Urban Engines combines an analysis of both spatial and behavioural data to help transit authorities and commuters on three continents to make better use of urban public transport.

Smart City: Software to Ease Urban Transport Congestion

Over half the world’s population now live in cities. By 2030, there will be five billion urban dwellers on the planet. This city expansion is throwing up new challenges for local authorities. However, there is now a worldwide movement towards the ‘smart city’, with initiatives focusing on energy – e.g. Solar Roadways – the urban habitat, and of course transportation. According to a recent analysis by global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the smart city concept is starting to take hold and many companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of the opportunities, among them California-based startup Urban Engines. Following two years of research at Stanford University, the Urban Engines team recently unveiled a software programme designed to reduce congestion on public transport.

Drawing on big data to improve convenience in public transportation

The Urban Engines software tool takes a dual approach to data gathering – drawing on existing data from city transit systems, plus behavioural economics data in order to create an overall picture. Using reports and graphic views, the software makes an analysis of how people use the transportation system to get around the city. The insights from spatial analytics, picking up detailed information on overall traffic – buses, trains, cars, etc. – then help to create a dynamic digital replica of the city’s overall transport system. This in turn helps the transit authority and passengers to make more rational use of existing infrastructure and facilities, providing a better service for users with more comfortable, and often shorter, journeys.  For example, based on the data analysis, the Urban Engines programme could advise a passenger to leave five minutes earlier or ten minutes later than planned and take a different, less congested, route to work or the city centre.

A collaborative system – more profitable, more sustainable

In addition, the Urban Engines programme encourages residents to support the initiative by sending in their data. A number of incentive schemes, including a reward system, have been set up. For instance, when a user agrees to follow the recommendations given for his/her journey, s/he is rewarded with a credit or bonus. Given the fact that the software tool draws its data from existing systems, such as electronic ticket barriers, and does not therefore entail any additional expenditure, it could prove useful for emerging countries wishing to climb aboard the movement towards the smart city. Urban Engines is currently trialling in Sao Paulo in cooperation with the World Bank, and also in Singapore and Washington DC.