The recent fire on an MTR train during the evening rush hour caused an MTR station to shut for hours. This is good reason why transport data is crucial to road users and the general public to plan travel routes particularly when accidents happen. At a city-wide level, transport data can support a government to plan a city’s smart transport system.
Service providers in the transport sector—Hong Kong Tramways, Uber, Didi Chuxing and Citymapper—gathered at a smart transport conference late last month to discuss transportation development trends in the big data era.
They agreed that the process of opening up transport data is still slow in Hong Kong. They urged the government to be open-minded on data sharing and use better analytics to develop a smart transport system.
Real-time tram service data
Hong Kong Tramways has already opened up its transport data to the public. The tram operator has shared its real-time tram arrival time data to transport app Citymapper.
“Technology disruption has pushed operators like us to become more innovative and efficient,” said Emmanuel Vivant, managing director of Hong Kong Tramways. “We developed our own big data solution to find the most possible and efficient way of dispatching our trams during a day.”
By sharing data with Citymapper, Vivant noted real-time tram data helps passengers minimize waiting times for trams and attracts them to use the tram service more. When a passenger selects a tram stop in the app, live tram data will show the destinations of the next three trams and countdown to arrival.
“If more live transport data is available from various transport operators, it will be easier for commuters to plan their routes and modes of transport to reach their destinations in the shortest time,” said Gene Soo, general manager at Citymapper Hong Kong.
Ride sharing data
Ride sharing companies Uber and Didi Chuxing have also opened up their transport data for public use.
“Open data fosters the development of innovative real life applications or products. It also helps town planners and governments like Hong Kong to formulate city planning,” said Kenneth She, general manager of Uber Hong Kong.
Like Hong Kong Tramways, Uber has partnered with Citymapper in Hong Kong. Integrating Uber’s open API into Citymapper app, Citymapper allows commuters to create multimodal routes such as combining Uber with MTR rides to save transportation cost or reduce travel times.
Aside from Citymapper, Uber has also collaborated with Hong Kong Science Park as a data provider in the latter’s Data Studio initiative. Uber has opened up its API for startups to use its real time transport data to build new applications.
Launched this February, the Data Studio is a portal for both public and private organizations and people to interact to develop smart city solutions backed by data.
Furthermore, Uber is planning to extend Uber Movement to Hong Kong but no launch schedule has been provided yet. Uber Movement is a website that uses Uber trip data to show how traffic is moving around a city via a heat map such as traffic conditions across different times. Uber’s data currently covers 450 cities including those in Australia and Singapore in the Asia Pacific region.
Didi Chuxing, a major ride sharing services company in China, has been using big data generated from its app to help the Chinese authority tackle traffic problems. The company works with the traffic management bureau in various cities such as Beijing, Guiyang and Jinanto leverage electronic traffic signs to give travelers real time information about traffic conditions like traffic congestion, estimated time of arrival etc.
“With our big data sets in China, we not only act as a data provider but also use algorithms and data mining technologies to help the government plan the whole transport system such as optimizing traffic light systems,” said Li Lin, regional director at Didi Chuxing.
Didi’s ride sharing services cover taxis, private cars, buses, minibuses and freight in China whereas only a taxi hailing service is available in Hong Kong.
Call for more open data & better analytics
The panelists agreed that the Hong Kong government is slow in opening up transport data for public use. The local authority should be open-minded on data sharing. Some of them urged the government to put pressure on transport operators to share their transport data.
“The government could push transport operators to share more data. At the same time, users should also be open to data sharing. This will enable a two-way channel to make local public transport system smarter,” said Vivant of Hong Kong Tramways.
Sharing the same sentiment, the panel moderator Charles Mok, who is also the Legislative Councillor for IT sector, remarked that the local government does not put much pressure on transport operators.
“The government could consider making transport data sharing a requirement for bus operator franchise renewal,” Mok said.
The government’s open data portal data.gov.hk currently contains transport data from Hong Kong Tramways and MTR Corporation. Bus operators like Citybus, KMB and New World First Bus have not opened up their transport data API to the public.
Apart from open data sharing, the panelists also hope the government will utilize big data to develop a smart transport system for Hong Kong.
“Take the existing three cross harbor tunnels as an example, the government is still using historical tools to assess traffic flow and set toll fees for each tunnel. It has to use big data analytics to make better policy decisions to optimize the use of all the tunnels,” said Mok.
“I hope the government can value big data as it has macro impact for the good of a society,” said Citymapper’s Soo.
Didi looks forward to collaborating with the Hong Kong government on utilizing big data in today’s shared economy. “It is important to consider what you are going to do with data and how you can leverage the best technology to make the most out of it,” said Didi’s Lin. “We are working with the Chinese government on that front, and are happy to work with the local government to add value to society.
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