Interview to Laia Pagès, executive and research manager at CARNET

“Blockchain applied to mobility benefits citizens”

Holder of a civil engineering qualification from the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, Toulouse, a master’s degree from the University of California Irvine and a doctoral degree from the same university with a thesis on transport engineering, Laia Pagès has worked in the Catalan Traffic Service (SCT) and two consultancies in Stuttgart. Since February 2019, she has formed part of the CARNET project as executive and research manager. The technical coordination of CARNET is carried out by CIT UPC.

Laia Pagès

Blockchain has come to stay. This technology, promoted by the use of cryptocurrencies such as the bitcoin, is based on a non-centralised system of information management in which various agents (miners in blockchain terminology) develop encrypted registers that create a chain of data to verify internet operations. Originally associated with monetary transactions, the use of blockchain has rapidly extended to other fields. According to Transparency Market Research, the value of the global market of this technology will be over 16 billion euros in 2024. CARNET has worked for some time on its application to mobility.

What are the advantages of using blockchain over other registration technologies?

It is a decentralised database in which blocks of information are formed that cannot be changed once they have been agreed on, which makes it very reliable. Whether its use is open or closed depends on the members that manage it. It is a “democratic” system but subjected to rules that must be agreed in advance.

CARNET’s objective is to develop technological solutions applied to transport and mobility, does this include blockchain? What are you working on?

Yes. We are working on an educational project with organisations and companies involved in mobility to boost knowledge of blockchain. We have carried out a first training activity successfully in collaboration with the UPC, and we are considering extending the model to other European universities with the help of EIT. We are also drawing up a project to obtain funding from the Horizon 2020 programme to develop use cases relating to routes.

How can the application of blockchain to urban mobility affect users? For example, how would it affect people who move around Barcelona in private vehicles on a daily basis?

Blockchain has a very clear application in what is known as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). In this approach, for example, blockchain will make agents more transparent and increase interoperability for new decentralised business models. For example, if there are several companies, the system will enable us to sign up for one system in which we can receive services from all the companies because they will share data and can adapt optimally to user needs at any time.

So there are no doubts about its application to mobility in the short-term?

The heart of the matter is whether it is worth implementing blockchain in each case, because these are complex databases that require investment, and this system isn’t going to be required for everything. This will be determined by the agents involved (particularly companies, but also regulators and users).

Thinking about specific applications, could it be used in parking systems in a city like Barcelona?

When there are various companies offering parking services, yes of course. If they share information via blockchain they can, for example, divert use from one place to another depending on how full each car park is.  This could also be applied to regulated street parking.

Another application of this technology to mobility involves electric vehicles. How does this work?

For example, blockchain can be used in the traceability of energy used to recharge batteries. When the market allows, it will be possible to find out the origin of electricity offered at a recharging point through data offered by blockchain.  

Is blockchain already being used in public transport?

Yes. I know one example in California applied to a bus company. To promote the use of its vehicles, the ticket price goes down automatically the more users there are at each bus station or stop, and this is achieved through data shared via blockchain.

The activity of courier companies has been increasing for several years. Are they potential users of blockchain?

Yes, of course. If they organise themselves to generate a blockchain, they could implement hub systems for shared last mile delivery, when legislation allows. The key, as in everything, is whether the investment is worth it.

So those that benefit most from blockchain are the companies?

No, not at all, blockchain applied to mobility is advantageous to citizens, who are the direct beneficiaries, such as for example public transport users. But they do not only obtain an economic benefit, because they know that the information received from blockchain cannot be manipulated and is the same as that available to other users.

Applications of a system of this type affect the business of renting. In what way?

Through blockchain, users can access the record of accidents and faults in each vehicle, and this through a completely reliable system where all the information is validated by an independent, safe system.

How do you think mobility in Barcelona will change in the next ten years?

Mobility in Barcelona will be much more shared, connected, autonomous and green, although it will be some time before autonomous vehicles are incorporated as such into the streets of our cities. However, at CARNET we have provided technical assistance for the Metropolitan Transport Authority (ATM) of Barcelona on their implementation.

Does CARNET collaborate with the ATM in other areas?

Yes. We have taken part in the Mobility Plan for the metropolitan area, specifically in the sections on innovation.

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