Smart cities are hubs of flourishing digital connectivity and data sharing, incentivised by the return of greater social equity — happiness and health — rather than by straight profit margins. An early example of intelligent mobility — the digital connection of disparate transport systems — comes from the Scandinavian city of Oslo, Norway.
Oslo City Bike, a bicycle-sharing scheme accessible from a smartphone, is integrated with the capital’s transport infrastructure and can be adapted to different vehicles, local landscapes and user behaviour. Norwegian start-up Urban Sharing believes that a multi-modal approach to transportation, in which micro-mobility plays an integral role, is an important way for cities to use existing infrastructure more efficiently. Oslo City Bike is the organisation’s flagship system.
Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby, Urban Sharing’s chief technology officer (CTO), says: “Connected micro-mobility vehicles (like our bikes) allow us to extract real-time data on how people are moving, and to understand cities with a new level of granularity.” Oslo’s connected bikes have uncovered patterns and holes in the city that were previously unknown. And making this data available informs policy-making and urban infrastructure design.
For example, the connected infrastructure has helped measure other, related problems, such as air pollution. In 2017, Urban Sharing fitted some of its bike stations in Oslo with sensors to measure which parts of the city were the most polluted. This type of data has been published and is available for policy-making on emissions and private car use in the city centre.
Likewise, the Oslo bikes have been integrated into the public transport app, Ruter, to make bikes an accessible alternative to buses and trams. Real-time availability of the bikes is displayed alongside other means of transportation in the RuterReise app. “The goal is to present an alternative to full-distance bus journeys and overcrowded public transport, and help people solve the first and last mile of their journeys,” says Høgåsen-Hallesby.
A next step is to share individual cyclist behaviour data, says the CTO: “We’d like to better understand what types of customers are best suited to bikes or electric scooters as opposed to buses or trams, and match them to the appropriate micro-mobility vehicle.” Sharing data in order to improve citizen experience is a key strength of the Scandinavian culture of collaboration between private and public sectors, he says.
Mass transit remains the most effective way to transport large groups on set routes, of course, but shared micro-mobility does help get people to exactly where they need to go, exactly when they want. Because micro-mobility vehicles are small and can, through geo-fencing technology, be deployed next to bus stops for instance, there is the potential to extend users’ trips and make micro-mobility part of longer journeys.
“Enhancing our cities isn’t just about the technology that allows us to capture data, nor is it about the data itself, but what is most important is what we choose to do with the data that is extracted,” says Høgåsen-Hallesby. “Our focus lately has been to look at how micro-mobility can fill holes and gaps in the existing transportation systems as well as help counter potential biases in a city, rather than reinforce the ones already in play.”