Archive for the ‘transportation’ Category

Greener Streets Thanks to GPS?

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Nitrogen oxide and reactive hydrocarbons from motor vehicle exhaust make up the majority of urban pollution. This, along with ever increasing congestion, has prompted Dutch legislators and environmental activists to attempt to change driving patterns. The Nederlands government has decided to abolish its annual road and car purchase tax for drivers and instead to charge the average car 0.03€ per kilometre driven, and an even higher rate for driving done during rush hour or periods of congestion. For larger automobiles, trucks and commercial vehicles, this charge will be even higher, considering that these motor vehicles emit more pollutants. The kilometre tax will increase every year until 2018 (when it will reach 0.068€), and will be augmented if driving patterns do not change. But how will the government monitor how much each individual is driving and during which times? By using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology. By 2012, a monitoring device will be installed in every car in the Netherlands and will track the amount of kilometres traveled, the time of travel and the location of the vehicle. This information will then be sent to a billing agency.

The Dutch government is pressed to do something about vehicle use, because their road network has some of the most congested and often used roads in all of Europe. With the GPS technology in place, the Dutch Ministry of Transportation hopes that congestion will decrease on roads during rush hours, and there are already estimates that overall driving will decrease by 15 percent and that rush hour congestion will be halved. On top of this, the ministry also hopes that car accidents will decrease by 7 percent due to less stressed drivers, and that carbon emissions will decrease by 10 percent. There are several opponents in this debate, because firstly, people who drive for business reasons will be heavily taxed, and it could cost the government over 1 billion Euros ($1.5 billion US) in tax income that would otherwise be earned by an annual road tax. At the same time, some argue that the GPS system will be like “Big Brother” –-constantly monitoring the locations of drivers at all hours. However, the Ministry of Transportation has assured the public that the information from the individual GPSs would be “legally and technically protected” and that the data would only be available to the government for the purpose of kilometre billing.

Other countries are also considering this option as a way of reducing car use, but it must be remembered that the Netherlands is roughly the size of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and, unlike Canada, has an extensive and highly developed public rail and transportation network. This means that commuting from rural to urban areas or vice versa is far less of a problem than it would be in a Canadian city. If this kilometre tax were to be implemented in a city like Toronto for example, those living in rural areas and being forced to commute into the city would often have no choice other than to drive, there being no alternatives available. At the same time, it has not yet been talked about what occurs when an in-car GPS system breaks down. And what happens when the noise, bias or blunder errors from GPS are so bad that individuals are being charged fines that do not correspond to the number of kilometres they drove? Lastly, GPS satellites are owned by the U.S. military. Without an agreement or contract, the Dutch government cannot be sure that this service will be available to them forever and at all periods of time. Despite these possible problems, it is good to see that governments are finally taking serious action to decrease the use of motor-vehicles, even if this means accepting a little help from Big Brother.

Thanks, MV, Intro GIS

getting smart about transit with GIS

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

a set of insightful questions from Intro to GIS student, JR

Where are the best places to live if you want to minimize the time and environmental impact of your daily commute? Is it easy to live without a car in neighbourhood ‘A’? Partial answers have popped up in the geoweb, but I can hardly wait for more comprehensive analyses of such issues to be put in the hands of the online public.

Take, for instance,, which rates how walkable an address is, based on the distance to nearby amenities culled from the Google Maps local search function. The site has ranked the 40 largest U.S. cities according to the walkability of their neighbourhoods. (The top 3: San Francisco, New York, Boston.) The maps of these cities with heat map overlays of walkability are not only fun to explore, but they can also easily narrow down where you’d want to live – assuming you’re relocating to one of these American cities. These nifty maps have not been produced for other, international locations, but at least the site will perform the actual calculation for addresses (or coordinates) in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. using Google data (which means that some of us can roll up our sleeves and get scraping). Of course, the calculation is only as good as its algorithm and data quality, both of which could use improvement.

845 Sherbrooke Street West? A walk score of 90 out of 100 – a walker’s paradise. There’s no doubt that living in a walkable area (but not at school) has obvious health, environmental, and economic advantages. But what about public transit options?

Public transit data was a recent addition to Google Maps, but Google is not going to tell you the most convenient places to live (not yet anyway). Check out the drool-inducing, travel-time maps here, produced some time ago by the non-profit Yes, those are travel-time contour lines drawn with publicly available transit data, which are then made interactive. The overlay of housing prices is an eye-opening start.

