Tag Archives: mobility

Call for paper: Data driven cities? Digital urbanism and its proxies

We are organising a special issues on data-driven cities. You can find more details below and we look forward to your proposals.

 

Tecnoscienza. Italian Journal of Science and Technology Studies

SPECIAL ISSUE

“DATA DRIVEN CITIES? DIGITAL URBANISM AND ITS PROXIES”

Guest editors:

Claudio Coletta (Maynooth University)

Liam Heaphy (Maynooth University)

Sung-Yueh Perng (Maynooth University)

Laurie Waller (Technische Universität München)

Call for papers:

In the last few decades, data and software have become an integral part of urban life, producing a radical transformation of social relations in cities. Contemporary urban environments are characterised by dense arrangements of data, algorithms, mobile devices, and networked infrastructures. Multiple technologies (such as smart metering, sensing networks, GPS transponders, CCTV, induction loops, and mobile apps) are connected with numerous processes (such as institutional data management, data brokering, crowdsourcing, and workflow management), in order to provide sustainable, efficient, and integrated city governance and services. Accordingly, big data and algorithms have started to play a prominent role in informing decision-making and in performing the spatial, material, and temporal dimensions of cities.

Smart city initiatives undertaken globally are characterised by highlighting the purported benefits of partly automating management of public services, new forms of civic engagement enabled by digital infrastructures, and the potentials for innovating policy and fostering economic development.

Yet, contributions within STS, Critical Data Studies, Geography, Sociology, Media Studies and Anthropology have contested the neutral and apolitical nature of (big) data and the ahistorical, aspatial, homogenizing vision of cities in favour of an understanding that recognizes the situated multiplicity of actual digital urbanism. The politics of data, data analytics and visualizations perform within specific urban and code assemblages embodying specific versions of real-time and anticipatory governance. At the same time, these studies highlight the risks of dataveillance as well as the corporatisation of governance and technocratic solutionism which, especially coupled with austerity regimes, seem to reinforce inequalities while influencing people’s lives out of the public grasp. Within this context, vested interests interact in a multi-billion global market where corporations, companies and start-ups propose data-driven urban solutions, while public administrations increasingly delegate control over citizens’ data. Also, public institutions and private companies leverage the efforts of open data movements, engaged civic communities and citizen-minded initiatives to find new ways to create public and economic value from urban data.

The aim of this special issue is therefore to encourage critical and transdisciplinary debates on the epistemological and ontological implications of actual data-driven urbanism: its uncertain, fragile, contested, conflicting nature; the different forms of performing and making sense of the urban environment through data and algorithms; the different ways to approach the relationship between data, software and cities; the urban and code assemblages that are produced.

To what extent cities are understandable through data? How do software and space work in urban everyday life and urban management? How do data and policies actually shape each other? What forms of delegation, enrolment and appropriation take place?

We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions critically addressing the following (non-exhaustive-list-of) topics:

- urban big data, city dashboards;

- data analytics and data brokering;

- IoT based urban services;

- predictive analytics and anticipatory governance;

- civic hacking, open data movements;

- privacy, security and surveillance in data-driven cities;

- crowd, mobility and traffic management;

- sensors, monitoring, mapping and modelling for urban facilities;

- digitization of built environment.

 

Deadline for abstract submissions: June 30th, 2016

Abstracts (in English) with a maximum length of 1000 words should be sent as email attachments to redazione@tecnoscienza.net and carbon copied to the guest editor at datadrivencities@tecnoscienza.net. Notification of acceptance will be communicated by July 2016.

Deadline for full submissions: October 15th, 2016.

Submissions (in English with a maximum length of 8000 words, including notes and references) can be made via the Journal’s submission system at www.tecnoscienza.net and an electronic copy of the article should be sent to redazione@tecnoscienza.net. The papers will be subject to a blind peer refereed review process. The special issue is expected to be published in 2017.

For further information about the special issue, contact the guest editors at datadrivencities@tecnoscienza.net.

