How to use vehicle data from demand-responsive transit

Data is everywhere in cities, and it’s gold for municipal planners. Municipal authorities constantly collect real-time data about on-street activity like traffic flow via on-street cameras that count the number of vehicles passing a fixed point, etc. In larger cities, public bus services also often carry a GPS, which allows the authorities to know where the bus is at all times, which direction it is traveling in, and how fast. In smaller cities, however, authorities are often not able to cover the cost of equipping every vehicle, which means they miss out on a valuable source of real-time data.

When taken together, camera and vehicle data provide a better understanding of how infrastructure is performing, and how well traffic is moving (if at all) on certain streets. Transport planners can use this data to identify congestion hotspots or bottlenecks, configure services, and prioritize signal configuration or changes to lane configurations, etc. Combined with historical data, real-time insights also provide a before-and-after picture of how new infrastructure affects traffic conditions, through comparison of travel times and speeds then and now.

Leveraging data is at the heart of all Shotl’s demand-responsive transit (DRT) operations. As our baseline infrastructure for DRT includes a smartphone or tablet where to run the Driver App, automatically all DRT vehicles do have a GPS. But the value of DRT data goes beyond just allowing you to know vehicle location, speed, etc. Since routes are calculated dynamically by our algorithm in response to passenger demand, if a vehicle repeatedly avoids a specific street or area, this can indicate there’s an issue that needs to be investigated. By contrast, if the algorithm consistently favors certain routes, this can be an indication that other fixed services could be more efficiently routed along these streets. The more DRT vehicles circulating on the streets, the better the data you can collect.

As well as giving transport planners a more comprehensive overview of what’s happening on the ground, DRT data also benefits citizens. When inputted into publicly accessible platforms, feeds, and systems, it provides real-time information on the fastest way to complete a journey, and which areas to avoid, etc.

Of course, collecting vehicle data comes with certain challenges. For instance, while technology is improving all the time, data can be unreliable unless the GPS is pinpoint accurate. In Barcelona, for instance, where Shotl is based, we’ve detected issues with the GPS “jumping” from the bus lane to adjacent lanes on wider multi-lane streets. One way to overcome this is by using better-quality GPS. The other is by cleaning data before use, which is why our IT department performs this service as standard for all our DRT customers.

Of course, vehicle data is only one part of the puzzle. To get the whole picture, you need to factor in user data and demand data. We’ll be looking at the uses of user data in our next post on this topic.

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