Assessing the potential of digitalisation within the European mobility system: where do we go from here?
Author: Ulrike Schmalz (BHL)
Today’s world is digital and data-driven and the change has been rapid, but is still ongoing. This digital transformation (or “digitalisation”) has altered many parts of our daily lives and offers ample potential for improving Europe’s inadequate mobility system. This could translate into creating a more efficient, environmentally friendly, and seamless transport system that provides greatly increased passenger satisfaction. This case study assesses the status quo and the potential of the European mobility system for digital transformation, and attempts to provide an answer to the question: where do we go from here?
There are various definitions of the term “digitalisation”. According to Gartner’s Glossary (2021) “Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.” The act of transforming an analogue process into the digital world is referred to as digitization. Taking these two definitions as a starting point, the case study at hand focuses, besides the business view, on the passenger (demand) side, in line with the scope of the CAMERA project.
today. There are also various projects and prototypes in place that digitally assist passengers along the different legs of their door-to-door air journey, such as developed for the airport environment within the PASSME (2018) project (Kefalidou, 2015) or as illustrated by the concept of a Virtual Travel Assistant (Hoeser & Schmalz, 2021). In fact, digitalisation is considered the key enabler of the modern European transport system (European Commission, 2020) and which will certainly be one of the main drivers for providing Mobility as a Service (MaaS). With the use of passengers’ data and information about their preferences, behaviour and socio-demographics, strong personalisation is possible throughout the journey. Using personal devices, travel time can be used effectively and added value can be created, tailored to passenger segments, whether for work, education or entertainment. These options do not just improve travel experience, but also generate potential for ancillary (non-ticket) revenue on the business supply side, for novel business models, and for the entry of new players onto the market.
in summer 2021, as is shown for London, Berlin, Barcelona and Paris in Figure 1. Conversely, this development has decreased the use of day-to-day urban mobility for commuting to work.
Fig. 1: 7 day running average of movements to offices in selected European cities – baseline: January 2020 (Source: Google LLC “Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports”).
Digital transformation is also an enabler of the transparency air passengers already experience in the booking process – comparing fares, itineraries and ancillaries on search platforms ( , 2017). Another possible use is to show passengers their emissions along their entire door to door journey (EcoPassenger, 2021). This helps informed and eco-friendly travel decisions to be made on the demand side. Furthermore, the use of advanced digital algorithms and apps are the foundation for car sharing, ride pooling and ride hailing, offering shared mobility as eco-friendly alternatives to personal vehicles or taxi services. Given the proliferation of novel mobility offers, we could start to question whether we will own personal vehicles at all in the future. The concept of sharing platforms can also be applied to air travel to increase the utilisation of seats in the cabin and so increase passenger load factors (Steinweg et al., 2021).
Many of the services described here imply a requirement for a vast amount of personal and person-related data. Since 2018, collecting, processing and sharing these types of data has been regulated in the European Union through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (European Parliament, 2016). Cross-border flow of personal data to a third country requires even stricter data protection measures (European Commission, 2021). Conversely, to support truly seamless mobility in Europe and even beyond, such as for long-haul flights, cross-country solutions are necessary to avoid data silos between regions. Providers need incentives to collaborate and share their data externally. This however raises questions about the data access, ownership and liability. How can data monopoly situations be avoided? How can personal and person-related data be saved and secured while at the same time being processed by various providers along the travel chain? Who is responsible for data leaks and which sub-contractors have access to the data? In times where “data is the new oil” ( , 2017, pg. xxxi), these questions are gaining momentum among mobility providers, and have never been more relevant. However, an in-depth discussion is needed on the level of privacy acceptable to users since, although data provision and use are regulated by laws, European society needs to evaluate how much data they are willing to provide to receive tailored products and services in return, and what levels of privacy and possible data leakage are socially accepted. Novel data-driven technology could require exploring the accepted levels of data usage. There could also be a case for new business models whereby a ‘mobility service agent’ would be responsible for managing the passenger’s entire door-to-door journey and their data, only sharing what was specifically needed for a journey, with the passenger’s permission, with other mobility suppliers. Analogous research looking into data sharing for the user-driven prioritisation process (UDPP) in SESAR (IR and ER4 work, in particular) is also tackling issues of ‘information mediation’ without revealing sensitive, corporate data (e.g. on airspace users’ costs).
