Head Interview with Vasco Mora Process Management and Business Analyst at EMEL – Meep

Hi Vasco! You currently work at EMEL (innovative mobility and parking management solutions) and are an expert on the process analysis, management and detection of technological opportunities and their development for improving urban mobility. What does a normal working day look like for you?

To frame the answer, let me start by saying that I consider myself a generalist, as opposite to a specialist. In my regular projects I try to bring the best of “two worlds” by getting to know about the business needs and then activating digital opportunities that current technical and technological solutions offer. I often act as a middleman between business managers and IT people, improving work effectiveness and efficiency, and even proposing new business ideas or opportunities that can easily be achieved and perhaps thrive.

Consequently, my work proposition sets on building bridges between business and IT, namely getting to know the business current and future needs, the related business processes, and asking a lot of “whys” and “hows” to the units’ managers and workers. After packing all the information together – and writing it down in case of missing documentation – I present them to new ways of working, aiming at better results, namely performing the same tasks more efficiently, with higher quality and greater consistency. These improvements can often be achieved recurring to existing or easily custom-made IT solutions, but it’s also rather common to achieve great improvements just by reviewing the processes and cut off unnecessary parts that persevered from the “old way” of doing things.

So, answering the question, my regular working day is spent talking to people, understanding their needs and pain points, documenting processes and procedures, analyzing data, and suggesting either small improvements or brand-new disruptive solutions to boost work efficiency, quality, and consistency. The proposed solutions need to be easily understood by those that are going to use them – even if “behind the curtains” solutions have complex steps, the visible parts (the frontend) should be simple, elegant, and safe to use, resulting in higher acceptance and adoption.

What recent initiative or project would you highlight and feel especially proud of?

My passion for mobility solutions goes way back, and that is where I feel “at home”. I am also keen on computer science and programming, which is part of why I can talk to both business and IT managers / developers, often requiring translating C-Levels and business managers’ ideas to a set of IT requirements that answer to the posed challenges.

As an evangelist of open-data and open-source solutions, I had the change of promoting three “special” projects in the past 4 years, while working for the Municipality of Lisbon as an Adviser to the Mobility and Safety Deputy Mayor. These projects are quite simple but were still breakthroughs in Lisbon’s mobility, making me “proud” to having promoted and actively participated in their development.

The first one is related to making Public Transport planned services data open, available in the Transporlis’ platform. In a nutshell, Transporlis is an association of Greater Lisbon’s Public Transport Operators (PTO) that aims at promoting “sustainable mobility, in a multimodal, door-to-door travel strategy, integrating information on all public passenger transport (bus, train, metro, boats, bicycles and airport), with a view to improving the quality of service and efficiency of public transport in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area”, as stated in the website’s Mission page.

Throughout last years we were able to make available PTO’s planned services in GTFS – General Transit Feed Standard format, that can now be easily fetched and integrated recurring to a well structure and well documented API (vide https://www.transporlis.pt/Default.aspx?tabid=324&language=en-GB). Individual users, researchers and businesses can now get daily updated high quality data of Lisbon’s public transport services. These high quality and up-to-date feeds are also used internally on Transporlis’ Journey Planner – Lisboa Viagem — making it highly reliable and on par to the alternative journey planners.

The second is MiMoGG – the Micro-Mobility Geo-Gatherer solution developed in the Municipality of Lisbon, fully backed by open-source solutions – namely Python, PostgreSQL, PostGIS, QGIS and Jenkins – and open data standards such as GBFS – General Bikeshare Feed Specification, part of the MDS – Mobility Data Standard. The solution integrates parking data from all micro-mobility operations in Lisbon and presents visual reports to both mobility managers and enforcement agents. The solution was specified and deployed, and is maintained internally, while the development was made by a hired developer. MiMoGG has been running non-stop for more than two years, fetching, analyzing, and presenting data every 15 minutes — no breaks. While being a simple solution, by specifying and developing its own solution, Lisbon was able to avoid third-party commercial solutions, which were much more expensive to acquire and maintain, but also kept all the data in cloud-based solutions, none having the change of preserving data on Lisbon’s IT infrastructure. As a huge benefit, the know-how of the mobility team greatly increased while discussing the requirements and frequently analyzing the resulting visual reports of MiMoGG, something I believe would not be achieve falling back to paying a commercial solution.

The third one is more related to business improvement, as I assisted and partially coordinated the integration and development of the road code infringement processing solution. As of January 2019, the Municipality of Lisbon became responsible for analyzing and deciding on the soft parking infringements, which represent circa 250.000 processes per year. This change made it necessary to hire new staff and develop new business processes, new metrics, contract new suppliers and integrate Lisbon’s solution with several third-party services, namely the National Road Authority, the printing and finishing providers and the payment services. Every single detail had to be carefully analyzed for a poor or time-consuming solution could have a great impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire process. The project was quite challenging as several entities / teams had to be coordinated on a weekly basis to stay on track with the established working plan. It was one of the larger projects I ever participated on, and one I enjoyed the most!

