Jessica is an Environmental Economist based in Mumbai. She currently works on Circular Economy and Environmental Management. Apart from pondering about energy and environment, Jessica likes traveling, writing and running.

How many of us have taken an Uber or Ola ride in the past few days? I can imagine a large number of the readers saying ‘yes’ to this. Many of us might be depending on the ride-sharing apps for daily commute and others for weekend outstation trips. Have you ever wondered how much of your data is being passed on via the app when you are hiring a ride? With the interesting debates going on around millennials shying away from owning private vehicles to dependence on ride sharing services, it would be interesting to look at how this ecosystem of smart urban mobility works.

Cities are the hotspots of business, creativity, innovation and economic activities. They are bustling with life and brings together people from myriad backgrounds in search of passions, livelihoods and entrepreneurial quests. Our cities are getting smarter day by day with ride sharing apps, smart energy systems, smart lighting, electric mobility and so on. City spaces are getting more dynamic while city dwellers are using more and more technological solutions be it to manage traffic, water distribution, electricity and waste management. As our cities are getting smarter and are embracing more data driven solutions, the citizens are contributing to this enormous data pool every second. It has several benefits as a public good that can improve municipal services, reduce congestions, improving efficiencies etc. However, at times it is a Blackbox when it comes to the ownership, access and use of the data.

Urban Mobility has a high prevalence of data-oriented solutions and services. Automatic vehicles, cab sharing applications and the ‘internet of things’ are revolutionising individual and collective mobility. With traditional transport solutions transitioning to Mobility as a Service (MaaS), it has become a multisided platform. This socio-technical transition to ‘smart mobility’ heavily rests on data. These platforms collect a plethora of data from the users every second. While most of us already in this system and have contributed to this data pool, it would be wise to take a step back and ponder over its data governance possibilities. Urban mobility companies have become data mines. They can either use this data to provide better deals or sell it to other companies that work on delivering customized advertising and offers. Can we let all the data be with private parties alone? Should there be a free access data platform where multiple stakeholders are involved? As citizens are contributing to this data pool, shouldn’t the citizens be a significant stakeholder? While we consider the positive externalities of this smart transition, we cannot overlook the negative externalities to ensure the public value of the services. ‘Urban Data’ which is a public good has to remain one and it calls for a prudent data governance structure while upholding sustainability and inclusivity.

It is important to have a multi-stakeholder platform for managing data from smart urban mobility. The missing links of sustainability and inclusivity can be added once the citizens are also made a part of this data governance system. Since the government is withdrawing its role from many sectors, it is imperative to have new governance models for emerging digital systems. Unless these are made with the participation of citizens and by making open source data platforms available, there can be only limited advantages from data being a ‘public good’.

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