For further information about the Journal please visit the Journal’s web site at http://www.tecnoscienza.net.

Claudio, Liam, Sung-Yueh and Laurie

Fourth Generation Bikeshare and Social Innovation

Bikeshare initiatives have developed significantly since their introduction in Europe in the 1960’s and are generally regarded as having gone through a number of generations of implementation and design in the interim. The 1st generation, initially deployed in Amsterdam in 1965, was characterized by the use of general purpose bikes, custom painted for identification, and available to the public to borrow from and return to any location. These systems were unmanaged and depended heavily on the integrity of users to use the bikes responsibly. The design ultimately failed as the majority of the fleet was vandalised or stolen.

30 years later Copenhagen introduced the first coin operated or 2nd generation scheme. The construction of the bikes was more robust and the design meant that a degree of control had been introduced. The schemes were expensive however and theft remained a problem due to the fact that users still remained anonymous. In addition, time usage was not limited which meant bikes were frequently kept for extended periods of time making fleet management extremely difficult.

Contemporary, or 3rd generation schemes, have exploited the capacity of information and communications technologies to effectively automate systems and address the shortcomings of previous designs. Networked self-service stations are managed by central computer systems and technologies like RFID are used to monitor the location of bikes, which in turn supports real-time system updates such as the availability of free bikes and stands etc. Users are required to subscribe to the schemes initially and can then access the bikes through a variety of means which include smart cards, fobs, mobile phone applications or even SMS. Knowing who the customer is reduces the likelihood of theft and encourages greater responsibility of the part of the user.

Designs have continued to evolve though and innovations are making way for fourth-generation or demand responsive models which promise not only functional improvements but also the potential to engage with riders in new and more socially progressive ways. While a precise definition of fourth-generation design is still emerging, schemes are characterized by; (a) increased system flexibility; (b) improved distribution; (c) enhanced physical and informational integration with other transportation modes (d) developments such as electric-hybrid bikes and GPS tracking; and (e) increased use of crowdsourcing and participatory platforms.

Susan Shaheen, Director of Innovative Mobility Research at Berkeley, identified BIXI, which launched in Canada in May 2009, as marking the beginning of bikesharing’s fourth generation. A major innovation attributed to the scheme is its use of mobile docking stations which allows stations to be removed and transferred to different locations. This enables stations to be relocated according to usage patterns and user demands. Another feature that could enhance future programs is the use of solar-powered stations. Not surprisingly, solar-powered stations might further reduce emissions and the need to secure access to energy grids to support operations. Fourth generation bikesharing might also consider omitting docking stations altogether which would allow users employ mobile phone technology and street furniture for bicycle pickup and drop-off. These stationless designs are both cheaper and less impactful on the environment while also offering riders higher levels of flexibility and trip customization.

Boulder.bcycle.solar Solar Powered Station at B-Cycle Boulder

Another area of potential improvement for fourth-generation systems is in bicycle redistribution. Geo-fencing for example can directly address this problem, which has dogged the industry for years. By dividing the cycling environment into virtual zones, users can be rewarded when returning bikes to areas that most need them. These zones can be dynamically created or modified as required. The feature is a design element of Socialbicyles (SoBi) in North America.

A third feature of fourth-generation systems is the integration of bikesharing with other forms of transportation. Common payment systems across transit modes enhances usability and reciprocal apps can provide travellers with real-time data on buses, trains, taxis or even carsharing initiatives. This may lead to greater reductions in car ownership as more trips are supported by alternative forms of transport. Creating programs that coordinate meaningful integration is challenging though and often requires multiagency co-operation.

