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PROFILE: Mobility Expert Josee Sabourin

Josee Sabourin on championing GBFS feeds, advocating for interoperability & why she thinks the industry is not struggling but stabilising

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Josee Sabourin is just 26 years old but what Vulog already calls a Shared Mobility Champion.

By this they mean a visionary leader and expert at the forefront of molding the new shared mobility movement. 

Having just been hired by global micromobility software platform Urban Sharing as its new Partnerships Manager, Zag took the opportunity to speak with Josee to find out where her career in mobility began, why she became focused on the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS), and why she advocates so strongly for interoperability at international conferences.

The trip to Montreal

Josee’s first experience of public transport came at the age of 12 while trying to navigate her way to school in Ontario, Canada. 

Each day she needed to walk 25 minutes to the nearest bus stop, catch two separate buses that could take up to two hours, before repeating the journey on the way home.

“School would end at 2.30 and sometimes I wouldn’t get home until 6pm,” Sabourin tells Zag Daily. “In the Canadian winters it was awful as the sidewalk hadn’t been cleared of snow.” 

A few years later, Sabourin took a trip to Montreal and was amazed at the transport options available. “My jaw dropped at all the mobility options and how easy it was to move through the city without a car. It felt so liberating that you could go anywhere, no matter how old you are. 

“I was really drawn to the urbanism aspect,” says Sabourin.  

And so Sabourin took the decision to apply to McGill University and move to Montreal that September after accepting a place there. It was at McGill that her interest in mobility and urban planning really took off and after taking a geography class called ‘Global Places’ during her first year, Sabourin was on the path to majoring in Urban Systems.

“I wrote my thesis about food trucks and how they travel around cities,” she explains. “It was quite in line with the work I do now around mobility data, as I scanned different social media apps to monitor their movements, how this varies by city and how people find them.”

Championing a standardised data format

Graduating from McGill in 2020, Sabourin immediately took a job with non-profit MobilityData. The organisation’s purpose is to steward data standards and specifications globally using open-source tools to create a better traveller experience.

“An app like Citymapper is gathering information from local transport authorities or micromobility operators using standard data formats that MobilityData governs,” says Sabourin.

When Sabourin began working on shared mobility at MobilityData, the non-profit catalogued around 300 micromobility systems that had agreed to provide GBFS data, which consists of information such as vehicle type, availability, charge and condition. By the time she left the organisation in January 2024, the number of operators producing GBFS data had risen to nearly 1,000.

“To do that over the course of three years was an incredible achievement and to see the widespread adoption of a standard that was created just nine years ago is amazing considering that its public transit counterpart is decades old,” Sabourin says.

“GBFS has been adapted over time to include dockless vehicles, scooters and car sharing too, which is also a great accomplishment. It was first designed by Mitch Vars, but MobilityData now hosts, maintains and champions the format.”

“When an operator adopts MobilityData’s standard, they need to create an API based on the specification and then host that at a stable URL. The information collected can be shared openly at the operator’s discretion, as that data can be ingested by trip planning applications such as Citymapper.”

“One of the biggest catalysts for the format was when Google Maps said it would only accept GBFS data,” explains Sabourin.

“This encouraged more operators to learn more about it and it really spread through word of mouth.”

To assist authorities that want to make GBFS a requirement of the tender process, MobilityData has created policy guides that are free to copy and paste. This has received “really positive feedback from city officials that found it super helpful”.

Building partnerships around a common goal

After more than three and a half years with MobilityData, Sabourin joined software platform Urban Sharing as Partnerships Manager last month. Urban Sharing works with operators, cities and other platforms to optimise micromobility operations, and Sabourin believes she can offer plenty in her new role.

“The first time I met the Urban Sharing team was at a conference where I was delivering a speech about GBFS,” she explains.

“I competed in public speaking contests as a kid, and I think that makes me an asset to an organisation like Urban Sharing that wants to maintain its presence within the industry. Meanwhile, I come from a role that was focused on building partnerships and creating trust within a competitive industry, and I am confident obtaining buy-in and developing relationships with a range of stakeholders.”

As Partnerships Manager, Sabourin will primarily be tasked with driving revenue by finding partners that want to align with Urban Sharing around a common goal for shared mobility. This will include creating partner and operator networks to ensure businesses using the Urban Sharing platform can interact, collaborate and feel part of a mobility community.

“My ultimate goal is for shared micromobility to stay,” Sabourin says.

“Shared bikes have been proven and while there continues to be debate about dockless scooters and bikes, I see their place in the urban landscape. Bike share has been around since the 1960s, it is not a new concept.

“The ultimate goal is to make shared mobility work for everyone, meaning the end users, non-users, regulators, operators and vendors. If we can reduce these elements of friction and convene, it can work better in the future.”

Another core focus for Urban Sharing is interoperability, which would allow users to move from one mode of transport to another in a way that works together.

“The micromobility experience should be as seamless as possible,” says Sabourin.

“For some people car ownership is a requirement, but we can look to minimise their use through the ethos of interoperability. There has been a narrative about MaaS being one app to rule them all, but I don’t think we need a super app. What we need is information that is accessible in whatever way works for the user. That is the core of mobility.”

Sabourin also pushes back on the idea that the industry is struggling and instead frames recent consolidations as evidence that it is stabilising.

“We are finding out what works and what is going to last,” she explains.

“I would like to see a stop to these pilot programmes because at this point we know what works. We should instead be looking at long-term partnerships that in five to 10 years will have evolved into stable systems.”