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Explained: Why Access to Mobility Data is Key for Policy Making

February 22, 2021 | Digital article
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By Kerry van der Mescht

As published on Khusoko.

In today’s mobile-first society, the relevance of mobility data to governments and regulators cannot be understated. The world is moving towards the age of digitization and data is aptly referred to as the “king”, given the crucial role it plays in making informed decisions. This role and significance continue to grow, especially with the emergence of smart cities, as it enables decision-makers to undertake prudent planning, building and maintenance of cities. Across the globe, cities are operating as networked societies to increase transparency through open access to data.

Access to mobility data is crucial for governments and for decision-makers since it can help predictive analysis on mobility trends, for an ample range of purposes. Mobility data provides actionable information through population mobility insights.

In the East African region, for instance, the increase in urbanization has meant that mobility becomes one of the key drivers of the economies. Through the movement of people and goods, the modes of transport gather crucial data. This data includes a wide range of information related to transport, including traffic and weather. This data can now be analysed and aggregated more efficiently using big data analytics and there are organisations, such as the Global Voice Group (GVG), that are already working with African governments to assist in this. Such companies have a track record of analysing such data and applying it for strategic decision making.

In addition, regular everyday movements between home, work and other locations allow for a good assessment of commuting.  Additional rich data can be obtained from most of the other regular transportation demands, including the number of actual movements between administrative units (both directions), commuting and other movements disaggregated, breakdowns, temporal aggregation (seasonality, weekly, daily, hourly), spatial aggregation (grid) and demographics. 

This invaluable info can be used at the feasibility study stage to determine whether or not say, a proposed railway line is financially viable. It can also be used to plan new bus routes or reorganize existing ones among other use cases.

It is worth noting that mobility data has an endless number of possible reuses. Besides increasing operational efficiency and improving accessibility, data can also be used to advocate for more pro-transport policies such as improving safety and developing pollution-reducing solutions. 

More often than not, the data will include origins and destinations of users for all road sections, breakdown of road users by travel reasons for all road sections (commuters, temporary and regular visitors, domestic tourism, inbound tourism). 

Once analysed, these insights provide timely statistics on all major road networks. Additional insights such as; a deeper analysis of specific network sections or regions, long historic time series, basis for infrastructure investments and dimensioning; basis for national mileage statistics and emission statistics. Overall, this data can be used to plan road infrastructure developments, better allocation of resources, among many other critical purposes.

In a 2018 report titled,   Harnessing the future of mobilityDeloitte states that now, more than, perhaps any time in recent memory, public officials have the opportunity to cure many of the vexing transportation challenges they face, from congestion and public safety to sustainability. 

“By partnering with the private sector and re-examining traditional ways of doing business, governments can help create a transportation system that better serves all citizens”, the report states

At the heart of data, technology is Mobility Intel- a solution that leverages mobility data (the information collected from millions of mobile devices) in a given country. 

We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected through mobile networks. According to the      International Telecommunication Union (ITU), about 70 per cent of the global population will be using a mobile device by 2025. 

This is our new mobile reality. 

Governments and other authorities (police forces, telecom regulator, revenue authorities, health agencies, national statistical agencies, etc.) can take advantage of this mobile reality to improve management, planning, decision-making and overall response in many critical areas.

Mobility Intel- which includes mobile positioning functionalities, provides actionable information through population mobility insights. It helps predictive analysis on mobility trends for a wide range of purposes, including but not limited to travel, labour migration, tourism, emergency situations, urban planning, development and investments into telecommunication network, water and sewage infrastructure, power grid, electrical substations and public buildings among others.

But it is also imperative that full compliance with privacy laws adhered to in the mining of telecom and financial data for these critical purposes.

Despite its huge success, challenges still abound in optimizing mobility data. Key among them is the lack of data sharing.  Companies still work in silos and this can be attributed to competition and privacy concerns. The other challenge is data standardization. Organisations are still struggling to establish a standard for data sharing for efficient management. Overall, the benefits of adopting the use of mobility data will doubtlessly help African governments and regulators in making strategic, informed decisions that can spur economic and societal growth.