Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from David Allison, SVP of Data at Bird.
“How many vehicles are on the road?”
On the surface, it’s a simple question — one frequently asked by cities, policymakers and riders hoping to better understand micromobility operators. It’s also the first compliance question usually asked to such operators, whether in relation to fleet size or area-specific deployment requirements.
While the question may be simple, the answer is significantly more involved. That’s because dockless fleets are more dynamic than their docked predecessors. Recharging batteries, damage repair and vehicle relocation require a team that’s constantly monitoring and maintaining our fleet to meet demand. This means that the number of vehicles in the public right-of-way (PROW) is continuously fluctuating.
Cities and operators, including Bird, are becoming increasingly familiar with Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a standard adopted by many markets to better understand and manage micromobility fleets. For instance, every time a scooter’s status changes, whether it’s “available,” “reserved” by a rider, “unavailable” waiting for retrieval or “removed” for repairs, that action is recorded and provided to cities and agencies.
These changes aren’t magic; they’re triggered by a series of ongoing interactions between humans, hardware and software. As such, the reporting is accurate but imperfect, subject to inherent fallibilities such as technical failures, operational errors and the rare instance of fraud or abuse.
As you can imagine, the data generated for MDS is particularly complex. Dockless fleets are dynamic, emitting thousands of status changes every day. It’s the data processor’s job to reconstruct these detailed reports, providing a clear view into how many vehicles are on the road at any given time.
Calculating the size of a fleet
There are different ways that data can be used to provide a comprehensive view of what’s happening on the ground. It’s important to note that, as with all such information, operators and cities alike must work together to protect and secure the data they collect.
Based on past experience, we’ve compiled a list of best practices for determining the size of dockless fleets:
Define the metrics: First and foremost, it’s critical to establish what you’re counting. Are you interested in the average number of available vehicles? The peak number? Unique vehicles that have rotated in and out of service throughout the day? Along with our city partners, we’ve found that the most useful method of counting is average availability, or the number of vehicles available to residents of a given city averaged throughout the day. Regardless of what you choose to count, however, it’s imperative that city staff, operators and data processors agree on the metric and communicate it clearly.
Provide access to the code and tools used to process data: City regulations will often identify a parameter (i.e. fleet size) but fail to define critical information such as what exactly is being counted, how the data is being ingested and/or any assumptions that are being made during processing. Giving operators access to this code and its outputs helps ensure that we understand the rules and can work successfully within the given parameters.