To make bikeshare accessible to more user groups, the use of electric or hybrid bikes may become more widespread in future schemes. Electric bikes overcome what researchers in MIT’s SENSEable City Lab identified as some of the primary obstacles to cycling in an urban environment; distance and topography. Examples of current schemes which have adopted this feature include the recently deployed Bycyken scheme in Copenhagen and BiciMAD in Madrid. And in relation to fleet safety and vandalism, designs which integrate GPS rather than RFID tagging can further deter theft and improve the likelihood of bike recovery. Significantly, active tracking also allows actual routes to be mapped and made available to users. Additionally, it enhances usability by allowing for the possibility of information streams such as; number of miles travelled (per trip and aggregated over time), CO2 offset, calories burned, and money saved vis-à-vis other modes. This information can be a useful way of developing relationships with users and enhancing system usage (e.g. B-Cycles, SoBi).

social-bicycle Socialbicycles – SoBi

The potential of crowdsourcing or participatory sensing may also become a feature of future designs. Individuals could use their personal mobile devices, typically Smartphones, to systematically report on various aspects of their environment. Essentially, the participants themselves either become a spatially distributed sensor network or act to augment sensing technology already incorporated in the bike’s design. Crowdsourcing may also take the form of collaborative map making (Capital Bikes) and route annotation (SoBi) both of which can contribute to system design, infrastructure planning, transportation modelling, and policy formation. The use of social media platforms as a deliberative component of future schemes may strengthen the co-production of services. Using technology this way could create a sense of citizenry where people have meaningful and transformative relationships with the schemes they use.

Exploiting the potential of these innovations to create systems that are integrated, open and participatory will challenge those municipalities which view their role as being primarily concerned with information dissemination and service delivery. This sufficed with traditional 3rd generation schemes which were, for the most part, insular systems designed using quite narrow definitions of efficiency and which offered little possibility for meaningful engagement either with between riders or between riders and decision makers. Next generation schemes will require that civic agencies transform their information and business processes and co-operate with each other in ways that have traditionally been problematic. And for those schemes implemented through partnerships with third parties, public agencies will need to re-think how they select providers, manage contracts, and exploit data. Understanding the response by government agencies to citizen-centric technologies and practices should tell us something about the conditions needed to support social innovation within the sector. It may also tell us how schemes with limited social value are legitimized and how such schemes might be enhanced.

Hailo, Uber and the deregulation of Ireland's taxi industry

This afternoon’s black cab blockade of London comes in response to car ride apps that are changing the character of the city’s taxi industry. While there has been little visible backlash against comparable services in Ireland, it seems only a matter of time before these struggles find their way to our shores.

The market-leading smart phone taxi service in Ireland is Hailo. Self-described as “the evolution of the hail”, Hailo was founded in November 2011 by three London taxi drivers and three entrepreneurs. It launched in Dublin, its second city, in July 2012 and as of mid-2014, provides sporadic coverage across the country with a specific attention on areas of high population density.

HailO dominates in Dublin by Brandon Zeman

To use Hailo as a potential passenger, one needs simply to download and launch their free smart phone application. To use the Hailo as a driver, things are a little more complicated. One must sign up using a geographically specific online portal (such as exists for London, Ireland, New York, Boston and Tokyo). Registration is restricted to licensed taxi drivers such that Hailo is effectively leveraging the screening procedures of existing small public service vehicle (SPSV) infrastructure in Ireland. Of Dublin’s 12,000 registered taxi drivers, I’ve been told that about half are using the service.

In this post I will describe two observations on the role Hailo plays in Dublin: that it competes with existing taxi infrastructure, and that it capitalises on and potentially extends the deregulation of transportation in the city. I will briefly compare the service to Uber and Lyft, and argue why their competition will likely bring the taxi wars to Dublin.

Hailo competes with existing taxi infrastructure

In addition to plying for hire (being in motion and available for hire) and standing for hire (being stationary and available for hire), taxi drivers can increase their number of fares by enrolling to a radio service. When a customer phones a taxi company, this company then leverages its radio-enabled network to source an available taxi driver. Cab drivers working in Dublin have told me that subscription to such a service can cost as much as €5,000 per year. This service is dependent upon a radio communications unit being physically installed into driver’s vehicle, the hire of which is presumably incorporated into the cost of the service.

