Economic progress can seem like a double-edged sword – we relish the opportunities for career and lifestyle choices offered by our expanding cities, but urban transportation woes can sometimes make us wonder if it is all worth it.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its establishment – and there is much to be proud of. In simple economic terms, Asean’s gross domestic product growth over that period, from $37.6 billion to $2.6 trillion, has set the region firmly on the path to advanced standards of living. But this progress has undeniably come with a price.
Traffic Woes in Jakarta
Among our region’s great cities, Jakarta has been cited as the one with the world’s worst traffic.
With no rapid transit system and a public bus system that carries just 400,000 people a day, the capital’s streets are hit every workday by 9.9 million cars, motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles, according to the Jakarta Transportation Agency, with nearly 2 million of them driving in from neighboring cities in West Java and Banten.
The statistics are jaw-dropping – it can take two to three hours to drive 40 kilometers to the center from Bogor in West Java, the largest of the satellite cities. Seventy percent of the city’s air pollution comes from vehicles, and the average resident of Jakarta spends 10 years of their life in traffic. And it’s getting worse – the city’s 9.5 percent average annual growth rate of motorized vehicles far exceeds the 0.01 percent increase in road length achieved between 2005 and 2010.
In a dire prediction, it had been forecast that without a major transportation breakthrough, the city would have complete traffic gridlock by 2020. However, after 40 years of discussion and 25 different studies, construction is finally underway on Jakarta’s $1.7-billion metro line. When completed, the rail-based Jakarta MRT is expected to cover over 108 kilometers, including 21.7 kilometers for the North-South Corridor and 87 kilometers for the East-West Corridor.
The first phase of the North-South Corridor, a 15.7-kilometer stretch with a mix of elevated and underground stations, is scheduled for completion in 2019 and will serve 212,000 passengers per day, eventually reaching a maximum of 960,000 per day.
The Jakarta administration also sees the bus rapid transit system as a means to relieve the pain suffered by commuters. In 2004, Jakarta became the first Southeast Asian city to launch a BRT. The TransJakarta busway system uses a fleet of diesel and compressed natural gas-powered buses to serve passengers on a 193-kilometer network that includes a 12.9-kilometer fully physically separated median busway corridor through the city center.
Outside the city center however, the same old problem arises – commuters trying to get to and from the outer cities of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi find that the dedicated lanes stop as soon as they leave the city limits.
The operators of both the BRT and MRT have stated that seamless integration of the two services will benefit both parties, and Jakarta’s long-suffering commuters may hopefully be looking towards a brighter future.
The Jakarta administration has recognized that the city’s transportation nightmares are a serious threat to the functioning of the city, and it has finally taken steps to follow Singapore’s lead in developing mass transit projects. However, private automobile traffic is not going away anytime soon, and one challenge faced by city is how to manage it and how to integrate it into a comprehensive urban transit system.
Poster Boy – Singapore
The poster boy for urban traffic management is definitely Singapore, which in 1998 pioneered the world’s first electronic road pricing (ERP) system. This congestion pricing system automatically deducts the toll via a prepaid in-vehicle unit, electronically triggered when the vehicle passes under a purpose-built gantry.
Singapore is now field-testing another world first – an ERP system based on satellite navigation technology instead of physical gantries. The system will have island-wide coverage, and will charge for actual distance traveled. It can also facilitate coupon-less street parking and will provide all road users with real-time traffic information through an intelligent onboard unit.
The benefits to road users and authorities alike from such an advanced system are clearly enormous, and the key to making it possible is our growing ability to gather and analyse massive quantities of data.
Transportation and traffic management make a perfect subject for big data analysis. The real promise of this burgeoning technology in the transportation sector is its potential to enable a truly comprehensive city-wide transit system, embracing and coordinating public and private, road and rail.
Elements of such applications are already underway. In addition to improving the flow and regulation of private automobile traffic, transport authorities around the world are using data analysis to manage and improve mass transit systems, both bus and rail. Applications include everything from accurate ridership forecasts, to route planning and frequency, to cost-saving maintenance schedules.
The intimate understanding of customer behavior and journey plans furnished by big data allows authorities to plan for additional services on the routes, such as conveniently located retail stores. It also lets the transit authority tailor communications with each individual rider to notify them of any service changes, upcoming events or weather issues that may impact service, or even provide targeted advertising.
The overall improvement in the commuter’s journey experience delivered by the insightful use of big data will lead to enhanced customer satisfaction and help increase train ridership, while providing authorities with new revenue sources.
Learning From Others
A significant element of the costs of any mass transit system is maintenance. By leveraging big data, authorities can predict optimal maintenance requirements of the equipment – whether trains and their tracks or bus assets.
Data from the sensors installed on the equipment can be analyzed faster and at a more granular level. This helps predict upcoming faults at the individual component level such as brakes, a stretch of rails etc. Authorities can then schedule maintenance of the equipment at precisely the right time, optimizing cost and minimizing disruption.
One public rail transport provider in the United States has successfully deployed big data to schedule its equipment maintenance with astonishing results – mean time to failure of the equipment has been reduced by almost 90 percent and equipment life increased by 200 percent. This has further improved customer safety and satisfaction, enhanced equipment utilization and reduced operating costs.
In another example, the Metro Transit of St. Louis (MTL) had always taken maintenance seriously but lacking detailed data on how bus components were actually performing, maintained vehicles retroactively. It replaced parts after they failed, or simply bought new buses.
This approach assured passenger safety and service reliability, but the team suspected that it often replaced parts or discarded entire buses even when replacement was not necessary.
MTL turned to big data analysis to better predict when a component on a particular bus will fail, allowing them to proactively service the bus prior to any component failures.
The results have been spectacular – the average time between bus failures has improved by a factor of five. MTL was able to run the buses for much longer, thereby increasing the return on investment in their fleet. Previously, buses were being retired after 56,330 kilometers per year at 12 years, but now MTL is able to continue using the buses up to 113,000 kilometers per year at 15 years. This is a double improvement on mileage and 30 percent increase in bus lifespan.
These improvements in vehicle maintenance have saved St. Louis area taxpayers more than $2.5 million per year.
Possibilities Are Limitless
If it is judiciously deployed, big data analysis has the potential to transform the transport systems of Southeast Asia’s megacities – delivering a positive impact on the environment, the economy and the quality of citizens’ lives.
Imagine a time when our cities can boast efficient, cost-effective mass transit buses and trains combined with well-managed highways and streets for private traffic! Given a combination of political will, financial resources and big data analysis, this scenario could be nearer than we think.
Kamal Brar is a vice president and general manager of Asia Pacific at Hortonworks, a big-data software company based in Santa Clara, California.