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Smart City Mobility Sensing

train passing by a station platform

According to Fraunhofer FOKUS, an information and communications technology (ICT) research firm, “the public transportation system is the lifeline of a smart city.” As cities implement congestion charges and other deterrents to driving, citizens increasingly recognize the value of sharing public transportation resources. Public mobility is at the heart of urban life.

Smart Cities Mean Smart Mobility

City mobility faces several challenges. Transport infrastructures are limited by space and existing resources. As traffic increases, existing traffic management systems are often inadequate. Parking spaces are limited and frequently difficult to find, which wastes time and fuel. A growing number of public trains, buses, and shared bikes all need to be maintained, repaired, and checked. Plus, to meet environmental goals, we must reduce CO2 emissions.

One smart solution is the Internet of Things (IoT), where objects send and receive data over the internet. Cars, buses, trains, bikes, traffic lights, tickets, and parking spaces can all be digitized to create an integrated information flow between the citizens, the objects, the organizations that manage them, and the governments that make mobility decisions. The next development here is the Internet of Moving Things. According to GreenBiz, “the real long-term potential lies in the data generated by sensors being installed on cars and transportation infrastructure, which could be tapped for new insights on fleet management, heavily-trafficked corridors, peak drive times and other transit metrics.”

From Information to Insight

IoT data is changing the world of mobility. But numbers-based information only provides half of the city’s story. At Citibeats, our mission is to turn information into insight. Our machine-learning technology processes natural language data from sources like social media. We go beyond the numbers to track citizens’ opinions, concerns, questions, and feelings.

Citibeats Technology Adds Human Meaning to Mobility Data

IoT city sensors raise questions that Citibeats answers. For example, the data says there was a 10% increase in parking shortages in a particular neighborhood. Why? Should city leaders invest in more parking? By analyzing what citizens say, we might find out that this is due to a one-off concert and no action is needed. On the other hand, we might see that this is a top mobility concern for citizens and it’s worsening each week. This lets city leaders make sense of problems and make smarter decisions.

But Citibeats does more than detect issues; it also anticipates them. When things are going well, it’s time to focus on future issues and predictive maintenance. In some cases, we might see that citizens’ top long-term concern is confusing road signs in a specific area or a lack of trains at a particular time of day. The Citibeats dashboard categorizes and compares priorities, tracks sentiment spikes, and identifies the most representative opinions on a topic.

Case Study: Barcelona

In December 2017, Citibeats analyzed 30,000 mobility-related Tweets in Barcelona to understand the concerns of over 15,000 citizens. Here’s what we found.

Public transport is the top mobility concern for citizens of Barcelona, mentioned in 49% of mobility Tweets.

The single biggest public transport concern during this period was an increase in train ticket prices. Many citizens felt the increase was related to the political crisis at the time.

Citizens also had positive things to say about mobility. The positive conversation mostly revolved around local taxis: Barcelona residents showed support for local taxis and sought to campaign against Uber and Cabify. Around 38% of sentiment expressed about taxis was positive—the highest of any mobility category. But overall, 29% of transit sentiment was strongly negative, suggesting room for improvement.

In the Barcelona mobility case study, the data highlights the need for better ways to communicate and manage public transport price increases and to tap into citizens’ support for local transport, like taxis. This kind of information allows city leaders to truly listen to their citizens. By tracking transit issues beyond the numbers, leaders can understand how city residents feel and act to build smart, mobile cities.