Hailo, in drawing upon already existing smart phone usage, does not need to install any radio communications infrastructure. This means lower fixed capital costs and lower associated installation and maintenance costs. Furthermore, by having software perform the role of the radio operator, there are presumably fewer attendant labour costs.

These factors lead to a considerably different pricing model. Rather than charge a yearly subscription fee, Hailo is free to install and use, but charges a 12% commission on every fare sourced through the application. In order to compete with these rates, a €5,000 per year radio service would need to direct €41,667 worth of fares to each driver. Understandably, Hailo poses a considerable threat to Dublin’s taxi radio companies.

There is however an important geographical caveat which needs to be made. In cities such as Dublin – where there is a confluence of high population density, a high number of taxis per head and a high usage of smart phones – the benefits of Hailo to both drivers and passengers outweigh those offered by taxi radio companies. In a geographical location where taxi or smart phone use is more sparsely distributed however, Hailo has less opportunity to draw upon existing infrastructure. Where I work in Maynooth – a small university town 20 kilometres west of Dublin – it is very difficult to find a taxi using Hailo. In such locations both spatial scarcity and community loyalty lead me to suppose far less competition between Hailo and existing taxi radio services. In these instances, the volume of jobs rather than rate of commission is the important factor.

Hailo availability in Dublin versus Maynooth

Competing SPSV smart phone service Uber, which has been recently valued at a truly astounding $18.2bn1, launched in Dublin in January 2014. Uber operates under a business model which is far more challenging to existing taxi infrastructures as a whole. Rather than recruit taxi drivers exclusively, Uber is open to private hire vehicle (or limousine) drivers as well. Less regulation on the cost of limousine services allows the company to employ a surge pricing model, so that fares can cost considerably more than a standard rate (up to as much as eight times more expensive in rare incidences of peak demand). The cost of an SPSV licence for limousines in Ireland is only €250, compared to the €6,300 for a taxi licence. While cars must still be deemed as fit for such a purpose, and drivers must similarly undergo clearance by An Garda Síochána, Uber hopes that its matchmaking infrastructure for limousine services will allow its service to compete favourably with the taxi industry as a whole. It’s probably too soon to draw any conclusions on the success of the company in Dublin, but you can be sure they are here for the long run. Uber have money to burn and their CEO Travis Kalanick has a combative attitude toward vested interests.

Hailo capitalises on and potentially extends the deregulation of transportation in the city

As described above Hailo is most effective in urban areas where there is already considerable competition amongst taxi drivers. Uptake amongst drivers is dependent upon a pull effect, whereby not using the service would render them excluded from a proportion of the passenger market. There is, as such, a supply-and-demand-like positive feedback loop between the driver and passenger applications. Increased use of the application by one group would be expected to result in an increase in use by the other.

It was not always so easy to hail a taxi in Dublin. Between 1978 and 2000 local authorities in Ireland were entitled to limit the number of taxi licences issued in their area. In Dublin, the number of licences in circulation between 1978 and 1988 was fixed at 1,800. This number was increased slowly through the late 1980s and 1990s to around 2,800 by the end of the decade. Supply was not kept up with demand however. By the late 1990s the cost of purchasing a licence on the open market was as much as €100,000. In line with its commitment to improving Dublin’s taxi services, the Action Programme for the Millennium encouraged the issuance of 3,100 new licences in the city in November 1999. This was not found to be enough however, as one year later, on November 21, 2000, S.I No. 367/20002 lifted licensing regulations in Ireland. This had the immediate effect of devaluing existing licences and subsequent enquiries and legal cases have been undertaken to assess the fairness of this deregulation. The change has had its intended effect however. By 2008, union estimates placed the number of taxi licences nationwide at 19,000 with 12,000 of those being held in Dublin. Locals tell me that these days it is much easier to get a cab home after a night out than it was in the 1990s.

