There are heaps of first world problems delivering a stable set of nuisances to us every day. Without doubt, waiting for a delayed bus in early November at a discouraging 8am is one of them.
In today’s mega-connected era it has never been so easy to give in to the temptation to let the world know about our disappointing experience. As we take out our phone in the sprinkling rain we give a short glance around the crowded bus stop and see the fellow passenger (to be-s) are doing the same.
A two-way street with a few bumps
Consumers are eager to raise their voice; they don’t shy away from sharing, demanding, or seeking attention. Transport providers and traffic management centres use the new media primarily to promote, as a mean of customer service or at best as a travel alert system. There is a very visible gap here.
We have to understand that this is a two-way street. Passengers along with TMCs have the opportunity to share real-time traffic information via social media. The issue arises when the passengers themselves are the source of information and the TMC has to decide on whether it is reliable enough to share with the community. Right now, many of these data cannot be regarded as a reliable source and have to be verified with other data sources, like surveys, sensors, pictures and so forth. It’s simply too much of a hassle and in the end many TMCs do not use these data at all.
The power of the crowd
On one hand, it’s a pity, as these data have the potential to unlock a great pool of information that can help in designing and planning a better traffic system all together. Many of the providers are gathering data from ticketing systems, traffic lights or customer surveys, but fail to see the value of data derived from social media. It is a simple beauty that makes crowd sourced data so popular among the most various industries: it is provided by the crowd to solve the problem of the crowd.
On the other hand, you have to take into account the human factor: the one that will share spoofs, the one that accounts for misuse, and abuse of the system.
It’s definitely not easy to balance these two, but an app called ‘CrowdAlert’ is trying its best to do so. Part of the EU-funded project, INSIGHT, the app permits users to send alerts and feedback on traffic incidents happening around them along with gathering information from more traditional sensors on the road and in vehicles. Launched in Dublin, users can report on various events from earthquakes and floods through accidents and construction to traffic jams. The users receive alerts if there is an incident, and if their location is recorded in the vicinity also asked to answer a few questions, like: “Is there an accident nearby?” or “Is the bus lane congested?”. A little incentive never hurts, in some cases Dublin City Council may offer small rewards for the users’ efforts such as parking credits. The way CrowdAlert bypasses the spoof factor is by asking users to confirm an incident and add any details rather than logging them in.
Another interesting concept, developed by the Royal College of Art, Commonplace and Transport Systems Catapult is sentiment analysis and mapping. Sentiment analysis is the ability for a computer to understand whether the tone of a text is more positive or negative. Sentiment mapping adds a location to this information.
In brief, if a passenger posts a message that they are running late because of the bus service, a sentiment map will know that this text was written in a negative tone and also the exact location of the comment.
Source: Screenshot from http://commonroute.commonplace.is/twitterVisualisation
If we zoom out this can mean that the transport centre can have an accurate picture on where most of the issues keep travellers frustrated, or which are the ones that make them happy, or at least un-frustrated. You can focus on your hubs, long-lasting construction sites or conduct short pilots on potential new lines.
A bit further down the road we could start thinking about re-defining the relationship between passengers and public transport companies. Citizens are already taking up a much more active role in the traveling experience than before. No wonder, spending hundreds of hours on the local transport network every year will involuntarily trigger some action.
The transport system won’t change overnight and it seems optimistic to believe citizen engagement could shape traffic planning in the near future with the help of social media. But listening makes for a good start.