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4 California Cities Join Data-Based Transportation Consortium

The Open Mobility Foundation will collaborate on new digital tools to manage mobility options and data, as well as help cities plan infrastructure, policy and other changes as needs arise.

Four California cities are among a consortium of public and private partners that launched an effort last week to help steer the future of urban transportation.

Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and Santa Monica are among the members of the Open Mobility Foundation, a 501(c)6 nonprofit that aims to use open-source technology and input from its global coalition to manage the growing number of vehicles and mobility options on city streets. The foundation’s stated goals are safety; to ensure that new tools or policies don’t create or exacerbate inequality; to improve quality of life in a sustainable way; and to protect the privacy of people’s data.

Outside of California, other member governments include Austin, Texas; Chicago; Miami and Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Seattle; Philadelphia; Minneapolis; Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; the New York City Department of Transportation and New York City Taxi and Limo Commission; and Bogotá, Colombia. Other partners include The Rockefeller Foundation; the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards; micromobility operators such as Bird and Spin; technology companies such as Microsoft, Blue Systems and Stae; the International Association of Public Transport; Transportation for America; MetroLabs; and the NewCities Foundation. 

According to a news release, the foundation will collaborate on new digital tools to manage mobility options and data, as well as help cities plan infrastructure, policy and other changes as needs arise.

Ramses Madou, division manager of planning, policy and sustainability for the San Jose Department of Transportation, said the foundation’s early work will involve expanding upon the open source Mobility Data Specification (MDS). Posted to GitHub in 2018 by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, MDS consists of application programming interfaces (APIs) that create standard communications between cities and private companies, allowing cities to gather useful data for real-time traffic management, safety and other policy decisions.

“It’s allowing us to use much less staff to monitor very large outlays of assets," Madou said. "For example, in the city of San Jose, we have roughly 4,500 permitted scooters around the city, but we don’t have a lot of staff to go make sure these scooters are following the regulations we have in place, so the data specification is allowing us to scale our staff immediately to do closer monitoring of that. The idea is to start bringing this mobility space into this data specification, so that cities have a place at the table to design these systems together.”

Madou said the foundation will also have a legislative component, possibly lobbying at some point, particularly if new proposals pre-empt city access to data. He gave the example of California’s AB1112, a proposed law to regulate micromobility at the state level which could limit the ability of cities to mandate certain kinds of reporting from mobility companies. He said members of the foundation are already working with California legislators to modify the bill.

Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.