Under conditions where taxi drivers do not have to compete so vigorously for fares (under a licence-restricted, consortium-based or heavily unionised model rather than the predominantly individualised system currently in operation in Ireland), there would be little pressure for them to use Hailo. And as I’ve already argued, no drivers using the service would translate to no passengers using it either. Indeed it is quite clear from various interviews and media appearances that Hailo have made tactical decisions about how and in which cities they introduce their service.

While Hailo takes advantage of such spaces of deregulation, it has been careful so far to adhere to local legislation. The service does not on its own necessitate a further deregulation of the SPSV sector in Ireland. Hailo is not unique however. Competitors include the globe-spanning Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Wingz, Summon and Flywheel in the USA, cab:app, Cab4Now, Get Taxi and Kabbee in London and Chauffeur-Privé in France. These transportation network companies compete on a range of business models, services and geographical coverage. This marketplace of competing car ride apps has the potential to push against regulations which are in place to control regional SPSV sectors in Ireland.

Consider the following examples from what’s been called the taxi wars.

Since March 2014, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been pushing for the deregulation of the limousine industry in Miami, Florida specifically to make way for the introduction of Uber. The taxi and limousine industry in Miami-Dade county is strongly regulated. The industry caters to a population of over 2,500,000 people through 2,121 taxi medallions (which is the equivalence of a vehicle licence in Ireland). This has forced the market price of a medallion to around $340,000, 28% of which are owned by taxi drivers. Similarly, limousines licences are limited to 625 in number. Services must be booked an hour in advance with rides costing a minimum of $70. This regulation is directly restrictive of Uber’s business model. After Senator Rubio’s efforts to clear the company’s way stalled, actor Ashton Kutcher was recruited to tackle regulation from a different front, decrying the city’s bizarre, old, antiquated legislation” on Jimmy Kimmel Live. On May 22 rival company Lyft – “your friend with a car”, which adopts a decentralised ride sharing model – launched in Miami on a donation-based payment scheme. This forced a response by Uber, which launched its comparably modelled UberX service in the city on June 4. These are not isolated events. Similar changes are being forced on other regions of the US such as: Arlington, Virginia; San Antonio, California; and Austin, Texas.

London Cabs by rosipaw

Uber arrived in London, it’s first European city, in mid-2012. London’s taxi industry consists of over 25,000 hackney carriage taxis serving a daytime population of around 10,000,000. In order to obtain a taxi licence, or Green Badge, drivers must pass to a knowledge test covering a 113 square mile area of the city which is purported to require up to five years of study. Uber, in accepting any driver with a private hire vehicle licence, poses a clear threat to the time and money that London’s taxi drivers have invested in their profession. In recent weeks, The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association has summoned six Uber drivers to court, alleging that the Uber smartphone app is equivalent to a taximeter and therefore illegal under the 1998 Private Hire Act which reserves that right for licensed taxi drivers. In addition, the London taxi-driver’s union lambast Transport for London for failing to pursue the illegal activities which Uber facilitate, suggesting that the state body is afraid of the money backing Uber. In response, Transport for London has sought a binding decision from the high court regarding the legality of the smart phone taximeter.

The way in which other transportation network companies have responded to Uber’s entrance into the London market is important in the case of Ireland. Hailo have announced that they will extend their services to private hire vehicles in addition to taxis. This was news was not well accepted by the industry, with the word ‘scabs’ being gratified on the wall of Hailo’s London office. The company responded on their website, insisting that they are simply following consumer demand. Assuming the move doesn’t too badly damage its position among existing service users, we can expect to see something similar in Ireland, either to pre-empt or combat Uber’s growing market share. Not all apps are going the way of private vehicle hire however. Competitor Cab:app has pushed back against the trend set by Uber and Hailo, asserting publicly its commitment to the taxi industry.

