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Beijing to monitor real-time traffic through cell phone tracking system

The proposal to build a new platform that will collect real-time traffic information in Beijing by tracking cell phones, has been approved by an expert panel. The first phase of the new system is expected to be rolled out by June. According to the deputy director of the Social Development Department of Beijing Municipal Commission of Science and Technology, Li Guoguang, the ‘Beijing Residents Real-time Travel Information Platform’ will be based on the location data of more than 17 million China Mobile subscribers. Whenever a phone is switched on, the location registration with base stations will be collected and then aggregated, giving a real-time view of crowd and traffic movements. Transport operators and city planners will then be able to use the information to optimize transport arrangements, particularly for the public transportation network.

With a population of 20 million, Beijing has been plagued by traffic congestions in recent years. A study in 2008 estimated that the jams cost the city US$18.3 billion (RMB120 billion) each year. A 2010 IBM study put traffic in the city as the worst in the world, together with Mexico City. Travel information was previously collected through a household survey every five years. Government employees interviewed 50,000 residents from a randomly-sampled pool. Information collected would include travel frequency, origin and destination, time used, means of transport, as well as details of transit for a normal journey. In addition to being time-consuming and error-prone, the surveys have not been able to reflect the rapid changes to the city and its infrastructure. The surveys will no longer be necessary with the introduction of the cell phone-based system; saving the government sustainable amounts of money and human resources.

The first phase of the new system will be implemented in the residential districts of Huilongguan and Tiantongyuan, which each have more than 300,000 urban residents. It is expected to be completed by June, with Yizhuang, a high-tech zone to the south of the city centre, next in line for implementation. The government will look to customize the aggregated information and feed it back to citizens, in order for them to make travelling decisions based on real-time data. The expert panel that approved the proposal also suggested that the platform should be linked to other departments’ applications, in order to provide support for better city management.

 

March 7, 2011

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