A new initiative that uses GPS data derived from drivers on a number of e-taxi services has launched this week with a long-term view of improving transport services and easing traffic congestion around the world.
The Open Transport Partnership is a program being led by the World Bank, in conjunction with Uber competitors Easy Taxi, Grab, and Le Taxi, which collectively operate across dozens of countries, with a particular focus on Latin America and Asia. Other founding members of the partnership include Samsung’s open-source mapping community Mapzen, traffic data collection platform Miovision, mobile app development company NDrive, and research NGO World Resources Institute.
The new collaboration builds on the previously announced Open Traffic pilot program that launched in the Philippines back in April and sought to show how real-time data can improve traffic and road conditions in major conurbations. For the pilot, the World Bank developed an open-source platform that used anonymized GPS data from 500,000 Grab drivers, analyzing congestion patterns and travel times. The program was deemed a success, and now it will be opened up to other e-taxi companies and rolled out in new markets, including Malaysia, Brazil, and Colombia.
As part of the Open Transport Partnership, Easy Taxi, Grab, and Le Taxi will allow GPS data from drivers’ vehicles to be used under an open data license, with transport agencies in a number of countries given access to “develop better, evidence-based solutions to traffic and road safety challenges,” according to a statement provided by the World Bank.
“This is the first scalable open-source program of its kind,” said Holly Krambeck, World Bank senior transportation specialist, in a press release. “We want to empower lower-income countries to leapfrog a stage in their ITS development — and hopefully, support better transport outcomes in advanced economies as well.”
This isn’t the first time technology companies have donated data to improve city roads. Uber has previously partnered with cities such as Boston on experiments that use trip-level data, including date and time of trips, pickup/drop-off locations, distance traveled, and duration. Armed with vast pools of aggregated trip data, cities can analyze patterns and see how and when people travel, and can use this information when making decisions about road improvements, parking zones, and other traffic infrastructure projects.
Companies such as Google, its subsidiary Waze, and Microsoft have also been using big data to predict traffic jams, as well as harnessing real-time data to redirect drivers should an unexpected event cause congestion further along a planned route.
“It takes a long-term commitment to solve traffic congestion, particularly as public transport infrastructure in Southeast Asia is still developing to meet the needs of its growing urban population,” explained Anthony Tan, group CEO and cofounder at Grab. “These collaborations reflect Grab’s commitment to working hand-in-hand with governments to enable drivers and commuters to travel efficiently and safely.”
The main benefit of using data from GPS-based e-taxi services is that it’s easier to scale and gather large banks of information automatically. The alternative would be to manually collect data through data networks that are set up for specific data-gathering purposes, but that would be an expensive venture. It makes sense to use data that not only already exists, but is updated in real time.
“Through this collaboration, we can expect to see many dramatic changes in real-time routing services, both for the public and private sectors,” added Mapzen CEO Randy Meech.