‘A mandate for change is a mandate for smart.’ This was the slogan under which IBM launched their Smart Planet Initiative five years ago. In an open letter on their website, the global powerhouse cites ‘the reality of global integration’ as the primary incentive for their new portfolio of offerings. The portfolio itself is vast and diversified. However, perhaps one of the most critical of these offerings is the Traffic Management System.
The necessity to alleviate traffic woes in metropolitan cities should need no backing argument. However, in a report titled ‘Global Commuter Pain Study’ IBM attempted to quantify the impact on citizens and the economy. In Nairobi, 35% of drivers indicated that they have spent three hours or more in traffic, and in Moscow, over 45%. 47% of all respondents said that they decided to forego a planned trip due to anticipated traffic at least once.
It is fast becoming apparent that any traffic solution cannot be horizontal in nature, i.e., building new roads or widening existing ones are often not practical, given economic and space constraints. Furthermore, given the increasing number of vehicles on the road any such solution would not be able to scale indefinitely. Therefore, smarter traffic management is not so much a style statement as much as it is a child of necessity. One of the earliest manifestations of such a system was the Congestion Charging System instituted in 2006 for Stockholm. Myriad sensors embedded in roadways, taxis and buses were used to gather real-time information about traffic on the ground. This data is mined and processed through capabilities like analytics to predict proactively and avoid congestion. A month after the system began operating, morning commute time was down by an average of 50%.
The IBM portfolio of traffic management services broadly categorizes into:
- Intelligent systems to allow people to alter their routes dynamically
- Greater ease in switching between various forms of public transportation
- Faster removal of road blockages due to damages or collisions
- Dynamic workplaces that allow the telecommuting flexibility
Consider the IBM Intelligent Transportation solution, which aims to provide a blanket solution for all of these categories. On one hand, the solution brings one integrated transportation system to increase situational awareness of current traffic. Collaborative tools such as cameras, radar, under-road loop detectors, Bluetooth, and mobile phone technologies are used to capture real-time data. This data is then churned through predictive analytics of historical data to predict conditions such as traffic speed and volume, up to an hour in advance. On the other hand, a separate system called the Intelligent Transit Analytics is used to improve public transit operations and commuter experience. A combination of the two provides a neat integrated Smart Traffic solution.
Another solution which is more targeted in nature is Integrated Fare Management. In cities around the world, public transportation options are available, but often underutilized. Commuters complain that using public transportation is inconvenient, especially if they have to interact with multiple payment systems associated with parking garages, subways, buses and the like during their commute. The integrated fare management solution is essentially a more intelligent fare collection system that attracts riders with conveniences and savings, while cutting operating costs. The system pulls information about customer payments from multiple transportation system operators, creating an interconnected system. This allows commuters to use a single smart card for all their transportation needs. The cards can even be extended to other areas, such as micro-payment, toll roads, building access control or attendance. This translates to improved service by reducing boarding times, creating shorter lines for ticket purchases and eliminating the need for correct change.
A number of solutions have already been deployed, and the results have been tabulated through filed case studies:
- Singapore Land Transport Authority – Gaining insights into rider travel patterns has enabled optimization of fare and schedule structures. This in turn has maximized ridership to minimize traffic congestion.
- New Zealand Transport Agency – IBM developed a Monitoring and Control Application (MACA), which is used to post messages on the VMS (Vendor Management System) and to monitor their status.
- Bucheon City – This growing city in Korea partnered with IBM Global Technology Services to conduct traffic surveillance through intelligent video analytics.