While smartphone-toting commuters are embracing crowd-sourced apps in order to keep updated about bus schedules and potential traffic jams, government agencies are discovering how they too can ‘hitch a ride’ on such technologies to access transport data that will ultimately aid in smarter infrastructure decision-making and improved customer experiences.
Traditional methods of communicating with transportation users, such as paper maps and flashing signs, are quickly being replaced by ‘crowd sourced’ applications that tailor their services and alerts to a user’s location, route, and transportation preferences.
The growth of these technologies is disrupting the historic transportation dynamic between agency and public, evolving it into a nascent, three-party relationship between application developer, user/general public, and government agency – be it a department of transportation, transit agency, or municipality.
These apps, such as Waze, Inrix, and Citymapper, rely heavily on real-time, often user-generated, data. While some apps are crowd-sourced from commuters reporting incidents via the apps, others source real-time transport data (schedules and incidents) from databases maintained by public authorities.
Given the mounting pressures and economic impacts of traffic congestion and aging infrastructure, transportation and transit agencies are looking for ways to use data-driven insights to make ‘smarter’ asset management decisions. In the midst of the buzzing landscape of interactive apps, crowd-sourced data provides an opportunity to mine this data to understand the needs of those who actually use this infrastructure. If seized upon, an agency’s efforts can translate into improved rider or driver satisfaction and maximized, but sustainable asset utilization.
Approximately 115 agencies in the United States, and a number of agencies in the United Kingdom and Canada, have developed partnerships with application companies. The relationship can be a two-way street – while transportation agencies gain access to real-time traffic information, the applications also receive input from public data sources to which they may not normally have access.
The benefits of public-private partnerships are many:
While crowd-sourced transport data yields much potential, governments and public agencies face a number of equally-sophisticated challenges to utilize and integrate this data into their existing systems:
Transportation agencies acknowledge that they may currently lack the technical knowledge and expertise to best utilize their data. Many are calling for help develop the necessary organizational bodies, procedures, and policies to create and maintain strong and successful partnerships.
By taking a thoughtful approach to understand the potential – and the pitfalls – of crowd-sourced transport data, governments can form effective crowd-sourced partnerships, and apply data-driven insights to enable better infrastructure planning, resource allocation and user experiences.