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Putting collaboration at the heart of MaaS

Posted: 2 November 2021 | | No comments yet

Andrew Stober, Head of Public Partnerships and Carpool at Waze, speaks to Intelligent Transport about data sharing, public-private partnerships, shared transport and the outlook for post-pandemic transit.

Waze

Could you tell us about the Waze and the Waze for Cities programme?

Waze is a crowd-sourced navigation app, created in 2009, which aims to improve issues associated with driving – specifically traffic, road damage and events that could disrupt drivers. Our community of volunteer map editors, beta testers, translators, partners, users and carpoolers, help to make each drive made using the app better – even if you’ve made the same journey every day for the past few years.

The Waze for Cities programme has been running for more than five years. The core essence of the partnership is data sharing between Waze and our public partners. We now have over 1,900 partners on five continents. They range from small towns and volunteer fire departments in Georgia, USA, to national departments of ministries of transportation.

We provide our public partners with crowdsourced data from 140 million monthly active Waze users worldwide. This enables them to see all the reports that those users are submitting in their area”

It includes a number of transit agencies, many city departments of transportation, 40 U.S. state departments of transportation, and major motorway operators in Europe and Latin America.

We provide our public partners with crowdsourced data from 140 million monthly active Waze users worldwide. This enables them to see all the reports that those users are submitting in their area.

Data alone, however, is not enough. What actually helps executives, policymakers, elected officials or even the public to make decisions, is information. This becomes evident once the data has been analysed and processed. Data is useful for analysts and researchers, but it’s not useful for driving decisions. To that end, we have a series of tools that transform our data into information that’s actionable for our partners, some of whom have the capacity to do their own analysis and get access to the raw data as well.

In exchange for our data and insights, we ask that our partners provide us with critical information for their area that will improve navigation for our users. Road closures, major events, marathons and parades, or major incidents that our users may not yet be aware of, can all be flagged in the live map; this alerts our users and enables them to prepare for the journey ahead.

Waze for Cities is cost-free to our partners, and it emerges out of Waze’s mission and ethos. Waze started as a community project, before becoming a global navigation tool that generates revenue through advertising. It allows us to help our users and their communities to address infrastructure issues head on.

What role do public-private partnerships have to play in ensuring cities can meet wider policy objectives?

The role of public-private partnerships can be divided into two broad categories. The first is delivering information to help drive decisions; that’s the space Waze operates in. The second is delivering services to help meet those policy objectives. Ultimately, the policy environment has to be right. All of those individuals, businesses and governments are responsive to those policy objectives. When they’re clear and the incentives are structured correctly, you get the best out of partnerships.

There also needs to be policy coherence from top to bottom. If, for example, you were to set a goal of reducing carbon emissions from transportation, you would need to ask yourself “how are we going to meet that goal?” The answer is taking vehicles off the road, so then you work through how to do that. You take single-occupant vehicles off the road by providing excellent transit, so that it becomes peoples’ choice of travel mode. You can also increase the cost of driving, whether that’s in monetary terms through taxes and fees, or the ‘experience cost’ in terms of time; then you add elements such as HOV lanes to make transit the more appealing option.

What you’ve done is set up a policy context that promotes carpooling services. When you think about an urban environment, it’s the city, typically, that controls the right of way and controls parking. When you create parking spaces for car share companies at either no or low cost, and provide yet another reason for people to not have their own private car, you help reduce the demand. Hence, you need to have a policy objective with a coherent set of plans, decisions and regulations behind it.

Where does the bulk of the responsibility lie in terms of public/ private organisation in developing more multimodal transport networks?

Better policy decisions have to be made, and the operators of most of our transportation infrastructure are either public or private entities that are managed by the public, depending on what part of the world you’re in. Waze has a role in providing those entities with better data and information so they can make better planning and operational decisions.

Waze has a role in providing those entities with better data and information so they can make better planning and operational decisions”

One question implied here, which I think is worth noting, is “what makes public-private partnerships work?” From my experience of building partnerships around bike share, recycling programmes and other kinds of transportation offerings, I think the key is a realistic set of expectations. There also needs to be transparency about what each side has to offer in terms of its organisational capacity and financial investment. When public-private partnerships go awry, it’s usually because there’s been a breakdown in one of those things, or a set of unrealistic expectations or requests.

