In the last blog post we talked about what privacy-preserving techniques make possible for transport authorities. We’re now going to show what benefits these techniques could bring to mobility providers.

To tackle racism in streets we need to start by addressing racism in mobility services

There has been a surge in cycling since cities began easing COVID-related travel restrictions. Cycling is a healthier and safer mode of transport than other public transportation options. Consumer app providers are rushing to respond to this trend. Google Maps for example has added a feature to help people find dockless bikes nearby. Lime is relaunching Uber’s Jump bikes in London and has partnered with Allianz to provide insurance at no extra cost.

At the same time we’ve seen some of the biggest civil rights protests of this century. And protestors have used cycling as a symbol for collective action. But there is inequality within people’s access to cycling. Tamika Butler says systemic racism can’t be tackled without tackling it in cycling. By offering lower cost alternatives to owning a bike, mobility providers and bike share companies are uniquely placed to address racism in cycling and take action.

Don’t just tweet about racism in services, measure it

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in June, companies rushed to publish solidarity statements. But these words are meaningless if companies aren’t true to those values in practice. There is yet to be a mobility company that has stepped forward and publicly evaluated racism in its services. One challenge is that this information – user race – is sensitive and therefore risky to collect, measure, and share even in aggregate.

But using privacy-preserving techniques makes it possible to compute insights without compromising people’s privacy. This kind of anti-racist leadership is desperately needed from organisations in order for real change to be made rather than marketing campaigns. We imagined how a fictional bike share company called Bikez might surface mobility data as a public commitment to anti-racist service provision.

A blog post from Bikez, a micro-mobility provider. The title reads 'We're making our services more equitable.' with an image of route data in a satellite image of a neighbourhood. Below, a subheader reads 'three quarters of our trips happen in mostly white neighbourhoods'

Make cycling anti-racist with responsible data sharing

In the spirit of society-centred design, solving systemic racism in the built environment will not be possible with one or two progressive companies. It requires a concerted effort between authorities, companies and community groups. But mobility providers can make a good start. Different organisations and functions need to see the ongoing relationship between cycling and Black communities to identify needs and measure interventions. This is nearly impossible at the moment because mobility data is sensitive and therefore difficult to share between organisations.

But as we’ve described in previous blog posts, using privacy-preserving techniques could make this possible. Bike share companies like Bikez could develop community tools or reports that surface valuable privacy preserved data to groups that need it.

A website showing data about the Bikez service for local authorities. There's data about riders health, income, location and ethnicity. This data has been privacy-protected.

Better city planning for Black cyclists

By sharing privacy-preserved data about mobility, companies can help local authorities make better city planning decisions that serve Black communities without compromising rider privacy. One of the biggest barriers to cycling for Black communities is not feeling safe on streets. With specific data about places that need more support, local authorities and community groups can collaborate with mobility providers to improve safety. Sharing this data leads to a more participatory and informed planning process. This will ultimately lead to more potential customers and a greater uptake in cycling.

Measure health differences between cyclists and others

Authorities are also prioritising cycling at a policy level. In July, the UK government announced a new cycling watchdog and published a strategy to improve cycling infrastructure. The report describes how increasing cycling could significantly improve wellbeing and save the NHS money. Going forward, authorities will want to monitor changes in cycling use and link it to data about health. This feels important to measure, but only really possible with privacy-preserving techniques. Mobility providers must be ready to meet these requests with tools that protect customers’ privacy.

What’s next?

We want to make privacy-preserving techniques more accessible for product teams working in mobility companies. We can help you test and apply randomised response, or other privacy-preserving techniques to see what value you can unlock from mobility data.

Get in touch if you’re interested in finding out more or have already been playing around with privacy-preserving techniques.