What does Lisbon need to improve in terms of mobility and infrastructure to be able to enjoy an inclusive, zero-emission and sustainable mobility?

Mobility, as any urban challenge, needs to have a supporting vision. The vision that was fostered, developed, and implemented in the last Lisbon’s mandate was aimed for a safer, more inclusive, and sustainable urban mobility, based on public transport services as a principle, while keeping all alternative modes in place, but decreasing its share overtime.

The urban infrastructure built on recent decades was clearly car-centric, neglecting public transport and active modes, resulting in an overwhelming usage of road and parking space in our streets and fostering an increasingly sparse urban development, impossible to tackle with sustainable public transport services throughout the days of the week and the hours of the day. As GDP rose, families were able to buy one or more cars, becoming largely dependent on them to commute, to access commerce and services, or simply to visit family and friends. Car usage was also augmented by companies adopting cars as a fringe benefit for C-levels and high-paid employees. Add paid parking space, fuel, and tolls to the equation and using the “private” car is completely cost-free to the user, making it dominant in comparison to all other safer and more sustainable modes.

”The vision that was fostered, developed, and implemented in the last Lisbon’s mandate was aimed for a safer, more inclusive, and sustainable urban mobility, based on public transport services as a principle, while keeping all alternative modes in place, but decreasing its share overtime.”

But that comes to a (societal) cost that can be easily split into three major issues: (i) road traffic congestion, resulting in the increase of fuel consumption, pollution, and commute time for everyone; (ii) the decrease of public transport services’ quality (as buses also suffer from road congestion, making the services slower and more prone to delays) and also their financial viability, as revenue decreases with every car-driver/ car-pooler; and lastly, (iii) having poorer public transport services, societies face a problem of inclusiveness and equity, as many cannot afford to have or daily use a private car and the public transport network isn’t as dense and frequent as it could be. And we now know that parking slots and road lanes are never enough, and as the space between building doesn’t change, and therefore the available area for walking, leisure and green infrastructure is obviously compromised.

So, to improve Lisbon’s mobility — as probably with any other city —, we need to revert to using public transport services on a regular basis and be more active, cycling and walking, leaving private car use to special days where our routes cannot be easily served by the public transport network nor active modes. Using the carrot and the stick analogy, we need to make public transport services better, more regular, more frequent, more comfortable, and in parallel make it less appealing to use the private vehicle on areas with great public transport services and frequencies, either by managing the parking tariffs accordingly to a more sustainable mobility policy, but also by retrofitting streets to safely accommodate other modes, such as cycling.

But, before concluding, I need to also highlight the word “safer”, as the third pilar of the mobility goals, on par with “sustainable” and “inclusive”! The number of car accidents, with its casualties — both fatalities and injuries — is greatly larger than the number of accidents caused by public transport or active modes together. Thus, a greater adoption of public transport also brings on a safer environment for all, putting Lisbon one step closer to Vision Zero 2030, that “intends to establish a medium-term road safety policy in Portugal and define the strategic and corresponding operational goals, which shall be achieved through biennial action plans, starting in 2021 and which will cover a total period of 10 years”, quoting ANSR – the National Safety Authority on their site’s note.

During your time as Advisor of Lisbon’s Mobility Deputy Mayor you presented at “Velo-city 2021 Lisboa” Lisbon’s own solution for micro-mobility data-management. How advanced do you think the city’s mobility operators and entities are when it comes to using data to improve the efficiency of transport in the city but also for their own benefit?

Regarding Lisbon’s own micro-mobility management and monitoring solution, MiMoGG – Micro-mobility Geo-Gatherer (better described above), we can clearly observe Pareto’s principle — a large set of results can be obtained using a small portion of the data and recurring to just a handful of analytical techniques. This solution was developed during the mandate to accommodate, organize, and manage micro-mobility operations in Lisbon, and so it did. Cooperation with the operators was key and having a world-wide established data specification helped us to make a swift deploy of a data gatherer, data analysis and visualization tool.

The policy around micro-mobility was quite simple: organized (highlight on organization!) a solution that would complement the public transport services, offering extra availability and geographical flexibility. At first, the operators’ fleets were mainly available on high-demand / tourist areas, but week-by-week, and in close conversation with all the operators, fleets were set to operate in a larger area, serving residents and commuters alike. To achieve this operational balance Lisbon relied on frequently presenting MiMoGG’s reports to the operators and aiming at the next steps to come closer to fulfilling the policy in this orchestrated environment.

