City planners and traffic management agencies are avid consumers of data, which is critical to both planning and managing transportation services. Traditionally, government agencies relied primarily on data from loop detectors installed in streets and highway. These sensors tell transportation officials how many cars pass by the sensors, allowing them to understand the volume of traffic on the roadways they manage. This then feeds into infrastructure plans, as cities understand where the heaviest demand is and where the pinch points are in the roadways.
This data is also used to report when traffic has stopped in the roadway, which is used for traveler information systems. What these sensors cannot tell you is where the traffic came from, where it ended up, or even how fast it’s traveling. And these sensors are not cheap. It’s a significant investment to install them in existing roadways, and even building then into new roadways is costly, given that the sensors must be highly robust and maintained throughout the year in challenging conditions.
Listen to the Crowd
Crowdsourced data, gathered from GPS navigation devices, cellphone records, or mobile apps, is becoming an increasingly viable way for cities and transportation agencies to acquire data without expensive infrastructure projects. And these crowdsourced data sources can supply new data points that help cities get a much more complete view of mobility, like pedestrian and bicycle traffic and parking usage.
Traffic data company INRIX has been incorporating data from a variety of sources to supplement its own vehicle probe data for years. The company aggregates data from GPS navigators and mobile phones in vehicles to provide a more complete picture of the traffic landscape in real time. AirSage utilizes cellular phone data for its traffic data offerings. Through partnerships with Sprint and Verizon, AirSage receives anonymized real-time data from cellular phone activity which the company provides to transportation planners and transit planners. AirSage provides origin and destination data, as well as speeds.
Cellular based traveler data also enables traffic managers and planners to see the movement of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as motorized vehicles Still, there are limitations: namely, that AirSage cannot tell what type of motor vehicle it is tracking.
We Know Where You’ve Been
But the most interesting new crowdsourcing data potential is from companies that aren’t even in the data aggregation business. Just as Google and Facebook have found data to be their most valuable assets, app providers like Uber and Strava, are discovering the potential value in the data they amass.
Earlier this year, Uber announced it would offer its data to cities, with the Boston the first recipient. Uber is offering this as a free service, likely in part as an effort to present a kinder, gentler image after a recent spate of negative press. Uber has also partnered with the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Program members can receive reward points for using Uber; customers who opt-in to Uber’s Starwood point program agree to giveStarwood access to their Uber activity.
This sort of data exchange has huge revenue potential for Uber, as it’s easy to imagine how many businesses would be interested in tracking the travel habits of Uber users. trava, a company that allows runners and cyclists to log and share data on their athletic activity has also found a way to turn its data into revenue. The Oregon Department of Transportation (DOT) is buying Strava’s data to better understand the routes used by cyclists. This is another way for cities and states to fill out their picture of mobility and provide better services for their residents. The potential for crowdsourced data is huge, and we expect to see more partnerships like these develop as transportation planners begin to grasp the full potential of crowdsourced data. You can also expect renewed privacy concerns, especially when the data comes from users who are not fully aware that they are opting in to share their data when they download an app.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Policy & Regulation, Smart Cities, Transportation Efficiencies
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