Taxi GPS data could unsnarl traffic in developing regions, World Bank says


Man trying to hail a taxi (via Flickr user Linh Nguyen)

Man trying to hail a taxi (via Flickr user Linh Nguyen)

Enlarge Photo

All around the world, streams of cars clog streets and highways, creating colossal traffic jams and putting continual stress on infrastructure.

In most cities, some portion of that traffic has typically been made up of taxis and, more recently, cars linked to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

But could these cars help solve the traffic problems they have seemingly created?

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That's the goal of the Open Transport Partnership, a program led by the World Bank and ride-hailing services Easy Taxi, Grab, and Le Taxi, which let users hail cabs using smartphone apps.

It seeks to use GPS data from taxis to decrease traffic congestion in developing countries, according to VentureBeat.

The initiative builds on a pilot program launched in the Philippines in April, with the goal of demonstrating how real-time traffic information could address congestion.

Rio de Janeiro scene

Rio de Janeiro scene

Enlarge Photo

That program used anonymized GPS data from 500,000 Grab drivers to illuminate traffic patterns.

A similar model will now be applied to other ride-hailing services in additional countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Malaysia.

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Driver data from participating companies is shared with local agencies to "develop better, evidence-based solutions to traffic and road-safety challenges," a World Bank statement said.

The program makes use of data that already exists, potentially providing officials with insight into urban traffic patterns without having to undertake costly dedicated data-collection projects.

Taxi sign in Trzcianka, Poland (via Wikimedia)

Taxi sign in Trzcianka, Poland (via Wikimedia)

Enlarge Photo

Alleviating congestion could in turn reduce emissions by cutting down on the amount of stop-and-go traffic, a driving condition that hurts the efficiency of internal-combustion engines.

By studying which routes see the most traffic, officials can also better target infrastructure improvements.

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A coordinated program on this scale has not been attempted in the U.S., but Uber has experimented on supplying data to cities for analysis.

Google-owned Waze also provides real-time traffic information to users through its app, performing a similar function for those individual users as the Open Transport Partnership does for city governments.

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