EU’s Single European Transport Area Takes Shape

In 2011, the European Commission published a white paper entitled Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area, in which it set out its long-term transport objectives for the EU.

Its goals are to “reduce the EU’s dependence on imported oil, achieve essentially CO2-free city mobility in major urban centers by 2030 and cut transport carbon emissions by 60% by 2050”. This ambitious project will require a digital layer connecting all elements and systems of transport and mobility, built upon open and common data standards and interfaces and an efficient and secure data ecosystem. The backbone of that ecosystem will be the European National Access Points (NAPs). Timo Hoffmann is in charge of the body facilitating the coordination and harmonization of currently operating and forthcoming NAPs, which he describes as “national digital platforms that facilitate the exchange of data in the fields of mobility”.

Hoffmann is NAP project manager and general secretary of NAPCORE, Europe’s access-point coordination organization. Most EU Member States already have at least one NAP in operation and, eventually, there will be a functional NAP in every EU country as well as in some associate partners, such as Norway, Switzerland and the UK. “And we are now in talks with Ukraine and open to discussions with other countries, such as the Balkans, because mobility doesn’t stop at borders,” Hoffmann said.

NAPCORE and the NAPs can be viewed as a ‘middleman’ platform facilitating the exchange of data between organizations collecting data and the mobility service providers to which they provide it. “Our goal is to facilitate the data provision of all available mobility services by creating harmonized ways to access data at the NAPs,” Hoffmann said.

There are three types of NAPs, he explained: metadata portals, which have only metadata describing what data is available where and what it looks like. The other two NAP types actually source data. One works like a data warehouse, which collects data and makes it available to service providers to download, while the third is a data broker, where data providers make data available to NAPs and service providers can subscribe to that data feed at the NAP. “We are now trying to identify ways to standardize the way data is accessible via the individual NAPs so that multi-NAP data search and access is possible via one interface instead of having to connect to all the NAPs individually,” Hoffmann explained.

However, there are several issues to overcome before the NAP network has the desired level of interoperability. “We discovered after the NAPs had been deployed that they are quite heterogenous in terms of data format, data access, interfaces, technologies and so on, which means they are not really interoperable,” Hoffmann said. “Plus, not everyone who should provide data actually does provide data. So, there is still a long way to go in terms of data content for complete coverage.”

The issue of working with different data formats is easier to resolve, he said. “Via a harmonized metadata structure, linked data technologies or data conversion possibilities it will hopefully soon be possible for mobility services to query the data, look for data and download data via a single access interface.” This step is necessary because in some countries there are legacy systems and historical standards that are very difficult to change.

The problem of obtaining the necessary data content is more worrisome. One issue, Hoffmann said, is that it is difficult for international organizations to provide data to each NAP individually, especially if they have very different setups and ways of providing data. “Plus not everyone who should provide data actually does provide data.”

Both private and public entities are mandated by the EC to provide data to the NAPs. However, some of these entities are either balking or simply unaware of the situation. “They might not know they are mandated to provide the data,” he said. “Or they don’t want to know and ignore it because they are not afraid of consequences, because in most countries there are no sanctions for non-compliance.”

Some data sources simply don’t know what kind of data to provide and in what format. So an important part of NAPCORE’s mission is to issue recommendations that can be used for every NAP. “This is one of the main barriers we are trying to overcome, organizations not providing data because they don’t know how,” Hoffmann noted.

Each country covers the cost of building its NAP, while the EC is providing €12M ($12.8M) of NAPCORE’s €14.1M budget until the end of 2024. “We’re sure we won’t be done by then,” Hoffmann said. “As more services are created, the requirements on the accuracy of the data also increases. So the need for coordination among the Member States to make this data more accessible and more interoperable will be an ongoing task.”

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