Where is the user-centred geoweb app for this kind of analysis? What would be the impact of accessible, accurate visualizations of all urban transport options? I think we might collectively smarten up on our transportation choices and reduce our addiction to fossil fuel. Perhaps it would influence the shapes of our neighbourhoods. I hope a proper data display would also make necessary public transport improvements obvious to everybody, also exposing possible dubiousness of spending decisions on transportation by local governments.

An environmentally friendly world, made possible with GIS

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

From another student in Intro GIS

Move over Al Gore. Applications of GIS are saving the planet from imminent environmental disaster too! Recently, in efforts to reduce the estimated 375 000 commuters on the road daily, the Washington D.C. based Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) has improved its system for matching potential car poolers, with help from GIS technology. According to officials, 80 percent of commuters drive to work alone three or more times a week, but only 17 percent use some form of ride sharing (which includes public transit, car pools, walking and bicycling.) The economic and environmental benefits of taking only one commuter per day are enormous: 43 less pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and savings of $26 in overall transportation costs.

A new web site funded by the CTDA, enables commuters to connect with other travelers who are on the same roads each day and interested in ride-sharing while simultaneously saving the environment and reducing traffic congestion. The service is very consumer friendly, allowing details about driving, smoking and gender preferences to be customized. Spatial data comes into play with the free matching system, the central function of the web site. The system allows you to pinpoint information for a physically proximal match before making contact, using data bases with primary keys such as first name or e-mails to guarantee confidentiality. Its geographic system, similar to “Google Maps,” instantaneously identifies and displays a map with potential car-pool matches proximal neighbourhoods or along desired routes.

The implications of this web site are enormous. The average commuter, for some reason or another, tends to have reservations and anxieties toward car pooling, especially with strangers. The effortlessness of finding someone from your neighbourhood who is going the same direction as you means that there is no longer an excuse! Everybody should be able to take at least this one small step toward a more environmentally friendly and economically efficient future of sustainable commuter habits. With the ever rising price of gas and the floundering economy, I guarantee the success of this project, and it’s inevitable duplication in other cities. Good on ya, spatial data!]

[sieber — an eHarmony for carpoolers?]

Moving, Changing Ads: GPS and Buses

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

h/t student in Intro to GIS

Soon, Chicago’s buses will sport 50-inch digital display screens, enticing passerby with geo-specific advertisements that change from street to street. On September 22nd, the Chicago Transit Authority unveiled its 10-year plan in partnership with the advertising sales company Titan Outdoor to implement 1,500 of these “moving billboards” on 100 city buses and in all CTA rail stations. For now, a lone bus on the No. 124 Navy Pier route is testing the system for about another 1.5 weeks (the test began on October 18th, so it will total six weeks in duration). CTA is using this test to get a better idea of the display screens’ durability and power consumption.

The system uses cellular signals to transmit ads directly to the screens, while GPS technology allows advertisers to target their ads towards specific geographic points along a bus route, based on passerby demographics and store locations. For example, as a bus passes by a university, it might flash advertisements for laptops, cell phones, pizza, cheap beer, or whatever else we students are supposed to like. As the bus moves towards a shopping boulevard, ads for handbags and perfumes might prevail. To give you a sense of how detailed the ads could be:

For instance, an ad on the side of the bus for a shoe-store chain could say, “Three blocks ahead: Buy one pair of shoes, get the second pair half off.”

The CTA predicts the initiative will earn them about 100 million dollars in revenue over course of the ten year plan. This is good news for the public transit users of Chicago, because it means that a rise in fares is unnecessary and unlikely in the near future. For those on foot, the experience is a bit less pleasant: I don’t think anyone enjoys feeling categorized, targeted, tracked, and then distracted by carefully chosen advertisements that flash and change as they pass. Oh, the wonders of GPS!

It’s not all about marketing, though. The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications would have access to the screens, and could use them to broadcast Amber alerts, street closings, and emergencies such as fires or floods. In addition to ads, the screens in the CTA rail stations would display when the next train will arrive. So, although the ads are obnoxious, if the test-run proves successful these screens will become an important and efficient source of revenue for the CTA. They will benefit the general public by providing an interface for broadcasting emergencies and practical information across the city.

use your iPhone to get out of your car and use public transport

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Seattle Metro (Washington State) has just announced Tracker Map View, a JAVA applet that shows you bus locations in real time. This, along with their Commute Calculator eases your way out of your car and into public transportation.

If you’re like me, you wait until the last minute to catch the bus. No worries, the system will send you an alert when it’s time to leave the house.