Finally, there is the critical question of privacy. Although Uber’s hacking scandal has dinged ride-hailing’s credibility as a protector of passenger data, new mobility services do have a point when they push back against handing over rider information to the government. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some customers will balk at the prospect of public agencies accessing their personal ride histories.Webb says that SharedStreets will handle those concerns by collecting aggregated data that is rich enough to allow for deep analysis while still hiding information about individual rides. New mobility service companies could further protect their passengers by converting trip data into so-called “synthetic populations” of artificial data modeled after trips that people actually took.However the new mobility service data arrives—almost certainly aggregated, and potentially artificially modeled—there will need to be a way to ensure it is accurate. After all, companies like Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in the questions policymakers pose about their impact on city streets. Data validation—especially for modeled data—is crucial for such an exchange to be trusted.
There are many questions yet to resolve, but the movement to give city officials reliable and accessible trip data is gaining momentum. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the elusive ideal of a “smart city” is attainable without shared set of facts about how people are moving within an urban area. In addition to SharedStreets, a number of universities, startups, and major tech companies are quietly developing strategies to plug this gap in our civic knowledge. Most of those efforts aren’t public yet, but I expect several to launch in 2018. For those of us who believe in data-driven management of streets and sidewalks, that’s something to be excited about—and to push for.