Traffic congestion does not just add stress to our already-stressful lives; it impedes economic development while increasing air pollution.
The question now is: what is to be done?
More fuel efficient cars, more public transportation, more ridesharing, more telecommuting are all good steps – but hardly enough. And it is clear that the traditional remedies for road congestion – adding a lane or building a new road – have proven to be just a temporary fix before congestion returns. Technology can help. For the first time in history, digital and physical infrastructures are converging. As a result, we are now able to understand large, complex systems that previously resisted investigation – systems as diverse as waterways, oilfields, and transportation networks. Transportation officials are now able to collect real time data on traffic conditions and instantaneously analyze that data and deploy strategies that minimize delays and congestion (see also here). Thanks to the proliferation of data-gathering devices on our roads and recent advances in business analytics – large volumes of data can be quickly synthesized and actionable insights extracted that allow for active management of our transportation networks to keep people moving more efficiently.
“About a quarter of the respondents said that gas prices would have to rise by 20-30% for them to seriously consider other forms of transportation.”
“If their commuting time would be significantly reduced, 53% said they would spend more time with friends or family, 44% would devote themselves to more recreation, and 42% would spend more time exercising. And 16% said they would work more (multiple answers were allowed).” See also graph below…
We need to understand that traffic is not just a line of cars: It is a web of connections. A real solution will look at relationships across the entire road network and all the other systems that are touched by it: our supply chains, our environment, our companies, the way people and communities live and work. Fortunately, today's technology can give us that kind of insight. Systems can provide transportation officials with detailed, real-time traffic information; sophisticated analytics of that information that can predict traffic jams; and thus planners can use the resulting insights to proactively deploy traffic management strategies that would minimize delays and congestion. Some examples of interventions include changes to signal timings, dynamic toll adjustments, incentives to change mode of travel, incentives for changing time of travel, etc. Such intervention can result in smoother traffic flow, reduced emissions and reduced delays.
Around the world, governments are relying on this kind of technology, in addition to traditional methods, to make big improvements in their transportation networks. For example, in Singapore, controllers receive real-time data through sensors to model and predict future traffic flows with 90% accuracy. Finally, we have to realize that this is not the problem of business, government, or commuters alone. It is a problem for all of us; and we must all work together to solve it. It is IBM’s hope that this report – together with the conversations we hope it generates – will contribute to that solution.