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East Asia and Pacific

What does Big Data have to do with an owl?

Nak Moon Sung's picture
This is the story of an owl, but not any owl. This owl is from Seoul and it came into existence thanks to Big Data. How come, you may ask? Well, read on to find out.
 
 Meet your new friend: the owl bus

Officials in Seoul had long searched for a transport system for low-income workers who commute late at night. Although a taxi ride was an option, it was a very pricey one, particularly for a commute on a regular basis. Low-income workers do not make enough money to take a taxi regularly, and taxi fares are considerably higher at night. Furthermore, since low-income workers tend to live on the outskirts of the city, taxi drivers often are reluctant to go there mainly for distance and security reasons. 

These were some of the big challenges faced by policy makers in Seoul, a city regarded as a champion of public transportation. So what to do?

Part of the solution was the analysis and utilization of Big Data to come up with a suitable mode of transport that would serve the specific needs of late-night workers. The result was the creation of the “owl bus,” which operates late into the night until five o’clock in the morning.

In this context, Big Data has a considerable potential application in the transport sector, and for infrastructure development in general. In fact, World Bank and Korean officials will discuss on Tuesday, May 28 the theme “Leveraging Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in transport for greener growth and smarter development.”

A simple technology with great impact on road safety

Nak Moon Sung's picture
Most of us have probably heard about black boxes, particularly when they relate to airplane crashes. But what about black boxes for cars?

Originally, black boxes in airplanes perform routine gathering and storing of data on all airplane operations during fly time. In the event of a specific accident or crash, the log data can be analyzed to determine or clarify the causes of an incident.
 
An example of black box
technology

A black box for cars is a video recording device with an acceleration sensor and a GPS receiver module. It can record any situation happening in front of a vehicle and store the information in the form of digital images into a built-in memory card. A vehicle’s black box is not a newly developed technology, but an application of existing video-recording technologies for the purpose of increasing road safety. This simple technology also has played a crucial role in solving or clarifying causes related to traffic crashes. Above all, the black box for vehicles has resulted in a decrease of traffic crashes, thus saving lives.

In South Korea, for example, taxi drivers first installed vehicles’ black boxes back in 2008. Since then, vehicle black boxes have been rapidly adopted by taxis throughout the country, under the sponsorship of local governments and insurance companies.

Road crashes have more impact on poverty than you probably thought

Nak Moon Sung's picture
Road crashes are becoming a global health crisis and, as such, require comprehensive measures to prevent them, including a better understanding of the social impacts of road-related deaths and injuries.

Several indicators aim to illustrate the impact of traffic crashes. The most common ones are the number of fatalities and injuries.  Globally some 1.3 million people die on the road every year and up to 50 million suffer injuries. And overall economic costs of road crashes range from 2-5 percent of GDP in many countries. These economic costs provide a basis for transport safety improvement projects such as hazard location treatments, road audits, school zones and other preventive measures.

It is important, however, to turn our eyes on the impact of road crashes at the household level.  The impact on a family in losing a loved one is enormous, both in terms of emotional trauma and/or loss of income or caused disability, especially when many poor countries do not have strong enough safety nets for victims of road crashes. The impact of road crashes is less understood, and lack of strong data or evidence on these is a challenge in many countries.

If a member of a family is involved in a road crash, what kind of changes are likely to occur in that particular family? If the head of household or breadwinner is killed or severely injured, the impact to that household can be devastating. There are scarcely plausible surveys that show the effects of road crashes on households because it is presumably difficult to trace victims of road crashes.

Ensuring universal access: Lessons from the field in China

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available in: 中文
Ensuring that urban roads are designed to be accessible to all users — particularly to users with mobility challenges — has long been a cornerstone of the World Bank’s urban transport strategy. But even if making urban roads more accessible involves relatively simple interventions such as building functioning sidewalks with tactile markings and curbside ramps, consistent implementation has not been easy.

Although the incremental costs associated with such upgrades are fairly negligible, attention to detail is paramount. That is not always easy, and the attached picture (at right) taken during an implementation support mission some years ago illustrates this challenge quite well — this ramp is not aligned with sidewalk and too narrow for a wheelchairs to actually use.  
 
Within that context, a project that took us to a series of medium-sized cities in North East China turned into one of the most memorable experiences of our careers. The Liaoning Medium Cities Infrastructure Project focused on rehabilitating and improving urban roads in five medium-sized cities of the industrial province of Liaoning. While on paper all the final designs complied with official accessibility requirements, the finished product often looked like the attached picture, with just enough askew to render the infrastructure unusable to many users. As the Bank team, we were struggling to get our counterparts within the city government to appreciate the issue. When we pointed out and followed up on particular issues, they would often see us as being nitpicky and somewhat out-of-touch with the gritty realities of construction in local conditions. 

