Traffic woes call for better analytics

update New survey reveals commuter pain despite improvement in global traffic congestion levels, with many citing negative impact on work performance, IBM says, adding advanced analytics way to go.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--Despite an improvement in traffic congestion levels globally thanks to better transportation infrastructure, commuters worldwide have not experienced a corresponding drop in stress levels, a new study has revealed.

According to the IBM 2011 Global Commuter Pain Survey released Thursday, respondents in many cities indicated that road traffic raised their levels of stress and anger as well as negatively affected their performance at work or school. Compared to 2010's findings, the increase in negativity resulting from traffic commuting was significant in many of the cities, Big Blue said.

Some 8,042 drivers and public transport users in 20 cities were surveyed this year, the fourth time the commuter pain index has been compiled. Five of the cities--Bangalore, Beijing, New Delhi, Shenzhen and Singapore--are from Asia.

Delving into the effects of commuting woes, IBM noted that drivers and public transportation users in emerging markets were more likely to report that traffic negatively impacts their stress levels, physical health and productivity. For instance, 87 percent of respondents from Shenzhen identified traffic as a key inhibitor to work or school performance. Eighty-six percent of Beijing-based commuters said the same while over in New Delhi, it was 70 percent.

According to IBM, IT has a part to play in solutions to the traffic problem. Technology that allows traffic planners and commuters to access information real-time and react with agility, is already prevalent. However, advanced analytics is also needed to understand traffic patterns and how they will evolve in future.

"We cannot simply build our way out of congestion no matter which city," said Duncan Ashby, industry leader for intelligent transport solutions at IBM Asean, in a statement. "In order to improve traffic flow and congestion, cities need to move beyond knowing and reacting; they have to find ways to anticipate and avoid situations that cause congestion that could turn the world into one giant parking lot."

Traffic predictions to "pre-empt" people
At a media briefing Thursday afternoon, Ashby pointed out the importance of advanced analytics such as traffic prediction, which can aid in the move from reactive to proactive solutions and help optimize existing assets.

Pankaj Lunia, regional manager for smarter transportation data at IBM Asean, explained that data is collected through sensing and metering and integrated in real-time. The new information is then compared with historical data to create insights for action and decision-making.

Advanced analytics hence have the potential to "pre-empt" people and "push information out to them based on data collected", Lunia told ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the media briefing.

"This helps people visualize and make better decisions about traffic commuting leading to [a reduction in] frustration and…greater convenience," he said. "This allows them to do two things--prepare for the situation and avoid it."

Ashby added that advanced analytics will benefit the "whole transport ecosystem" including transport enterprises, governments to end-consumers. He cited examples of how an ambulance will be able "find the fastest way" to reach an accident and how people can plan alternative routes if "they note heavy traffic somewhere".

"No one size fits all"
There are, however, still challenges where traffic management using technology is concerned, Ashby told ZDNet Asia. One aspect is data quality as that "differs from city to city".

Each city, he stressed, has its own unique challenges--the traffic situation in Bangalore, for instance, will be different from Singapore's. Because "no one size fits all", advanced analytics solutions ought to be developed specific to the needs of a particular jurisdiction.

"It is important to adopt commuter-centered approaches and provide personalized, available anywhere, real-time and accurate information," Ashby said. "More accurate and timely road conditions information will reduce travel stress for relatively lower investment than building public transport or new roads."

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