Protests in London and throughout Europe today (June 11, 2014) are in direct opposition to Uber’s perceived infringement upon the taxi industry. In the past, strike action has escalated to involve the destruction of property. In January 2014, Parisian taxi drivers struck in opposition to Uber’s unregulated market competition. Confrontations between unionised taxi drivers and Uber drivers resulted in “Smashed windows, tires, vandalized vehicle[s], and bleeding hands”.

The Irish SPSV sector is admittedly quite different from comparable industries in America, the UK and France. Hailo does not face the same kind of regulatory barriers in Ireland as it would in parts of the US. The National Taxi Drivers’ Union is less powerful than taxi unions in London, and certainly less militant than those in Paris. Hailo is a relatively well behaved company in this sector however. As competitors such as Uber and Lyft seek to expand their more aggressive strategies throughout Europe, it is highly likely, given the success of Hailo and Dublin’s reputation as a high-tech-friendly city, that a real push will be made to establish a foothold in Ireland. Spokesperson for Uber’s international operations Anthony El-Khoury has told the Irish Times: “We see a lot of potential in the Irish market and a lot of demand”. As this market heats up, pressure to further deregulate the SPSV industry will be put on Dublin City Council and the Irish government.

The future of the SPSV sector in Ireland

These two preliminary observations on the role of Hailo in Dublin are commensurate with larger tendencies of state deregulation and market-oriented competition. While the emergence of car ride apps may be positioned as a form of Schumpeterian creative-destruction, there are larger political and economic forces within which these applications should be contextualised. I have attempted to sketch some of these forces in this blog post.

The taxi industry is regulated for a reason. The screening and approval of drivers is important in ensuring accountability and the safety of passengers. Regular metering and Ireland’s nationwide fare system (which was instituted in September 2006) make certain that taxis provide an honest and consistent service that does not gouge rural communities or those in need. While Hailo operates under a minimally challenging model to these standards, it does not exist in a vacuum. By exploiting the freer regulation of limousines, Uber is effectively side-stepping many but not all of them. By doing away with accreditation altogether, Lyft would throw these standards onto the wills of the market. Car ride apps have the potential to put huge pressure on the taxi and limousine business. If other European cities are anything to go by Ireland’s SPSV sector is likely to be forced to deregulate further in coming years. This impacts the price, availability and safety of taxi services, and undercuts the ability of workers in the industry to bargain for fair pay and work conditions. It is important that any changes to the sector be submitted to proper public scrutiny and debate.

Jim Merricks White

Updates

June 12 – An article on RTE alerted me to the recent launch of Wundercar in Dublin. The app seems to follow the Lyft or UberX business model, whereby unlicensed drivers give passengers a lift somewhere in the city for “tips”. Drivers are screened by Wundercar rather than An Garda Síochána.

June 22 – The Independent reported on June 20 that Hailo is offering a suite of new services targeting the business sector. Most significant to my discussion here is the introduction of the company’s limousine option to Ireland. Limousine licences are considerably cheaper than taxi licences and there are fewer regulations on fare pricing.


  1. Aswath Damodaran of New York University claims that a more accurate valuation would be around $6bn. By way of comparison Hailo was valued, 18 months ago, at a far more modest $140m.

  2. Also called Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2000.

Session 4: Programmable City Project Team

Session 4: Programmable City Project Team, included project introductions from Postdoctoral Researchers and PhD students. Here are links to the slides the complete program.

  • Robert Bradshaw, Smart Bikeshare
  • Dr Sophia Maalsen, How are discourses and practices of city governance translated into code?
  • Jim Merricks White, Towards a Digital Urban Commons:Developing a situated computing praxis for a more direct democracy
  • Alan Moore, The Role of Dublin in the Global Innovation Network of Cloud Computing
  • Dr Leighton Evans, How does software alter the forms and nature of work?
  • Darach Mac Donncha, ‘How software is discursively produced and legitimised by vested interests’
  • Dr Sung-Yueh Perng, Programming Urban Lives
  • Dr Gavin McArdle, NCG, NIRSA, NUIM, Dublin Dashboard Performance Indicators & Metrics