São Paulo city government trials Big Data to improve public transport

A project in partnership with the World Bank wants to take bus management at the Brazilian capital to the next level

The city government of São Paulo is carrying out trials to improve the management of the local bus fleet of 15,000 vehicles by using data analytics.

Financed by the World Bank, the project is using technology supplied by Google-backed US startup Urban Engines, which provides both operators and officials of São Paulo's transport authority SPTrans with a comprehensive view of the buses and their ridership on a real-time basis.

Bus management in São Paulo is a resource-intensive exercise: to find out whether buses are on time, as well as the number of passengers riding on each journey and other operational details, the city relies on the data gathered by thousands of transport authority agents. That information takes time to be processed and decision-making - such as penalties applied to bus companies failing to deliver - is consequently delayed.

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The dashboard produced by the Urban Engines system is fed with travelcard and GPS equipment data gathered from July to September 2013 and provides minute-by-minute information of where buses are located, vehicle capacity and how many passengers have boarded in each stop.

According to Urban Engines, the service provided to SPTrans is a "space-time" engine - a platform architected to process many billions of movement data points and provide a granular level of insight to improve urban mobility.

"As people and objects move through cities generating data in unprecedented volumes, Urban Engines' space-time engine can help cities and other customers optimize operations and provide better experiences using analytics derived from this "Internet of Moving Things," a company representative said.

Work with SPTrans around the mapping, visualization, reporting, and analytics of bus fleet was carried out over a sample period of "several months," according to Urban Engines. The total cost of the trial and the full-scale project is not being disclosed, but the company says its pricing is based on a software-as-a-service model "and scales with the needs of the organization."

If the transport authority considers data analysis necessary to improve bus management in the city, a procurement process will follow. Going forward, the idea is to work with data that is a couple of weeks' old.

The São Paulo city government has been trying to use technology to improve urban mobility, with recent initiatives such as hackathons focused on developing applications focused on the provision of public transport, as well as a fleet of new Internet-enabled buses.

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