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Lisbon develops mobility catalogue to make third-party apps more accurate

The City of Lisbon is developing a new architecture and the first tools to improve the accuracy of journey-planning apps. 


Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and largest city, has a target to shift 150,000 daily private vehicle commuters to more sustainable modes of travel by 2030 in a bid to help people move around faster and to reduce emissions and local air pollution.


A move towards mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), enabled through innovative new third-party tools, is key in achieving this – but only if those tools are complete, unbiased and accurate. Vasco Móra, Mobility Adviser to the Deputy Mayor, City of Lisbon, makes it his business to walk around the city, try out journey-planning tools and pinpoint where improvements are required to make public transit "more appealing".


He told SmartCitiesWorld in an interview: “I don’t believe we can easily achieve a major reduction in car traffic on the roads if there is poor quality information in the journey planners and MaaS solutions, particularly regarding walking and public transportation.”


I don’t believe we can easily achieve a major reduction in car traffic on the roads if there is poor quality information in the journey planners and MaaS solutions.


He noted, for instance, that one commercial journey-planning app lists a Lisbon walking journey as 13 minutes when a local would know it’s actually only one minute – the app had failed to note the presence of a 100-metre underpass. Another tool didn’t consider the existence of a bus lane therefore listing a journey time as 20 minutes, rather than eight, and failing to show that taking the bus would be much quicker than driving through the congested traffic at peak times.


These issues may lead to public transit options being downplayed in journey planners and car travel being pitched as the fastest mode.


“You’re fooling people by suggesting that public transit is much slower than it is. And that’s a huge problem that I see every day,” Móra said. “If you add the time to park a car in a crowded destination, then public transit can become a better, more effective option”.


Mobility catalogue


To improve this, the City of Lisbon is creating a mobility catalogue – a database of essential mobility infrastructure information which can be pushed out via APIs to app providers, giving them one source of accurate, up-to-date information, including common ’blind spots’ such as underpasses, bus lanes and more.


The mobility catalogue will go beyond the information usually supplied through General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) feeds to include:


  • planned transport supply information (when public transport services should arrive, based on the timetable);
  • real-time events (i.e. where the bus is right now, whether there is a strike, roadworks etc.);
  • infrastructure information such as bus lanes, cycle lanes, parking spaces and even details about the terrain. “If you’re riding a bicycle, slope information is quite relevant,” Móra notes”; and
  • mobility ‘rules’ – e.g. areas where tariffs are in place or where parking is restricted, as well as information on closures etc. at specific periods of the day or week;

The idea is that journey-planner apps, such as Waze, CityMapper, Google Maps and a whole host of new mobility start-ups, will be able to use the detailed catalogue data to complement the more generic information that they have.


Móra said: “At the City of Lisbon, we want to try to influence these journey planners without having the need to own a journey planner.”


However, he says if third-party companies don’t fix such issues and try to improve the visibility of public transport (such as including first-mile/last-mile options such as micro-mobility or even a personal bike), “then we will have to consider building a journey planner on our own and probably an app too but only if that doesn’t happen”.


Building tools in-house would be “the worst-case scenario,” Móra said, and was clear that the City of Lisbon is willing to put in the effort to make sure that information is reliable and considers the full “lifecycle” of mobility.


As long as there is competition and you can get at least one company on board, the others will follow.


Móra is confident, though, that the mobility catalogue will drive change. “As long as there is competition and you can get at least one company on board, the others will follow,” he said.


The City is particularly interested in use cases around parking and bike-sharing.


For instance, Lisbon wants citizens to easily find available, cheap, off-street car parks to avoid people driving around the centre looking for a space. Further, the bike-sharing use case would enable people to complement their journeys with ‘last mile’ solutions such as bikes and scooters, perhaps allowing advance booking to give users confidence that a vehicle will be available and therefore boost usage.


Working around these use cases will force the City and mobility providers to think about “the rules of engagement” and the required infrastructure information, Móra said.


“If the market takes care of these use cases that we want to foster and integrates all the data that we need, we don’t need to step in,” Móra commented.


Where next?


An early version of the mobility catalogue is scheduled for release in the autumn and will be made available on GitHub for other cities and companies to use, improve and contribute to Mora says he wants to “build a community” around the topic.


Lisbon is also considering a longer-term project around identity management to advance its journey to MaaS. An Identity Manager tool would enable citizens to access various mobility services via one account and payment system, rather than on a cumbersome app-by-app basis.


This could be a municipal, regional or even national sign-on, and may be administered by cities as they are “trusted entities,” Móra notes.


According to Móra, the mobility catalogue and identity manager are “elemental bricks” in MaaS.


“I would love input and insights from other municipalities as well as the industry on how we make them real,” he said.


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