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Has Germany set the European Transport Sector on the Path to a Digital Transformation?

December 7, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the passenger transport sector to a virtual standstill, it has highlighted the importance of data and data exchange for businesses and their recovery, especially in areas such as the transport sector. While many companies are already using their own data to develop and deploy digital solutions, there is still an enormous potential in this area, as there remains a discrepancy between the amount of data that is made available and what is used. In this context, Germany has demonstrated both nationally and on a European level during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, how encouraging the use and exchange of data by companies will be key for the development of an innovative and sustainable transport system. 

In Germany, the Federal Government has advanced its plans for the creation of a mobility data space, where data from public bodies, businesses and citizens can be used and exchanged to create new business opportunities. This is an initiative which will also lay the groundwork for the European Commission’s future plans for a common European mobility data space, as announced in the Data Strategy, to increase the use of data and data-based products and services in the transport sector. This data space is not an open data platform but will serve as a one-stop shop window with data packages that individuals have voluntarily made available and that can be purchased by other mobility service providers in search for new business models. In addition to weather and traffic data, this could include information on construction sites in the city, timetable data or even passenger and personal mobility data.

First collaborative “data space mobility” to be launched in Germany

Under the stewardship of the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), a stakeholder dialogue with high-ranking representatives from the automotive, aviation, public transport, freight transport and logistics industries, new mobility service providers and platforms as well as public sector officials, consumer protection and data protection officers is currently taking place in order to jointly create a collaborative trust ecosystem as the basis for the development of this mobility data space by the end of 2021. Most notably, towards the end of a challenging year for the transport sector, the project has won decisive supporters from the automotive industry, which for a long time have been hesitant to join, as well as key stakeholders in the aviation and rail sectors. Part of the success lies in the fact that political supporters ranging up to Chancellor Angela Merkel have often stressed that the prerequisite for the functioning of the mobility data space is the voluntary participation of a variety of participants in the mobility sector.

The challenge moving forward will be to develop common ground rules in adherence to European data protection regulations and identify opportunities for both businesses and private users to monetise the data sets made available. In early 2021, the next step is to establish a non-profit limited liability company to operate the new mobility cloud. Within the framework of the real-world laboratory for digital mobility in Hamburg, the goal is to create a scalable prototype that can be expanded throughout Germany by fall 2021.

The blueprint for a European mobility data space?

The mobility data space works closely with GAIA-X, a Franco-German proposal for a common European data infrastructure, so that further European approaches are being considered and lessons learned from the process are directly taken into account for the work on the European Commission in line with its Data Strategy. The European cloud project plays a pioneering role so that data can be shared between cloud spaces from different sectors. The project will be crucial for later merging different clouds so that data can be shared between them to create a truly European data ecosystem.

The digitalisation of the transport sector will play a key role in its long-term transformation and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, Germany’s project has served to initiate an inclusive dialogue with key stakeholders from public authorities, industry and research institutes on what kind of innovations can be promoted using mobility data and how the provision and access to mobility data can be further enhanced. At European level, the German Presidency led the Council of European transport ministers in adopting a common declaration on how digitalisation can contribute to more sustainable, safe and efficient transport. These initiatives should together serve as an important impetus, when it comes to establishing critical in-house data analysis expertise. More broadly, involvement in these initiatives presents a unique opportunity for businesses to connect with leading mobility companies across all modes of transport, engage on the design of a common data ecosystem from the very beginning, enhance innovation through unique access to mobility data for the creation of new business models and find additional means for the monetization of existing company data.

Following years of ideation and feasibility analyses, the real-world use cases of 2021 will provide the first benchmarks for governments and industry players throughout Europe and thereby serve as a first indicator of whether the upcoming Council Presidencies will progress with Germany’s “New Mobility Approach.”

APCO Alumna Emma Brierley coauthored this post.

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