What is the Mobility Data Specification and What Do Micromobility Operators Need to Know About It?

MDS is a data standard that helps cities manage shared mobility vehicles in the public right-of-way via shared data vocabulary in real time. Learn how IoT makes mobility data easier to collect and share so you can win more city permits.

It’s not uncommon to find e-scooters and e-bikes peppered everywhere in cities nowadays. Convenient, cheap and environmentally-friendly, these shared short-distance options have become essential for many city dwellers.

However, city officials and regulatory agencies have struggled to effectively manage the devices in public spaces in recent years. The problem is that they find themselves in a dilemma with limited resources. Officials’ need to make data-informed decisions gave rise to a project that helps nurture trust among residents and standardize the data format and usage to improve transportation infrastructure. This is where the Mobility Data Specification comes in.

What is the Mobility Data Specification?

The Mobility Data Specification is a bridge between municipalities and private mobility providers. It’s a data standard that helps cities manage shared mobility vehicles in the public right-of-way via shared data vocabulary in real time. Through the data, cities can collect valuable insights of the current and historic use patterns, as well as improve the safety, equity and quality of the mobility services in public places.

“Mobility data is super important for policy makers to understand how to suggest, propose, and deliver effective allocation of resources when it comes to making investments in the cities,” said Nate Wang, an Enterprise Account Executive at Particle.

Given the importance of accurate mobility data, standardized communication and data sharing plays a key role in the communication process, and MDS makes that possible.

Usually, cities look for data with an authenticated and standardized interface. Though some cities may still use data in .xsl, .csv, or other formats, the General Bike Share Feed Specification (GBFS) and the MDS are most commonly accepted ones.

The MDS offers a set of APIs that allows data to flow smoothly and securely between city officials and micromobility companies so that both parties can share information and manage devices together.

City authorities take the responsibility of managing streets, right of way, policy, equity, residential feedback and issues. Companies mainly manage devices and are responsible for maintenance and repairs, billing, and remote monitoring.

The MDS's Role in Urban Micromobility Management

MDS offers great potential for both cities and operators by providing access to a broader and more instant database.

There are higher expectations today for both the speed and accuracy of data flow. With a digital management system that maps to MDS, cities can reduce operating cost and time spent collecting and harnessing data and more time interpreting and applying the conclusions they draw from it.

For decision-making, MDS also powers cities to make real-time policy changes to adapt to planned events and accidents, as well as support policies that enable dynamic pricing, equitable access, and safety initiatives.

With an increasing need for cities to understand first and last-mile utilization and the relationship with public transit, MDS also meets the need for infrastructure improvements related to bike lanes and scooter parking.

For private mobility companies, the MDS helps standardize the data format and streamlines communication with city officials. Thus, companies could save time spent on redundant information formatting and processing.

The MDS also plays an important role in helping companies scale by providing a platform and best practices that cater to new city markets.

How Cities Are Implementing the MDS with Micromobility Operators

When the first VC-backed micromobility startups launched, they flooded city streets around the world with dockless e-scooters and e-bikes. While there was strong demand from riders for these new modes, many residents complained about how the vehicles were cluttering sidewalks and making them unsafe.

Many municipal governments, such as San Francisco’s, reacted by instituting blanket bans on micromobility vehicles. In the years since, however, cities and operators have found ways to work more cooperatively and institute standards that would ensure safe, equitable, and sustainable short-distance transportation and stronger data sharing mechanisms.

MDS has its origins in Los Angeles, CA. While it’s become the standard for cities across the world, LA is leading the way in the standardization of mobility data sharing.

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles is the originator of the MDS, which was originally proposed by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and is now managed by the Open Mobility Foundation.

In Los Angeles, permitted shared mobility providers need to provide real-time data with LADOT. The shared data is usually about vehicles’ use status, including the number in use, the location, physical condition, trip data, etc.

“What the MDS allows the city to do is evaluate the performance of the operators,” said Nate Wang. “But more critically, it helps them understand where they can make decisions from a policy and an infrastructure standpoint, to better serve the environments in which we live.”

The MDS defines the APIs for LADOT, as well as other mobility service companies, to pull data from mobility service companies. These APIs will support LADOT to manage mobility service in the public realm.

In the near future, the city may be able to avoid instances of blocked driveways and illegal parking with LADOT’s Agency APIs, which are able to communicate instantly with the provider and the customer with alternative proper parking spots. Additionally, customers will not be able to end trips until the vehicle is parked in a proper location. This would prevent some of the more visible negative effects of micromobility..

Seattle, WA

As the Seattle Department of Transportation tries to improve transportation in the public realm, it’s also protecting against the misuse of personal mobility data and the resultant privacy issues.

Specifically, the pilot program focused more on the importance of the clear definition of SDOT right-of-way terms and using them consistently. Under the free-floating bike share permit, SDOT requires operators to comply with the MDS, which reduces the necessity for SDOT to monitor whether the data compliance is in accordance with permit rules.

Under MDS, there is a standard for sharing vehicle status data. For example, the Status Changes feed indicates whether a vehicle is in use or parked; the trip data shows the location and the length of trip. According to SDOT, vendors must report real-time data on deployments, removals, and available devices.

