Besides providing efficient transport solutions, the land transport authority of Singapore (LTA) has embarked on various innovative traffic-related solutions, including crowdsourcing, PPP models and open data framework. Rosina Howe-Teo, Group Director, Innovation & InfoComm Technology Group, elaborates how the agency is planning to leverage business intelligence technology and advance real-time analytics to mine big data and derive new insights to enhance business decisions
What are the activities and mission of the Singapore Land Transport Authority?
The Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) was set up under the Ministry of Transport to spearhead land transport developments. The primary role of LTA includes planning, designing, construction, management and maintenance of the transit systems, roads and related facilities. LTA acts as an agent for the Singapore government in the administration, assessment, collection and enforcement of various taxes, fees and charges, and other services relating to land transportation. Our mission is to provide an efficient and cost-effective land transport system for different needs.
Singapore is a small island country with limited land resources. Keeping this in mind, how challenging is it for the LTA to plan and manage road transport infrastructure?
Singapore has seen incredible growth and progress over the years. With a population of over 5 million, the LTA thinks continuous improvement of the public transport system is an imperative. LTA’s commitment to enhance the commuting experience has translated into initiatives like building new rail lines, introducing new bus routes and raising taxi service standards.
Given the small size of the country, we want to make public transport system more attractive and compelling so that it becomes a first choice for the commuters. This is also in line with the government’s blueprint of promoting sustainable transportation to achieve a cleaner, greener transport system with lower environmental footprint.
The centre of the LTA’s GIS infrastructure is the Data Hub, which manages more than 70 layers of road and rapid transit system features. How do you manage such large amount of data?
One key success factor for managing the GIS data hub is the establishment of LTA’s Data Management Framework managed by senior officials to drive key data initiatives, including the appointment of data owners, harmonisation and classification of data and usage of data. Through the Data Management Framework, LTA has put in place an enterprise metadata taxonomy, a well-defined information structure and data access policy to promote datasharing and open data as a strategic goal of the organisation. The framework has provided a common platform for open discussions and close cooperation among the user groups in resolving conflicts in a timely and efficient manner and enabling joint development, both within and outside the organisation.
However, we faced challenges like bringing numerous interest groups together and negotiating to streamline multiple data management processes, formulating an enterprise data dictionary for consistent interpretation of the GIS information as well as to establish ownership to measure accountability, data quality and accuracy.
With increasing population and travel demand, traffic information has become a ‘must-have’. What kind of real-time facilities do you provide to your commuters?
My Transport.SG is the LTA’s mobile service which provides a comprehensive and one-stop solution for mobility needs of the commuters, motorists and cyclists. The app allows users to personalise and choose their favourite services, receive updates on the latest real time traffic and disruption news. The app also informs the users about the latest events and promotions near them. Whether checking for the next arrival time of a bus, looking for parking in town, or getting an update on the traffic condition, commuters can now check all of their travel options to decide on how to reach their destinations. The app also reduces waiting time at bus-stops, and cuts down on traffic congestion since drivers can be apprised on the availability of carpark lots in popular buildings in the city before they embark on their journey.
LTA has experimented with crowdsourcing. How successful is your Snap&Send@MyTransport app? How do you plan to extend this initiative in other spheres?
The Snap&Send app allows the public to take photos of roads with defects such as potholes, faulty streetlights, footpaths, traffic lights and wrong signage using smartphones. LTA then takes remedial action based on these photos. Using the embedded geo-location information from the photo, LTA engineers quickly conduct a visual assessment on the road defect, pin-point defect location and recommend appropriate treatments. The use of photo geolocation data and spatial analytics has enabled us to better analyse road defect occurrences and adjust its maintenance regime accordingly. It has also enabled us to reach out to more remote parts of Singapore.
LTA adopts a private-public-people partnership model for most of its initiatives. This approach has yielded significant returns as we are able to concentrate on what we do best while leveraging on the nimbleness of the private sector to offer innovative solutions.
Transport data is openly shared with the community on a cloud computing platform. There is our datamall@ mytransport service to facilitate community cooperation and collaboration in creation of innovative applications and services by leveraging on the LTA’s data. Journey planners and other such applications give commuters access to integrated mobility information on the go, anytime, anywhere, on any device. We sponsor the local annual programming competition ‘code::XtremeApps::’ to encourage local developers and young innovators to participate and create traffic-related applications that will improve the daily commute by making smart use of LTA data.
Our work with industry partners helps integration of transport data into high-impact consumer applications, furthering location-based services and innovative applications. One such notable collaboration is with Google for Google Transit & Traffic, Singapore. We have embarked on future research collaborations with renowned research institutions such as the MIT, Stanford, ETH Zurich together with local institutes of higher learning to explore long-term transport planning and behavioural studies. The aim is to glean insights for better demand management and expansion of Singapore’s land transport network.
How do you ensure that your workforce is adequately skilled and updated to innovate and use these technologies?
Our staff development effort includes both classroom and on-the-job training. One key strategy of implementing an agile GIS infrastructure to support dynamic changes in organisational needs is the formation of project team comprising representatives from user departments and IT GIS team. This project structure has served us well in providing a platform for the teams to gain good understanding of the domain knowledge as well as business issues and to appreciate the complexity of the technology. The user-groups will define the business requirements and business rules and the IT GIS team will architect the technology infrastructure required to support these business needs as well as ensure compliance with technology architecture standards. Over time, both teams have developed respect and strengthened their partnerships in handling complex issues that arose from time to time.
Singapore LTA has set an example by leveraging GIS technology for transport management. How according to you is your system different/evolved from traffic management systems in the developed countries like the US, Europe or Japan?
LTA has evolved from leveraging technology to enhance its operational efficiency to delivering effective public service, whether it is in the form of speedy transactions that are paperless and hassle-free, to disseminating useful information to public on any device or channel of communication and allowing third-party access to real time information and create new value-added services. Our aim is to engage all groups of citizens and partners to take part in the active development of an interactive transport community that can generate innovative and personalised services.
In response to the accelerated pace of public transport service delivery, our plan is to further leverage business intelligence technology and advance real-time analytics to mine big data and derive new insights to enhance business decisions. Going forward, we are planning to merge GIS with big data analytics to create impactful visualisation tools to support national decisions on strategic policies of transport plans as well as to develop our capability in applying predictive algorithms to aid operational effectiveness as land transport management becomes more dynamic.