Massive brother on the road

Consultations on a federal bill on mobility data infrastructure ended in May. The new law provides for the creation of a national collection of traffic data. The Federal Council and the Main Federal Office for Transport (FOT) justify the project as follows: “In order to enable optimal use of infrastructure and public and private transport offerings, there must be a better flow of information between infrastructure operators, transport companies, private service providers and road users” . This helps to better deal with the growth of traffic. According to the Federal Council, data is a “third system-related infrastructure” along with roads and railways.

So the state wants access to all road users and their data, including private data. The national data infrastructure should explicitly contribute to the “planning of public and private mobility offerings in a more targeted manner.” And, as with nearly everything the country plans and does today, it concerns the modern dogma of climate protection: Mobility data infrastructure should make it possible to “further develop mobility in a climate-friendly manner.” And because everything is so beautifully bureaucratic and complicated, the federal government operates with attractive shortcuts. It is called the Modi Mobility Data Infrastructure, which in turn is divided into two parts: the National Mobility Data Network Infrastructure, Nadim for short, and the CH Transport Network, which aims to digitally map the entire Swiss transport system. They are acronyms to remember, because they will likely be discussed more often in the future. With the new mobility data infrastructure, all data must be “centralised, expanded and improved by the federal government.”

In the future, data from the Swiss transport network will be supplemented by a huge amount of data about road users, which will be controlled by the federal government.

Abandon the car

The federal government wants to create its new federal agency, the Mobility Data Agency (MDA), to manage the massive amount of data. It expects a total of 66 new full-time jobs and annual costs of up to CHF38 million. In addition, the federal government’s track record of demanding IT projects is more than modest, as has been sufficiently demonstrated in the past. Most of them ended up in expensive fascos. It’s not likely that things will be different this time.

And what does that mean for private motorized transport? The answers to this can be found in the explanatory report of the Federal Council from early February. It doesn’t hide the fact that the focus is on public transportation, which the federal government describes as “the backbone of multimodal mobility.” The trend is clear: the federal government wants to urge residents to avoid private cars as much as possible. The term abandonment is mentioned several times in relation to the automobile. It is said, for example, that it can be assumed that with a mobility data infrastructure “the search traffic of individuals will decrease, as available parking spaces will be found or, conversely, a car trip will be avoided due to a lack of parking spaces”. However, we should not only do without individual trips, but also own a car in general: according to the explanatory report, the navigation data system supports “the direction, especially in rallies, to abandon the (motorized) car”. Concession here, renunciation there, renunciation everywhere. By the way, this is a trend that those responsible for the report are talking about, after all, the number of cars in the past twenty years has not decreased, but rather increased significantly. To find out, a brief inquiry from the Federal Statistical Office would have sufficed, its figures showing an increase in passenger cars by nearly a third to 4.68 million between 2000 and 2021.

It is clear from all of this that the federal government also wants to monitor and control private transportation. There is a threat of complete surveillance and control of our mobility – Big Brother is on the road. Unless stated anywhere in the law and in the Explanatory Report: The collection of all future mobility data can also be used to provide a pricing system for mobility and routes. The provocative thrust of the proposal, directed explicitly against motorized private transportation, does not bode well. In the end, it could hit road users on one side – with pure road pricing.

What about real infrastructure?

The creation of the central government’s mobility data infrastructure is also critical because there is no market failure in this area. If the market needs it, private providers can do as well or better. The state will only replace the private sector, so it has already taken the lead. The new Mobility Data Institute should also be able to provide services and advice. A state-funded giant is expected to compete with private service providers and consulting firms. This seems especially absurd in light of the fact that the federal government cannot collect all the necessary data itself, but rather depends on it being made available to it. Among other things, specifically from providers with whom the federal government competes directly for advice.

Only: the increasing volume of traffic will not be able to be managed by monitoring the navigation data alone. The Federal Administration for Environment, Transportation, Energy, and Communications (UVEK) expects road traffic to increase by 18 percent by 2040 for individual motorized traffic and by 33 percent for freight traffic. In the past 10 years or so, the hours of traffic jams on Swiss national roads have doubled, reaching more than 30,000 hours in the pre-corona period. In view of these developments, rather than expanding the digital data infrastructure, it would be much better to develop the real road infrastructure. On the other hand, we can dispense with government surveillance, planning and control of our own commute – to quote the anti-car opponents’ favorite phrase at UVEK again.

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