Besides the challenges of data sharing and protecting data privacy, European mobility needs to stay inclusive and barrier-free for its end-users, the travellers, especially as far as inclusion and user acceptance are concerned. The elderly, non-digital traveller segments should still be able to travel and access mobility services. Travellers also need to accept, trust and actually use digital mobility solutions. Looking ahead, personal devices and communication tools are changing rapidly and nobody can foresee which solutions will be widely used in the future. It could be smart glasses, holograms, or something completely novel that doesn’t exist yet. The supply side needs to stay up to date by adapting and creating its products and services, while making sure it continues to provide mobility solutions that are suitable for all customer segments. As mentioned above, users need to engage in data sharing in the long-term and trust the developed data ecosystem (Hewett & Zabelin, 2021). Industry-independent research projects, such as those funded by the European Commission, can shed light here, for instance by conducting user acceptance studies among the European population.
Additionally, to truly take advantage of the power of data, digitalisation and novel technologies, European mobility providers need to go through a change process, starting with shifting the mindset of employees, management and stakeholders. This also requires the workforce to be re-skilled, diversified, and augmented with fresh talents equipped with data analytics skills and the ability to connect the dots between operations and traveller needs.
How are institutions addressing this challenge?
The CAMERA dashboard can be used to see how the research initiatives selected for the CAMERA database have addressed the “Digitalisation and information” (D&I) mobility KPA, as has also been done in the “deep dive” on environmental aspects. According to CAMERA’s analysis of the relevance of projects to topics and KPAs*, 35 FP7-projects and 89 H2020-projects addressed D&I-related questions. This imbalance might be because the subject of digital transformation has only gained momentum within the last few years and has hence been increasingly incorporated in the younger H2020 funding scheme.
Digging deeper, the topic of “Transport models” explores the power of data. Exploring the distribution of this topic between H2020 and FP7, it can be seen that fewer projects incorporate this topic overall (see Fig 2). Further, more FP7-projects than H2020-projects focus on “Transport models”. As FP7 is the older funding scheme and given the fast pace of technological developments, algorithms and regulations, one might question whether FP7-funded results are still applicable today or whether we need new research initiatives to address the pressing challenges around digitalisation and data usage.
*with regard to the defined CAMERA goals, developed indicators and defined keywords.
Fig 2: Topic distribution among H2020 and FP7-funded projects (source: CAMERA dashboard, v13.9.2021).
Where do we go from here?
Despite the progress today, the digital transformation of mobility still has ample potential for further exploration. Various use cases are possible, such as the development of a true multi-stakeholder platform for door-to-door travel that could solve the GDPR data-sharing problem, or advances in identity management that can improve border controls and reduce queuing and waiting times ( , 2017, pg. xxxii f.). At the same time, technology, data regulations and algorithms are changing rapidly and with them, the business intelligence and investments required. This also holds true for EU-funded projects, which lay the groundwork for political discourse and policymaking and eventually for the regulatory framework governing the mobility industry in Europe. It will be essential to develop methods for tracking and reacting to the aspects relevant to the digitalisation of mobility. This case study has only touched on the first few corner stones of this. In fact, this is already a research area in itself, and assessing initiatives in more depth than has been done in the CAMERA project will require an updated CAMERA methodology; for instance, to include new advances in AI and emerging end-devices for travellers in our algorithm. Further, digitalisation in mobility is an interdisciplinary topic, requiring many disciplines to work together since, for example, all passenger segments need to be considered in the development of digital solutions to ensure user friendliness, engagement and inclusion. This also requires rethinking the mobility goals defined in the CAMERA Performance Framework. This is, however, out of scope of the present project.
This case study is extracted from the Mobility Report 4 (pp. 130 – 139) , published by the CAMERA project (link to CAMERA website: https://h2020camera.eu/). CAMERA has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under grant agreement No. 769606.
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