The municipality and the micro-mobility operators endeavored from day one in a collaborative project to make the most out of the existing data, using existing data standards, granting both management KPI and on raising alerts on poorly parked vehicles that would jeopardize pedestrians and drivers alike to alert enforcement agents. All stakeholders understood that data was a key element to grant a sound and effective solution and to be able to monitor the system over time.

In short, I believe that data management and analysis does not need to be “advanced” to produce highly valuable results. Simple solutions are often the best ones — at least to start with —, as they are easily understood and accepted by all, and Lisbon’s micro-mobility data project is a real case-study for its simplicity, acceptance, and effectiveness. As we discussed our solution with other cities, we saw great commonality in the principles and policies, even when the regulation and relationship with the operators would differ, but all appreciated the simplicity of MiMoGG, as it helps monitoring and solving a large set of micro-mobility challenges with a simple set of KPI and visual reports.

Looking ahead, as data analysis in evolving tremendously every day, and in parallel Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning tools are becoming much better and faster to deploy and apply, we can only expect that efficiency can be greatly improved in the years to come, even before autonomous driving. Computing power, either associated with predictive models or real time data analysis, will surely assist us on making better routing choices, diverging us from congested routes or, even better, presenting more sustainable option for our journeys.

As you may know, our mobility as a service solution, Meep, was deployed in Lisbon in 2018 and allows users to plan routes combining several modes of transport (public and private). And soon, they will be able to pay for their transport tickets in the same app. Where do you think this type of solution will take mobility in the future?

I recall that Meep had a unique feature, as the user could self-profile him/herself regarding cost, time, sustainability and activity, reordering the available options accordingly, making the tailor-made journey planner, which I haven’t seen explicitly in other apps – kudos on that!

MaaS – Mobility as a Service intents to present a one-stop shop solution for all mobility needs, making it seamless (or at least easier) to use and enjoy every mobility solution available. This will greatly reduce the barriers to try out and use more sustainable modes of transport, especially for non-regular users — as regular users are expected to already have a smartphone or card-based solution probably with pre-paid subscription and post-paid wallets for occasional trips. But the occasional user will benefit from not having to worry about topping the wallet or forgetting the transport card at home. All users will also benefit from having access to all necessary services in a single app of their choice instead of having a ton of single-operator apps installed, each with a specific wallet – this will be a huge deal, maybe even a game-changer.

Another opportunity that MaaS will bring is leveling the game between driving and using public transport services, by presenting more realistic results to the user, taking into account not only the driving time but the parking conditions — where to park the car, how far will it be to the destination (subject to parking availability) and how much to pay for parking throughout the day… compared to today’s more realistic public transport journey planner, where we walk to the stop, take one or more trips and then walk from the last stop to the destination. The driving experience needs to be integrated with parking to be realistic and thus allowing an overall comparison to the more sustainable, more inclusive, and safer alternatives.

”All users will also benefit from having access to all necessary services in a single app of their choice instead of having a ton of single-operator apps installed, each with a specific wallet – this will be a huge deal, maybe even a game-changer.”

Another foreseeable outcome is the ability to make a mobility invoice, clearly stating the costs of each mode and solution — how much was spent on public transport, taxis, ride-hailing, fuel, parking, maintenance, repairs, insurance, vehicle ownership (car, bike, motorcycle, etc.), and simply presenting it on a pie chart. Banks have been doing these in the past years, and one can easily how much is being spent on supermarket, restaurants, gadgets, etc., helping to have a better control on expenses over time — hopefully, these mechanisms can assist users to choose more often safer and more sustainable modes.

What do you believe is the key for users to change their mobility habits and start taking advantage of a more connected and sustainable mobility offered by MaaS?

People tend to decide better when they have simple A/B comparisons, and I believe today’s mobility options are not leveled. It is often easier of faster to use the private car if we don’t consider congestion, air pollution, noise, safety, inclusiveness, and a complete set of attributes that are not tangible. We need to bring these externalities to the equation so everyone can have a clearer view on the alternatives. Even today, journey planners are much “nicer” to car drivers, neglecting the time spent on reaching an available parking spot, paying the parking throughout the day and all the externalities that simply come from using the car.

If authorities advertise on and integrate mobility externalities in the cost-function equation — road accidents, air quality, noise, urban space consumed by traffic and parking, etc. — I believe a great deal of people will simply consider the public transport alternatives they already have available. In the long run, having higher demand will result in higher investment in the public transport network, making it more accessible to all, in a positive-virtuous cycle. Those who would need to (occasionally) use their private car, would also benefit from less congested roads, available parking, probably at a higher cost, but adequate to occasional usage.

Maybe a simple game of CO2 production and anonymously comparing the user to the crowd or to a specific individual target could bring visibility to the cost of each choice — maybe a good idea for Meep to implement!

If you had to describe the mobility of the future in three words, what would they be?

Inclusive, sustainable, safer… I believe that is what we are all looking for!