US: Cities Turn to Data to Improve Urban Traffic and Transit

Jan. 5, 2024
Accurate data that's open and interoperable across agencies and platforms is a lot of what public transit agencies and transportation departments are seeking from today's mobility tech providers.

Jan. 4—Accurate data that's open and interoperable across agencies and platforms is a lot of what public transit agencies and transportation departments are seeking from today's mobility tech providers. It allows for greater data ownership and increased integration opportunities with a variety of solution providers, said Leslie Langley, consulting manager at Trillium, an Optibus company.

"This approach increases the ability of transit providers to use their data as they see fit," she added. "For example, ridership data, if provided in an open and interoperable format, can be used for operation, reporting and planning applications."

The interoperability of data among transit agencies allows for improved scheduling and operations, leading to a better rider experience, say company officials.

"This is a dramatic change from five years ago, when software solutions were more commonly built as closed-loop solutions, forcing agencies to purchase redundant solutions," Langley wrote in an email. Cities are also looking for data at levels seldom dreamed of even a decade ago. Companies like Replica can provide data on transit users' race, ethnicity, age, income, family size, availability of a car and more sub-areas like electric vehicle ownership.

The data helps policymakers know whether investments and other efforts are "actually making an impact on the people who need it most, on historically disadvantaged communities, on historically marginalized communities," said Samantha Roxas, director of state and local public policy at Replica.

City officials exploring the idea of using Replica have wanted to know how this data can help them ensure a portion of new infrastructure funding coming from the federal government goes toward projects meeting Justice40 goals, federal requirements that these infrastructure projects target disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution.

"People don't have this information. They do have census information. But it's outdated. And so how can they access new information that is more accurate, and that they can report on accurately too? And show how they are benefiting from it," said Roxas. "I think the equity component is super important to cities."

Equally important to cities is that the data not step on the privacy of its residents. Cities will often ask about Replica's methodology to ensure personal identifiable information cannot be deduced.

"The assurances are really around, 'Can you reverse engineer it?'" said Roxas, which basically means, can the data be traced back to an actual person?

She said the answer is that it can't. "Because it's simply representative, as opposed to an actual one-for-one representation of a person."

Heading into 2024, government agencies have a better understanding of the data they need but may not have, said Crissy Ditmore, head of public policy for North America at Optibus.

"Many have updated their long-range plans to include data management approaches and ways to use their technology and data to improve the travel experience," Ditmore said. "At the end of the day, that's their most important measure. Safe and efficient travel is everyone's goal."

This article is part of a series looking at the gov tech companies bringing their expertise to areas seeing major growth in the market, which originally appeared in the January/ February 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.

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