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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.”

​Using open tools to create the digital map of Cairo’s public transit

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
Follow the authors, Tatiana (@tatipq) and Diego (@canaless) on Twitter 

The first step in any transit planning process involves understanding the current supply and demand of transit services. In most of the countries where we work, understanding the supply of services is a messy, costly and lengthy process, since most cities have little knowledge of bus routes, services and operational schemes.
Having a digital map (GIS) and General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) details of a network allows a transit agency to do better service planning and monitoring, as well as provide information to its users. A traditional GIS software approach often requires a team of consultants and months of work.  Last month, however, we were presented with the challenge to use innovative tools do the same work in less than two weeks.
This was our first visit to Cairo, Egypt, and there we were tasked with the goal of mapping the city’s entire bus network (approximately 450 formal bus routes) in order to conduct an accessibility analysis with our new Accessibility Tool. At first hand this task seemed daunting, and a few days after arriving we were not certain that we could accomplish it in two weeks.
Before our trip, we had agreed on a somewhat flexible work plan, laying out an array of potential open-access, free tools that we could use depending on the scenarios we would encounter, mostly dependent on the availability of data.

How does this investment help accessibility for this metropolitan area’s poorest 40 percent?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Accessibility analysis is an essential element of understanding cities and public service delivery. Activity‐based accessibility measures relate to the distribution of activities (for example, jobs or schools) in a given space, and the ease of reaching these activities. This type of measure directly relates to the qualities of a multi-modal transport system (e.g. transport network, speeds and costs), but also includes the qualities of the land‐use system (e.g. distribution of land uses, and thus activities), and allows for a spatial temporal multi-modal analysis based on changing land uses.

Accessibility offers a powerful lens to assess how a mobility system is serving an urban area. For example, road congestion is a more severe constraint in a dispersed setting with few transit, walking and cycling options (such as the Atlanta metropolitan area), compared to traditional mixed-use downtowns (such as New York City), where residents can access jobs and other opportunities walking, cycling and using mass transit. 
Block-level measure of job access within 60 minutes by public transport

Accessibility indicators are not just conceptually powerful – they are also easy to operationalize: the number of jobs accessible within a 60-minute timeframe is a popular and powerful indicator to evaluate how well the mobility system is serving a particular spatial area, or group of people (such as the most vulnerable).

“Smart mobility” for developing cities

Ke Fang's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @KeFang2002

In many developing cities, transport infrastructure – whether it be roads, metro systems or BRT - is not growing fast enough, and cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demand for urban mobility. Indeed, constructing urban transport infrastructure is both expensive and challenging. First, many cities do not yet have the capacity to mobilize the large amount of funds needed to finance infrastructure projects. Second, planning and implementing urban transport infrastructure projects is tough, especially in dense urban areas where land acquisition and resettlement issues can be extremely complex. As a result, delays in project implementation are the norm in many places.

Therefore, solving urgent urban transport problems in these cities requires us to think outside the box. Fortunately, the rapid development of ICT-enabled approaches provides a great opportunity to optimize and enhance the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.

Use, transparency and reuse – how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Also available in: Español

Follow the author on Twitter: @shomik_raj

On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of participating in three events that really brought home the transformative power of the open data and open source eco-system that is becoming an ever more important element of our work in transport.

First I joined the Secretary of Mobility for Mexico City to inaugurate an open data-based system for alerting public transport users in this city of 8 million of any disruptions to the city’s multimodal transport system consisting of an extensive metro system, a suburban rail line, 5 lines of the Metrobus Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), an electric trolley system, as well as a substantial publicly operated bus system.  The alert system was built using open-source software on an open standardized data set of schedules supported by the Bank last year (read more about that initiative led by my colleague Catalina Ochoa).  Not only does this service deliver value for Mexico City commuters immediately, but it also allows any other city that has its data organized in a similar standard GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) format (over a 1,000 cities do) to use the same code developed for Mexico City off GitHub, a web registry.  Moreover, the open standardized formats let developers in Mexico City or elsewhere build apps that use this information. The market for these applications is potentially global, spurring innovation for user-oriented applications in public transport: there are already many hundreds of GTFS based applications.

Open Data + Urban Transport = ?

Holly Krambeck's picture

For fun, suppose you were a software developer, and you came up with a terrific idea to communicate public transit information. For example, imagine your city experiences frequent floods, and you have devised an automated system that sends SMS texts to passengers, advising them of alternative transit routes during emergencies.

How much revenue do you think you could earn for that software? How many people could you positively impact?


What if I told you that today, by taking advantage of one tiny revolution in open data, you could take those numbers and multiply them by 350, turning $100,000 into $35 million, or 1 million people into 350 million? Sounds pretty good, right? If you are in international development, sounds like a promotion…