Roads and the Environment: Lessons from the Yiba Expressway

Chris Bennett's picture

My last project in China before transferring to Europe and Central Asia in 2008 was the Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was a US$ 2.2 billion expressway through very challenging terrain, including the ‘Three Gorges National Park’. 
 
It was massive—as evidenced by the following:

  • 172 km of expressways and 35.4 km of inter-connecting roads
  • 148 bridges for a total length of 70 km
  • 75 tunnels for a total length of 61 km
  • 3.75 million m3 of earthworks
  • US$ 12.6 million/km
Faced with these challenges, including the longest tunnel of 7.5 km, the Hubei provincial government was concerned about the potential negative environmental impact of the project. These concerns were echoed by some at the Bank who I recall saying ‘why on earth would you want to put an expressway through a national park?’

The answer was quite simple. The expressway was going ahead with or without the World Bank’s involvement. The Hubei government wanted the Bank to assist them in making the project an example of how to construct an expressway through an environmentally sensitive area with minimal impacts. Management fully supported this and I was tasked with helping realize this vision, although unfortunately I was not involved with the implementation.

How should a city administration respond to the shared cab phenomenon?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @shomik_raj and @cataochoa
 
Smartphone apps are bringing massive changes to the taxi industry in ways that urban transport has not seen in a long while. From the US to China and Latin America (Bogota, Mexico), taxi alternative services have attained an impressive level of penetration in a short amount of time, often with great controversy. Indeed, many cities across the world are struggling with what to make of these services and how to regulate them.

While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.

Passengers of recently opened Wuzhou-Nanning rail line describe new opportunities

Gerald Ollivier's picture

World Bank Sr. Infrastructure Specialist Gerald Ollivier interacts with passengers on the new Wuzhou-Nanning rail line
During a supervision mission in May, our team had the chance to hear from railway users about the many ways in which the new rail line between Wuzhou and Nanning is already having an impact on their lives. Compared to the relatively theoretical ways in which we often assess and talk about railway impact (think "agglomeration benefits" or "improved connectivity and accessibility"), I found this experience refreshing and gratifying. For many, the opening of a new railway line brings about a host of opportunities, whether it is new jobs, the possibility of meeting more clients or meeting existing clients more frequently, a chance to visit relatives located far away, or maybe even an opportunity to do a bit of tourism.

The first half of the NanGuang railway line opened in mid April 2014. It is one of the six railway projects currently supported by the World Bank in China. It connects the city of Wuzhou to Nanning, two cities located 240 km apart, in the relatively poor autonomous region of Guangxi.  The train, a brand new Electric Motorized Unit (see picture below), is clean and modern. It cuts across a highly mountainous terrain, zooming at about 200 kph through many tunnels and bridges.

Transit-oriented development — What does it take to get it right?

Chyi-Yun Huang's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @chyiyunhuang and @shomik_raj
 
A recent trip to Addis Ababa really brought the imperatives of transit-oriented development as a complement to mass transit investments home to us. As a strategic response to rapid urbanization and growing motorization rates, Addis is one of several African cities currently developing public mass transit systems such as light rail and bus-rapid transit. Similar initiatives are budding in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and other cities in South Africa.

It is well known that transit-oriented development, or ToD, is a high-value complement to mass transit development. Compact, mixed-use, high density development around key mass transit stations can have the dual benefits of creating a ridership base that enhances the economic and financial viability of the mass transit investment and compounding the accessibility benefits a mass transit system can bring to a city’s residents. This is not to mention the intrinsic value in creating vibrant social gathering places for communities at strategic locations.

Air Traffic Surveillance – How can a Boeing 777 vanish without a trace?

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture
Nearly two weeks ago, a Boeing B777-200 of the Malaysian flag carrier Malaysia Airlines vanished with no trace. Flight MH370, the regular daily flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, carried 239 persons on board and was under the command of a highly experienced crew. The flight never reached its destination, and an unprecedented search for the overdue aircraft was launched. Initially the search concentrated on an area in the South China Sea where the last position was received. However, the search area was progressively enhanced covering the Bay of Bengal, large parts of the Indian Ocean, and several territories over China and Central Asia. NASA was involved to scan the earth surface analyzing every object over 30 meters, and even the public at large is invited to analyze satellite data on the internet.
 
Was the aircraft victim of an accident or was its disappearance a result of terrorism? Was it shot down, hijacked by intruders or the crew, did it ditch and sink rapidly as a consequence, or did it land successfully at one of the 634 runways on its theoretical pathways suitable for  a B777 to be stowed away and held for ransom? We might not know the answer to these disturbing questions for months and years to come. However, the travelling public is astonished to learn that the B777 of flight MH370 was not under active surveillance. How can it be that in times where anybody can be located homing on a cell phone a commercial airliner just gets lost?

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