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Policy Paper

Data for Environmentally Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Mobility

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Executive Summary

Data on passenger movements, vehicle fleets, fare payments, and transportation infrastructure has immense potential to inform cities to better plan, regulate, and enforce their urban mobility systems. This report specifically examines the opportunities that exist for U.S. cities to use mobility data – made available through adoption of new mobility services and data-based technologies – to improve transportation's environmental sustainability, accessibility, and equity.

Cities are advancing transportation sustainability in several ways, including making trips more efficient, minimizing the use of single-occupancy vehicles, prioritizing sustainable modes of transport, and enabling a transition to zero and low-emission fuels. They are improving accessibility and equity by planning for and offering a range of transportation services that serve all people, irrespective of their physical abilities, economic power, and geographic location.

Data sharing is an important instrument for furthering these mobility outcomes. Ridership data from ride-hailing companies, for example, can inform cities about whether they are replacing sustainable transport trips, resulting in an increase in congestion and emissions; such data can further be used for designing targeted emission-reduction programs such as a congestion fee program, or for planning high-quality sustainable transport services to reduce car trips. Similarly, mobility data can be used to plan on-demand services in certain transit-poor neighborhoods, where fixed transit services don't make financial sense due to low urban densities.

Sharing mobility data, however, often comes with certain risks, as the United States doesn't currently have the needed regulatory, enforcement, and technological systems to monitor data collection, sharing, and usage. Privacy is a major risk, since data collected by mobility service providers comprises sensitive information such as geo-location or the path of the user. Misuse, whether intentional or unintentional, is another major concern arising from uncontrolled and unmonitored usage of data. Data collection also can be biased against certain user groups, leading to outcomes that could replicate existing discriminatory structures. Furthermore, sharing mobility data can sometimes create proprietary risks for companies that operate in a competitive marketplace, as there is potential for such data to be used by a competitor to gain advantage.

The ability of governments, especially cities, to use mobility data from private companies for building sustainable and inclusive mobility systems depends on the regulatory and governance structures. About two-thirds of U.S. states have preempted local governments from regulating Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) or app-based ride-hailing companies, limiting the usability of the data for local planning and enforcement. Regulating micromobility service providers (such as shared bikes and scooters) has been simpler for cities as compared with ride-hailing companies, and many cities have tied licensing to data-reporting requirements.

When it comes to regulation of consumer privacy and of data security, the United States has no broad federal law, but individual states have their own laws and regulations. As of March 2023, six states have passed comprehensive privacy laws that are primarily applicable to businesses, and at least 32 states have enacted laws that require state agencies and other government entities to employ data-security measures. While data-security laws are increasingly being adopted by states to protect data that state agencies can access, most of these do not apply to local governments. Cities and municipalities, however, are innovating to improve privacy regulations within their jurisdictions.


This report presents a few recommendations to improve data sharing and usage in U.S. cities for moving toward an urban mobility system that is sustainable, accessible, and equitable. These are primarily applicable to cities, but also can apply to the federal government, private mobility service providers, and nonprofits:

Harmonize data-sharing requirements for private mobility service providers: Lack of uniformity of data in terms of formats, regulations, and governance models can create regulatory and procedural uncertainty for private mobility service providers and impose unnecessary time and cost burdens for businesses. Cities and states should, therefore, work toward harmonization to the extent possible while retaining necessary differences needed to address local data and regulatory needs.

Improve data usage in the public sector: Cities have been slow to integrate the available mobility data into their planning processes because they currently lack human, technological, and financial resources to support data processing and analytics. Cities should invest in building internal capacities to manage data-based activities, at least those that are crucial for performing basic planning and enforcement. For small cities with smaller data needs, engaging a third party makes more sense than investing to build in-house capacities.

Vest regulatory power and responsibility in cities: Cities have an operational responsibility to ensure that their urban transportation systems are safe, accessible, and environmentally sustainable, as defined in the state or local laws. To fulfill this responsibility, they must be equipped with regulatory power over private mobility service providers, whose business interests might often conflict with public interests. Advancing coalitions of cities that share the common interest of better regulating TNCs can build negotiating power of cities in relation to private interests.

Product details
Date of Publication
June 2023
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung e.V.
Number of Pages
Language of publication
Table of contents

Executive Summary

  1. Introduction
  2. The State of Mobility Data in the United States
    1. Data types
    2. Data usage
    3. Stakeholders
  3. Risks and Regulations
    1. Data risks and barriers
    2. Regulations on data sharing
    3. Privacy and data security regulation
  4. Data-Sharing Models
  5. Case Studies
    1. Los Angeles
    2. New York
    3. Chicago
  6. Key Observations and Recommendations
    1. Harmonize data-sharing requirements for private mobility service providers
    2. Improve data usage in the public sector
    3. Vest regulatory power and responsibility in cities
  7. Conclusion

About the authors