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Real-time data helps manage traffic in Philippines

OpenTraffic smart data platform provides free GPS information for better analysis of travel speeds and journey times in Metro Manila and Cebu City

Traffic management agencies and city planners in the Philippines will soon have access to real-time data to better manage traffic flows on the streets of Cebu City and Metro Manila.

The World Bank, Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Grab, a third-party ride booking app provider, have launched the OpenTraffic initiative to address traffic congestion and road safety challenges.

The World Bank and Grab have been developing open-source tools that translate Grab’s driver GPS data into anonymised traffic statistics, including speeds, flows and intersection delays. These statistics feed into big data open source tools such as OpenTraffic.

In the near future, traffic statistics from OpenTraffic will be fed into another application, Data for Road Incident Visualization, Evaluation and Reporting (Driver), to identify road incident blackspots and improve emergency response times.

“Using big data is one of the potential solutions to the challenges faced by our transport systems. Through this we can provide accurate, real-time information that can help alleviate traffic congestion and improve road safety,” said DOTC secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

In March 2016, the World Bank and DOTC trained more than 200 government staff from the agency, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Cebu City Transportation Office on the use of the OpenTraffic platform.

There are plans to make OpenTraffic available to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) city governments in the near future.

“By leveraging advances in open-software and big data collaborations with companies such as Grab, transport managers and city planners can have access to the most advanced congestion management analytical tools available,” said Mara Warwick, World Bank country director.

The studies that will be conducted during the pilot include: Peak hour analysis along key corridors, which can help to design effective travel demand management policies; and the dentification of road incident blackspots, which can help to identify and prioritise high-incidence areas for interventions and improvement.

Managing traffic in real time

Road congestion is a major issue in the Asia-Pacific (Apac) region, said Gerald Wang, head of Asia-Pacific government and education at IDC.

The use of real-time data for traffic management in the Philippines will help city planners to improve transport efficiency competencies. It will also provide commuters with real-time traffic updates, which allows them to make the most informed decision to navigate city traffic challenges, said Wang.

Enforcing road safety policies would require strong cross-functional collaborations across city departments, such as the central city administration centre, transport, public safety and healthcare agencies, added Wang.

While getting data from taxis and vehicles for traffic management is not new, it is a step forward for the Philippines government to establish such partnerships, said Qiao Li, senior market analyst of big data and analytics research at IDC.

Collecting data across Asean

Meanwhile, other Asean countries such as Singapore and Malaysia have embarked on collecting traffic data.

Land-scarce Singapore has been gathering data from its taxis and buses for insights, said Li.

The island state leverages intelligent transport systems to tackle road congestion and safety. It also uses an electronic road pricing system to deter motorists from using congested central areas during peak hours through congestion pricing.

The next-generation of the electronic road pricing system in Singapore will be launched in 2020. It aims to disseminate real-time traffic information to individual drivers based on their location.

“Collaboration needs to go beyond data and technology. The insights will be of little value if they are not acted on. The city departments need to ensure that they set up operations to fully leverage this data,” said Li.

“For example, traffic police have to ensure their resources are optimised, so they can respond to road incidents issues immediately when they receive the real-time insights,” she added.

Read more about smart cities in the Asean region

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