Even though the data collected contains no personal information, SDOT still obeys the City of Seattle Privacy Principles and Information Security Data Classification Guidelines for operating personal information, including collecting, transmitting, storing, and using personal information beyond the general data protection standards.

Seeing how MDS is applied in Seattle, as in other cities, makes it clear that data collection and sharing based on MDS guidelines is table stakes for micromobility operators.

How Micromobility Operators Can Win with the Internet of Things

As the micromobility trend continues to grow, more new brands flood into the emerging market and crowd the public right-of-way. While many are focusing on providing first-class services to their customers, other companies are struggling to outshine the competition.

So, how can micromobility operators win city permits and market share? Thinking about IoT from the start is the key.

A fully integrated IoT Platform-as-a-Service, like Particle, makes it possible for micromobility operators and manufacturers to deploy connected vehicles faster and with data collection capabilities built in from the start.

A fleet built on Particle’s IoT platform can give operators a competitive advantage with several features that will make their offerings more desirable to city authorities.

  • Connect your vehicles to the internet with Particle’s edge hardware and reliable cellular connectivity across the globe, so that your fleet is connected at scale, at all times
  • Manage your fleet of vehicles with our IoT fleet management solution; monitor your entire fleet with end-to-end visibility, and get detailed insights like vehicle events.
  • Track vehicle locations in real-time and store historical location data with best-in-class Location Fusion – an intelligent blend of GPS, cellular, WiFi, and BLE signals – irrespective of where the vehicle moves.
  • Prevent theft and loss of vehicles with Particle’s intelligent locking capabilities and theft alerts.
  • Ensure rider safety with advanced configuration services to enable speed protection, and crash detection.
  • Increase battery life by measuring battery health for fleets, and extend capabilities like sleep mode and low-power optimization.
  • Avoid vehicle breakdowns and reduce repair costs by monitoring vehicle health and telemetry data, and receive maintenance reminders.
  • Comply with city authorities by easily collecting and sharing consistent streams of trip and user data, along with useful external data like air quality, and traffic conditions.
  • Keep user data secure by accommodating and distributing data in a secure, scalable fashion to any endpoint without keeping or owing the data.

There's More Than Just Getting Data Into an App

“It’s not just good enough to get the data off the vehicle into some proprietary app,” Nate said. “How well does it play from the cloud side to every other endpoint that it needs to go to?"

The ability to control that starts with your design and your choice of IoT tech on the vehicle. You open up the possibilities for your vehicle to be the correct choice for a variety of downstream stakeholders because of its inherent flexibility and openness.

“If you don’t have a tight control on the entire integration between the hardware, the conductivity and the cloud, what can end up happening is that you get these outliers,” Nate added. “Having a lot of this degradation of quality of the data is a bad thing for both the operator and for the city. Everyone loses revenue and you don’t have an understanding of where people are truly moving.”

Why Location Data Is Key for MDS Success

Agencies and providers often find inconsistent data quality from the off-the-shelf vehicles. In some cases, even their own in-house IoT infrastructure makes data collection difficult. This is unacceptable, as accurate trip and location data is what cities use to drive revenue.

“Oftentimes, we hear from operators that had tried and failed on their own IoT projects that they had a lot of anomalies in their data,” said Rinus Strydom, Chief Revenue Officer at Particle. “They had to go in and selectively delete them, and the cities just hate that. They’re not getting what they need to drive revenue from rides.”

One reason for this plight is that building in MDS data compliance is not a direct revenue driver for mobility operators. Plus, the low return of investment and limited resources, the drawbacks all lead to a lower chance for developers to prioritize MDS.

That’s why micromobility operators should start thinking about data collection as early as the manufacturing process.

A viable move is for both manufacturers and operators to think about MDS from the early stage of the product lifecycle and consider an IoT solution for micromobility that makes it easy to feed MDS-compliant data directly to cities.

Location Fusion and MDS

The current GPS service has surfaced great problems when it comes to the urban canyon environments, where the high-rise buildings standing on both sides often block the signals. A lack of available satellite signals also makes it hard to estimate the positioning information of a fix.

To meet this challenge, Particle’s Location Fusion seamlessly switches between cellular towers, Wi-Fi and GPS and chooses the one with the most accurate signal.

“When you get a combination of those services, and you can actually get much more reliable data in those urban canyons and have a consistent set of data without anomalies,” Rinus said. “So, those are two of the big things – speed to market and consistent data – that the operators like.”

The Opportunity in Micromobility

The opportunity for micromobility operators to expand globally is enormous, but true success will only come to those who can forge strong civic partnerships.

By helping city authorities understand origins, destinations, and the routes of trips, operators can be a key partner that drives better infrastructural decisions and safer roads for all. The best way to do that is with a strong IoT foundation that collects accurate data and maps to the MDS for easy analysis.

Written and Reviewed By

  • Lily Li

    Written By

    Lily Li

    Content Marketing Associate

  • Nate Wang

    Reviewed By

    Nathan Wang

    Enterprise Account Executive at Particle

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