Situations can arise, particularly in the public sector, where they think they can get something at little or no cost – and believe they have a private sector entity willing to provide that. Then it turns out the investors are never really willing to go for broke and the public sector gets left holding the bag. On the public sector side, you have to really understand what the business interest is and what’s going to keep your private sector partner invested in the partnership.

For the private sector, it’s important to understand that public sector organisations are frequently very strapped for resources – not just financial resources, but also time. The demands on public sector organisations are enormous. It can be very hard for them to dedicate resources to projects, even when they want to. It can be frustrating for the private sector if they’re at the end of a partnership where they never feel they’re the priority.

Following the pandemic, do you think the boom in shared transport modes (car-share/scooter-share etc) can pick up where it left off?

On the transit front, at least in the short-term, I remain very concerned. Publicly available data at waze.com/covid19 shows how the current driven miles on Waze compare to the pre-pandemic baseline. If you look at three places in the world – Sydney, Singapore and Tel Aviv – that are closest to what we’re going to see in the short-term on the other side of the pandemic, all of them are showing strongly car-led recoveries. In Sydney, the data shows over 20 per cent more miles driven than the pre-pandemic baseline. Singapore, a place with very low case rates, with exceptional and trusted public transit, and where it’s very expensive to drive, is seeing people driving seven percent more miles than they did before the pandemic. In Tel Aviv, the congestion is back and driving is far surpassing what it was pre-pandemic.

I’m not convinced that in North America, or any of the places where it’s even easier to drive, that we’re going to see numbers much less than those environments. The Recovery Act in the United States has provided a lifeline for transit systems that’s going to keep them going for the next 12-18 months. We’ve seen the most progressive transit systems try to consolidate the gains they’ve secured in travel time to make themselves competitive. But the challenges are enormous.

With carpooling, we have an unparalleled platform to match drivers and riders for trips they are already taking, to get folks off the road”

With carpooling, we have an unparalleled platform to match drivers and riders for trips they are already taking, to get folks off the road. The purpose of Carpool is not to compete with transit – it’s to provide for trips where transit isn’t a good alternative. In the context of the economic recovery, it’s going to be an important way to connect people with employment and help them manage their transportation costs.

Scooters have proven to be a powerful lesson in the limits of public-private partnerships. If the business model can’t sustain itself, the service is not going to sustain. There’s a reason why most mass transportation in the world is publicly-funded or subsidised, because it’s not viable as a private business.

Publicly-supported bike-share schemes have done very well during the pandemic, as people have chosen to get around by bike more. We’ve seen infrastructure put in place, and there have been fewer cars on the road. I think there’s a case for those.

If you look at bike-share trips, the US numbers show they’re typically a mile or so less. That’s likely not replacing transit trips. It’s replacing walking, and frankly, it’s not likely replacing driving trips either. It’s induced demand because something that used to take 20 or 25 minutes to walk to, I can now get to in five minutes. When I used to talk about bike share, I talked about it as the common man’s Concorde – it cuts your travel time by more than half. It’ll be interesting to see with better bike infrastructure in place, bearing in mind some of greater safety concerns about transit, if people are willing to bike longer distances rather than get on transit.

I also think a fundamental point is how core changes in people’s travel behaviour affect transit. If one of the primary reasons for taking transit was to commute to work, and some significant percentage of the population is now only commuting two or three days a week, that is going to be far more fundamental to transit than other options.

With all of the above considered, do you think public and private entities need to be more open with their data to improve transport networks?

When it comes to being open with data, significant tension has emerged in the last two or three years between the good motivations around transparency to improve decision-making, management and regulatory schemes, and privacy”

When it comes to being open with data, significant tension has emerged in the last two or three years between the good motivations around transparency to improve decision-making, management and regulatory schemes, and privacy. When it comes to transportation data, you’re looking at the two most private areas of people’s lives when it comes to data – their movements and their health.

In transport, we’re not talking about health, but people’s individual privacy. There’s a lot of good motivation from the public sector to want to see all of those individual movements and act in aggregate. That comes into tension with this increasing demand from the very same public to keep that information private. This issue of how to provide anonymised data at the aggregate level that’s in the public interest, while at the same time protecting individuals’ privacy, is a lot harder than it seems. Achieving that balance is something we’re going to see evolving in the next five years.

Andrew Stober has worked across sectors in transportation with a track record of leading teams to move people and ideas. Currently, Andrew manages public partnerships for Waze. He helps public agencies get the most from the Waze for Cities program and works with partners to accelerate the adoption of Waze Carpool to meet transportation demand management, climate, and transportation equity goals.

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