Transparency of Routing Service Platforms and Potential for Segregation and Manipulation

Bock, B., Fechner, A.*, Klein, A., Wolf, A.

The paper “Transparency of Routing Service Platforms and Potential for Segregation and Manipulation” (Bock, B., Fechner, A.*, Klein, A., Wolf, A. ) will be presented at the 8th Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures (20-21 June, 2019).


When observing mobility and digital platforms in context of regulation, it is necessary to consider relevant regulatory aspects of digitisation and automation. As these can be fairly abstract, it can be helpful to illustrate them with understandable and common examples. Therefore, the aim is to demonstrate aspects of digitalisation such as digital segregation and manipulation of information by aggregating the results of popular and well-used routing services for information on door-to-door connections.

Users increasingly rely on information from such routing services. If repetitive routines are formed through positive user experiences, it can quickly happen that information made available is no longer questioned (Canzler 2016). This allows the potential for manipulative tweaking e.g. of travel times to influence user behaviour in a subversive way which is hard or nearly impossible to detect.

We evaluated various routing APIs with results showing significant differences in durations for public transport (PT) routings for selected European cities. Our studies show that the calculated travel times, which are played back via data interfaces for identical queries, differ systematically both between individual sub-areas and between modes of transport. Although it is not yet possible to derive any further statements on the origin of the differences, one thing has become obvious for the authors: if a routing service provider wishes to influence the choice of transport mode between, for example, motorised private transport and PT systematically and subversively, this would be possible without the public directly noticing (Bock, Klein 2018).

We have analysed three of the leading PT-routing services which we will call ‘Service B’, ‘Service G’ and ‘Service H’ in this paper. We consider one to be the benchmark (‘Service G’), as it is by far the most popular service of the three services studied here. All of the services are available globally and include real-time information on street traffic velocities and PT departure times. Traffic velocities can influence street-bound PT, such as busses, whereas delayed departures can influence trip durations, for example, when connecting services are missed. The volume of non-standardised parameters that can be passed to the API increases the complexity of the experiment and has been kept to a standard set which we considered to be comparable over the various services. Uncertainties do remain as it is unclear if PT is routed on a network representing realistic traffic volumes.

The development of the described meta-routing analysis is part of the current research project ‘xMND’ funded through the ‘mFUND Projects’ by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.

Presentation is available here.


Anna Fechner is a consultant at civity Management Consultants. Her main areas of expertise include public transport, tariff design, market forecasts, traffic and transport projections. She is consulting public transport companies and transport associations. Through project experience in the field of transport and mobility, Anna Fechner has a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of strategic, organisational and operational interrelationships in the transport and mobility sector. In addition to her work for public transport companies, she advises automobile manufacturers on business model development for new urban mobility services. She received her Master’s degree with honours in Economics (M.Sc.) from the University of Cologne.

*  presenting author

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