What is a Real Time Traffic Information mobility data platform? Why is it important that the mobility data platforms of the individual EU member states are coordinated and harmonised? What is a socially desirable route? And whose responsibility is it to ensure that the processing of all this data runs smoothly? Timo Hoffman explains the role of NAPCORE (National Access Point Coordination Organisation for Europe).
NAPCORE is the name of the organisation formed to coordinate and harmonise more than 30 mobility data platforms across Europe. A National Access Point (NAP) is a node in which ITS-related data is concentrated and published in the form of datasets. NAPCORE is, in fact, the world’s largest cooperation of mobility data platforms.
What are National Access Points?
NAPs are also set up to facilitate access, easy exchange and re-use of transport-related data on a Pan-European basis, with the help of supporting the provision of EU-wide interoperable travel and traffic services to end users. The 30 platforms consist of 26 of the now 27 EU Member States, plus Norway, Switzerland and the UK, together with Iceland as an “observer”. NAPCORE is, officially at least, a European Commission-funded project, but its undoubted success to date has promulgated its reputation as an ITS solution that is providing a vital service to Europe. NAPCORE General Secretary Timo Hoffmann, who works at Section F5 Connected Mobility at the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt), invites Intertraffic for a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.
To begin at the beginning, Hoffmann explains how NAPCORE came to be and, perhaps more pertinently, why.
“It started when I was tasked with operating the German National Access Point in 2017 and my first question was ‘What are my tasks and what are what are we doing?’ I was wondering what the other EU member states were doing and how they handle managing their NAPs. The answer was that ‘there was someone doing something similar in Austria so why don’t you ask them?’ There was no NAP platform and no means for national bodies to discuss issues and strategies.”
At first I was wondering what the other EU member states were doing and how they handle managing their NAPs. The answer was that ‘there was someone doing something similar in Austria so why don’t you ask them?’
With, at that time, 28 EU member states to consider, Hoffman quickly realised that it did not make sense to answer NAP-based questions on an individual basis.
“We all got together at an event that was part of an EU project called the European ITS platform. We arranged a National Access Point breakfast for coordinators and decided to form a group, at that time called the National Access Point Harmonisation Group, initially on an informal basis. It was obvious that this was a topic where the European Commission could fund the coordination because it was their idea to create NAPs in the first place. We basically told them what to write in a call and then we wrote a proposal. And that was it.”
The benefit of uniform real time dataSo how were the 27 member states differing in their approach to national access points – as an example how does Austria differ from Portugal? The end result has to be relatively uniform, after all.“The variety was quite big, actually,” says Hoffmann. “Everybody interpreted what a National Access Point is differently. This is largely because there was no technical specification in the regulation. It just says that a member state should operate an access point and there were very few requirements, basically. So at the end, we had a couple of access points, which are reference portals that contained only metadata but it was, at least a data set. You can get it from here and it contains the data you are looking for and there's download link. “However, there was a mixture of data sources,” he continues, “like in Germany, where sometimes it was references to ‘outside’ data outside and sometimes it was data from within and sometimes it was a broker platform where data providers could send the data one time to the access point. From there it was distributed to all those that subscribe to that data feed. That was where the difference was. We all recognised this as an issue and this is why when we wrote a proposal [for the European Commission] I was asking who wanted to join us for this project? Everybody said yes, with the exception of Slovakia who didn’t want the administrative burden, so they are just an associated partner.”
We all recognised that the differing approaches were an issue and this is why when we wrote a proposal for the Commission I asked who wanted to join us for this project. Everybody said yes
NAPCORE GLOBAL EXPANSION
Hoffmann and his team are in the midst of discussions with the World Bank and the governments of both Japan and Ukraine with the goal of extending NAPCORE’s reach outside of the EU and its associated states.
Says Hoffmann: “There is a lot of interest, because in effect we are an organisational platform, but on a technical level we are harmonising it with the goal of having interoperable National Access Points that will form what we believe might be the biggest mobility data platform in the world.”
Given the maturity of the initiative, it’s easy to forget that NAPCORE isn’t a commercially available solution – it’s an EU-funded project, but Hoffmann is already looking into its future prospects beyond the project’s end date of December 2024. He has certainly given due consideration to what NAPCORE will look like five years from now.
We are harmonising the data with the goal of having interoperable National Access Points that will form what we believe might be the biggest mobility data platform in the world
“We’ve thought about that quite a bit because we deal with that question regularly. NAPCORE is a project currently, but bear in mind that we call ourselves the National Access Point Coordination ORganisation for Europe, because we realise that national access points themselves don't have a runtime or an expiry date. So they will still be operating in 10 even 20 years from now. As long as this requirement exists in the European legislation, there will be the need to coordinate them. We are in a comfortable situation where all lights are green for the continuation of NAPCORE.”
THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL ACCESS POINTS
One final question for Hoffmann: given that Japan has already expressed an interest in NAPCORE, does that mean that it has the potential to be an intercontinental solution? If, say Uruguay and Bolivia have a wish to do something similar, could there be a South American NAPCORE?
“I believe so, yes,” he concludes. “I'm currently writing a proposal for a special interest session for the ITS World Congress, together with people from various continents, in order to get together on the topic of mobility and data sharing and to see what's going on. Europe is quite advanced, whereas the US has a totally different approach to it but nevertheless we can learn from each other. My goal is to broaden it even more, although our fundamental baseline is the ITS Directive with the delegated regulation, because this is why the NAPs exist in the first place.
Now that we have almost all of the European countries aligned we are able to have a really top-level discussion. We are in a much better position to discuss things on our own
Hoffmann reminds himself that he has one more point to make.
“In regards to international stakeholders in the mobility domain, there are some such as Google that cover a very large portion of the market on traveller Information Services. In Europe we have previously had trouble discussing things with Google in terms of priorities or requirements and how we best provide and use the data. Getting hold of the right people and discussing things with them was challenging, but now we have almost all the European countries aligned we are able to have a really top-level discussion. We are in a much better position to discuss things on our own, align things or work together and conduct a corporate approach. We can do only this with the NAPCORE platform behind us.”