The importance of data to urban transport development

5th January 2017 Nick Michell

Nick Michell spoke with Burkhard Horn, Head of the Transport, Department for Urban Development and the Environment, Berlin, about the need for cities to collect fresh data on mobility

How important is the collection and analysis of fresh data on urban mobility to measuring development and evaluating progress?

Concerning the enormous challenges urban mobility and transport policies are facing, fresh and valid data of different kinds are extremely important for measuring the success of the policies and strategies and for eventually realigning these. In order to do so, cities need comprehensive figures, regarding not only the number of public transport users, car traffic in peak hours or parked bicycles at railway stations. Figures should also include, for example, traffic safety, attitudes, inter- and multimodal behaviour or the mobility choices of tourists. Some of the data is really difficult to obtain and requires a lot of resources.

Is it difficult for cities to integrate urban planning and use data from all areas of the city (housing, environment, energy, transport)?

An integrated approach to urban planning including all these issues should be common sense. That means you also need data from these areas.

For example, it is important to know the areas in the city that are mostly affected by the ageing of society as the number and share of senior citizens in an area strongly influences the demand for public transport. Likewise, locating the hotspots of nitrogen oxide pollution or noise emissions is important for speed limit policies. In Berlin this works quite well to get these data for integrative planning.

How fast is the population growing in Berlin and is the transport infrastructure keeping up with the pace?

After about a decade of stagnation, around 2005, Berlin began growing again and much faster than expected. At the moment about 60,000 people are moving to Berlin every year (not including refugees). In 2030 we expect 3,850,000 people to be living in Berlin. Expanding the infrastructure especially for public transport and cycling is one of the biggest tasks we are currently facing. Berlin is not a rich city, the number of staff in the public administration has been reduced considerably over the last years, and building up new infrastructure takes a lot of time.

What have been the most significant shifts in citizen behaviour and use of modes of transport in Berlin? Are Berlin’s citizens receptive to change?

Berlin has been quite successful concerning a shift in the modal split of the people living in Berlin towards sustainable transport modes. Throughout the whole of Berlin, the share of the number of overall trips taken is now below 30 percent for private cars, and in the inner city (where more than 1 million people live) even down to 17 percent. Cycling and public transport are continuously increasing. So people actually are receptive to change, not necessarily because they want to save the world, more because it’s convenient for them. However, mobility behaviour also depends on different aspects, for instance, it is easier to live without a car when you are living in the city centre than in the outskirts of Berlin.

The share of the number of overall trips taken in Berlin is now below 30 percent for private cars

Berlin publishes the report Mobility in the City–Berlin Traffic in Figures every two years. Who is this aimed at? Considering how quickly new technology and mobility options appear, is it difficult to compare results year on year?

The publication compiles most of the available transport related data from the policy fields mentioned above and is aimed at politicians and important stakeholders as well as research institutes, the interested general public and media. As the effects of technological innovations do not show their impacts immediately (and some in the end do not show any at all) this kind of comparing on the timeline still makes sense.

There are of course also a number of other publications in Berlin, for example, data on public transport quality is published monthly and online. Comprehensive annual reports on public transport service and quality levels, passenger numbers and satisfaction as well as on financing public transport are partly a legal obligation of European transport directives, and partly aimed at increasing transparency and public awareness for the costs and benefits of the public transport network.

Should cities be working more closely to share progress and information, and how could urban mobility indicators aid this? What would make it easier for cities to collaborate?

They should and some actually already do it. But there has to be more exchange to learn from each other, not in a “copy and paste” kind but to find the right solution for the specific situation in each city. Indicators are a very helpful tool for this, but only if the numbers are really comparable. Already, to compare a rather simple indicator like the modal split, can be most difficult in an international context.

Why is there more standardisation with national statistics rather than on the local level? Could it be replicated on a local level and how useful would it be?

First of all, I think it is important to remember what statistics and data are initially there for. They are there for monitoring developments, for providing insights and giving some answers regarding the need for or the results of actions. In other words: They are helpful tools and as such, they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. As cities have different questions, they sometimes require different data. Benchmarking, comparing cities with one another is important, but in many cases not the main purpose of locally obtained data.

Therefore, standardisation of data might have its limits. The same holds true for comparability. I think you have to be very careful when comparing data from different sources and really look into the methodologies used to gather and analyse them. The problem is that a lot of the time people do not bother to do so, which is why a lot of so called international benchmarks compare “apple with pears”, as a German saying goes.

In Germany, we have some data and indicators that are harmonised nationally, so there is a valid basis for national benchmarking up to a certain degree.

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