic we obviously care a lot about), really came into its own this year. From connected ecosystems, to a better understanding of bike-share and a bigger space overall for mobility, we share our five takeaways from the 2019 edition.
1. One Card for All!
More than twelve years after the first iPhone was released, the idea that the smartphone is the future might seem passé. But take a look inside your wallet and you’re likely to find cards — and lots of them. In our discussions with industry players, we learned how transit cards will increasingly migrate towards smartphones as a means to access subways, buses, trains and micromobility services like bike-share. It’s predicted card technologies will be integrated in the NFC software stacks of phones as a kind of transportation wallet, making it easier for external players to provide private solutions within the public transit ecosystem — think micromobility operators and yes, we’re including PBSC in that space! However, there are challenges: transit authorities need to make it easy for third parties to interface with them at the technical level — sometimes easier said than done. The same organizations also need to make interoperability between their existing services a reality, such as bus transfers being valid for bike-sharing.
2. Market Maturity
When we first started going to Barcelona four years ago we spent our time educating visitors about bike-share: what it is, how it works. This year, we remarked that the nature of the questions has changed. Stakeholders know about bike-share; they’ve seen it or even used it on a visit to London, Monaco, Toronto, or Rio de Janeiro. Now they want to know how they can start a bike-share in their city. We also fielded lots of questions about the different business models of bike-share. And while, if we listen to the media and our social networks, we might think that e-bikes, and only e-bikes, are all the rage, most of our booth visitors at Smart City were most curious about mixed fleets (i.e. e-bikes and bikes). These are the types of fleets we have in Valence and Barcelona.
3. Sharing is Hard
As transit options within a city increase, interoperability between all players in the industry is key to managing complexity. In the Making the Promise of Seamless Intermodal Mobility a Reality conference, we discussed how identity management and payment resolution will be central topics in this space. For instance, how do you distribute the proceeds of a ‘seamless’ end-to-end trip that spans cab, train and bike-share that’s been paid through a centralized Mobility as a Service (MaaS) app? For bike-share, this is a bit easier to handle because you accumulate fees based on ride duration. Deep knowledge of the business rules is needed to estimate the cost beforehand in an external app. How do you standardize on a format to communicate this digitally?
4. Privacy under Threat
From video surveillance systems that identify your face and track your intentions based on your gait, to free-floating mobility services that track your movements across a city, we're forfeiting our privacy often without consent. We saw about a dozen or so of these surveillance type systems in display at the Expo and it was really eye-opening to see how widespread this technology has become. It was also really concerning. In our industry, many free-floating micromobility systems make bike ID and position public. Whoever has that data can correlate bike trips to specific users through time by inferring which user is taking a specific bike. Provisions are being built into free-floating systems to prevent such usage, by randomizing the bike IDs. Still, the backend of these systems has all the trip information for every user that has ever taken a ride in the system. All it takes is one malicious employee, or a data leak, to expose this sensitive data. That’s not how it works at PBSC. Positional info is kept completely separate from your trip information, preventing users from being tracked.
4. Mobility Rising
For the first time, all-things mobility had their dedicated space within Smart City (The Smart Mobility Congress and Smart City were co-located). A track was even set up so that participants could try out some of the different micromobility systems on exhibit. Within the mobility sphere, we noticed quite a few trip-planning apps, cementing the idea that MaaS is the next big thing (well, it’s already a thing in Europe; We’re a little behind in North America.) We also got a taste of some of the innovative steps cities are taking to make alternative transit more attractive. For instance, in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, smart locks (which are unlocked with the help of an app) are available to rent for cyclists who don’t want to bring theirs along. They are provided free of charge to encourage cycling. In Barcelona, they’ve got public bike locks that cover seats protecting them from rain. This year it was really great to see such a strong focus on cycling, walking and public transit. It was clear that a smart city, is not just about data collection, but is about a city made for people to live in and enjoy.
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