“A change in mentality is needed in the field of data-driven mobility in Europe, both in the public and the private sectors”

Mon | 1 Mar 2021 | Interviews

“A change in mentality is needed in the field of data-driven mobility in Europe, both in the public and the private sectors”

Interview with dr. Florian Eck, Managing Director of Deutsches Verkehrsforum (DVF)

Since the beginning of his academic and professional career, Dr. Eck has been involved in the mobility sector. In his view, technologies and tools are there to take transport a giant leap forward. What helps is to think across sectors and modalities and bring together best practices for a solid intermodal solution, keeping customer preferences and decision-making in mind: transforming mobility with a focus on the customer.

Could you give us a short introduction about the history and objectives of Deutsches Verkehrsforum and about yourself, dr. Eck?

DVF was founded as a business association for railway-related companies (as Verkehrsforum Bahn) in 1984. Since 1992 we have been restructured and renamed as Deutsches Verkehrsforum, the business association of the German mobility industry. At the same time we developed the Think Tank-function of DVF, to bring together the frontrunners for the transformation and integration of the mobility sector.

Key factors that we discuss and promote are efficient infrastructure planning and investment, sustainable propulsion as well as digitisation. The latter is seen as a booster to take the sector to the next level of integration, efficiency and sustainability. As an economist, I see this as a classic win-win situation for both the companies (being future-proof) and our economy (being prepared for climate goals).

Has the role of the German Government changed as a result of data-driven mobility and platforms?

The public sector must provide guidance and guarantee a level playing field, without stifling innovation. The German government is driving data platforms and national access points as a result of the EU regulatory framework, such as electronic Freight Transport Information (eFTI), Public Sector Information (PSI) or the Commission’s Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1926. This should be combined with existing platforms, legacy data pools and de-facto standards on data communication.

Many solutions and data networks already exist, proving that data helps connect the different levels and players in the transport chain, making the outcome more efficient and facilitating intermodality. Our job is to point out open source solutions that allow the sector to connect, provide and exchange its data on a voluntary basis. Of course, to improve the performance of the sector as a whole, some data should be made mandatory, such as timetables or traffic loads.

But there are also risks in killing off initiatives and digitisation. For example, the PSI directive exaggerates transparency for public transport companies, so there is a risk that they will not extract important information from operational data in the future, because it could help their competitors.

Are there any obstacles when it comes to data driven mobility between governmental bodies and the industry?

Both sectors speak different languages. It is important that the public sector realises the leap forward that the transport industry has made and sees all the tools that exist for data-driven mobility. Political guidelines must be rough enough to guide the industry while allowing efficient legacy systems to operate. It is easier to program interfaces than to restructure a company’s data processing.

What measures should be taken to accelerate data driven mobility?

In economic theory there is an ideal balanced situation in which full transparency and 100% information are achieved. This could be a benchmark for the mobility industry. If data mining and predictive data analytics can lead to the right predictions and decisions, a lot of real energy and human energy will be saved – and can be refilled to further reform processes. The industry’s interests are already there, as climate change and the politically determined GHG ceilings set the framework and the leeway for future economic decisions.

The public sector must help this process by ensuring a nationwide digital infrastructure with broadband capabilities – both mobile and fibre. Digitalisation can also be promoted through public investment support to SMEs, which could be part of the recovery programmes already underway by the EU and its member states.

What positive innovations do you see within data driven mobility in both Germany and Europe?

A change in mentality is needed, both in the public and the private sector. Common interfaces must become standard, both on the public and private side. And data silos need to be broken, first in the private entities themselves, then – on a voluntary base – beyond that. It is important that all stakeholders realise that they will benefit from pooling their data, acting more efficiently and cooperating more easily.

Of course the public sector must be open to data governance and anti-trust rules. Often, data-driven mobility is promoted by the traffic authority and inhibited (or even stopped) by the data protection authority.

If you had to make a prediction about the landscape of the mobility industry in 10 years' time, what current trends have had a major impact on that landscape?

Platform thinking and solutions, forecasting, autonomous operation and intermodal planning. 

Are there any (international) examples of cities that we can learn/benefit from and why?

Singapore, Hamburg and New York.

Singapore: They show the maximum stage of centrally controlled mobility and transport, aided by mobility pricing and extensive public funding. Although many measures might clash with our mentality.

Hamburg: Spurred on by this year’s ITS-world-congress, Hamburg has performed well and launched many innovation programmes around intelligent mobility and logistics 4.0. 

New York: Despite its bad reputation, NYC has done well in recent years, investing in bike lanes, collecting data on ride hailing and investing in public transport. Still a long way to go, but the spirit is there!

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