Has Edinburgh’s “data revolution” met expectations?

1st November 2019 Christopher Carey

Over 20 industry partners have joined Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation Initiative, one year on from its founding under the £1.3-billion City Region Deal.

The initiative, which places ownership in the hands of universities as a trusted third party, aims to help organisations and citizens “benefit from the data revolution” while maintaining trust and transparency.

As the second most visited city in the UK after London, Edinburgh hosts a considerable amount of social and cultural events, putting a strain on public transport during peak season.

Using data to solve issues arising from large crowds moving around the city at any one time was seen as crucial to managing flows.

Speaking on the sidelines of the City Leadership Forum held in Vienna, George Lowder, Chief Executive, Transport for Edinburgh told Cities Today: “The [data-driven innovation] team have access to supercomputing, and they have the people with the right skill sets to be able to fuse the data.

“It means that the operators, accommodation providers and festivals have a safe repository, where the data can be shared, fused and interrogated so we can get the right outputs from it–it’s a win-win.”

The centre was created last year under the City Region Deal, a joint venture between the UK and Scottish Governments aimed at boosting the local economy and improving public services.

“We want to make sure that we are as safe as we possibly can be, that those crowds are managed as well as we can and that the public transport provision is in the right place at the right time,” added Lowder.

The need for cities to know what they want from data was highlighted during the two-day event.

Rachel Tienkamp-Beishuizen, Head of Traffic Management, City of Amsterdam

“Cities need to be clear about what exactly are the problems they need to solve before making data provisions,” said Rachel Tienkamp-Beishuizen, Head of Traffic Management, City of Amsterdam.

In July the city signed a ‘social charter’ with ride-hailing operator Uber, following a series of high-profile accidents involving its drivers in the Dutch capital last winter.

One of the key terms of the charter was the establishment of data-sharing, with Uber agreeing to share aggregated data with the municipality every quarter.

This is intended to give the municipality more insight into Uber’s operations in the city and includes: the number of Uber drivers and passengers active in the city, the average journey distances and the locations where the most passengers are picked up and dropped off.

“Cities first need to figure out what they need the data for, then we can sit down together and figure out how we’re able to provide this, based on what we can share through aggregate anonymised data,” said Zuzana Púčiková, Head of EU Public Policy at Uber.

In the US, Uber has threatened to file a lawsuit against Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation after months of refusing to give them access to its scooter location data.

In September 2018, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation instituted a requirement for all scooter companies to provide location data on the vehicles, which it said was for city planning purposes.

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