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GIS as solutions for urban transit problems

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Wang, Shang-Wei
Wang, Shang-Wei
Taipei City Department of Transportation

An intelligent transport information system has become essential in managing traffic in megacities. Taipei City DOT Commissioner, Wang Shang-Wei, shared details of their geo-enabled Advanced Traveller Information System that serves the city’s 2.6 million populations’ mobility needs.

What are the issues facing urban transit today that can be addressed by geospatial technology?

Nowadays, construction of additional road system and roadside transportation facilities is not a primary way to solve traffic problems. In the case of limited land resources, transportation information collection, processing and application has become an important means to solve traffic problems. With popularisation of smartphones, providing real-time traffic information by using Geographic Information System (GIS) has become a solution for urban traffic problems. An urban GIS integrated with Location Based Services (LBS) can provide real-time local traffic information for users. Combination of Global Positioning System, Geographic Information System and wireless data transmission can determine the location of the user and provide the corresponding traffic information.

How is Taipei City’s Department of Transportation incorporating geospatial technology in its processes?
Since the launch of computerized traffic controls in the 1990s, Taipei City Department of Transportation (TCDOT) has gradually introduced various advanced technologies, in hopes of optimizing Taipei’s intelligent transportation system around the city.

In 2006, we developed “Taipei City ATIS Web,” providing various traffic information, such as bus information; travel time estimation; road speed limit information; parking lot information; CCTV; CMS; YouBike (Taipei Bike Sharing System); and so on. Presenting the real-time traffic information requires the system to work closely with spatial data. In order to reflect the real time traffic data, we need to set up detailed photo/picture database on every main road sections, roadside units, parking lots, bus stops, bus routes and other necessary information. On top of that, we also embed GPS units in buses and record the travel routes.

To be more exact, the GIS service provided by the city includes real-time traffic information such as, dynamic bus information, parking availability information, YouBike parking availability/ number of vacant space and real-time traffic information for other private transportation.

How do you ensure public access to the information provided by your department?
We provide multiple ways such as telephone, website, mobile app, roadside facilities (intelligent bus stop, CMS, VD, CCTV), kiosk, traffic information access service, and so on. For example, the ITS provides e-Bus services. Passengers can access real-time bus information through the 5284 “I Love Bus” website or smartphone app “Fun Travel in Taipei” before their trip. While waiting for the bus, the intelligent bus stops provide estimated times of arrival and help passengers better manage their time. With GPS embedded announcing system, passengers on the bus are alerted on the name of the stops from where they boarded and those passed by through both the voice broadcast system and LED text display.

You also provide real-time dynamic information. How is information collected in real time?
The Taipei City Traffic Control Center was established in 1989. This pioneering traffic control center in Taiwan takes charge of signal control at intersections and use VD (Vehicle Detector) to gather road speed. CCTV and CMS are controlled by the central control system.

The e-Bus system integrates advanced technologies and devices (OBU, GPS, wireless communications, and etc.) to collect real-time bus location updates and other data. After the data are processed by the control center, an estimated time of arrival is announced.

By recording every cars going in and out to the parking lots, the parking lot guidance system calculate the remainder space. Citizens can look up locations of parking lots in advance via internet. They can also check the locations and number of spaces while on their way by reading the parking information guidance billboards alongside the roads.

You have recently implemented the Web-GIS platform Advanced Traveller Information System (ATIS). Tell us more about it?
From 2005 to 2006, TCDOT integrated the ITS projects including traffic control system, e-bus system, and parking lot guidance system into one information platform of advanced traveller information service (ATIS) and established the “Taipei City ATIS Web”. The features expansion and maintenance of ATIS Web continued from 2007 to 2012. From 2007 to 2009, e-mail traffic and bus reporting system were added besides the information content expansion to the eight cities and counties in northern Taiwan. In 2010, widget inquiries and development of smart phone software were added. In 2011, the system was improved with web-based interface for specific web pages to be cell phone and PDA friendlier. In 2012, the general web user interface was improved with addition of bus and road rate diagram version query.

Till now, the “Taipei City ATIS Web” provides various traffic information, such as bus information, road speed information, parking lot information, CCTV, CMS, YouBike, construction area, traffic incident, weather, and so on. “Taipei City ATIS Web” also provides PDA web version for non-smartphone users.

Different kinds of traffic information, like MRT services, cab services, parking spaces, belong to different units. Are these units forthcoming in sharing this information?
Since 2006, Taipei City ATIS Web has compiled real-time traffic data from the Fire Bureau, Traffic Engineering Office, Parking Management and Development Office, Public Transportation Office, New Construction Office and other agencies under Taipei city government through negotiation. The data exchange method, the exchanged data format and contents will be decided and implemented after both parties have reached an agreement. In addition, data from the National Freeway Bureau, Central Weather Bureau, Tourism Bureau and units under other county/city governments will be acquired through formal application procedures (i.e. application forms).

How can geospatial technology contribute to cost effectiveness / profitability?
The traffic display system provides most efficient and convenient road information, helping drivers avoid congestion and plan a better itinerary. Citizens can quickly find parking spaces by checking the locations and number of vacant spaces on the parking information and guidance billboards to save time and petrol cost. In aspect of bus information, geospatial technology also reduces citizens waiting time, making them less anxious. For a public department, the implementation of GIS technology will provide a better control of traffic conditions and allow the department to react quickly to ease out congestions. This will also allow authorities to take precautions on traffic bottleneck points.

What are the challenges you face in the implementation of geospatial technology?
Internally, the biggest challenge for the implementation would be data maintenance. GIS is closely related to the use of spatial data, therefore if the latest data is not updated to the system, wrong information will be passed on to the user. The coding process of GIS has a high technology requirement, therefore maintaining and updating spatial data would become the biggest challenge especially in terms of expertise. On top of that, in order to provide service to the users, clearly showing the data on electronic map and allowing the user to operate and use the service easily would also be vital to the success of the system.

Transportation segment accounts for a significant amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions in a city. In such a scenario, how can geospatial technology help reduce environmental load off transportation? Are there any initiatives by Taipei City’s DOT in this direction?
Energy conservation and carbon reduction have been made a priority in Taipei city’s transportation development. By promoting public transportation, the daily average number of passengers of city bus and metro has an increase of 22% in recent 6 years. In addition, cycling is both energy-saving and pollution-free, while being a great exercise. Taipei city is now setting up more Youbike (Taipei Bike Sharing System) lease sites and will be run by automated management systems, making it possible for citizens to rent bicycles at one location and return them at another. The system also announce the locations of rental service booths, real-time available bicycles and parking spaces through websites and smartphone app. Using bicycles to service the last mile, the system aims to increase the use of mass transportation system, as a means to protect the environment, conserve energy and create a new commuting culture in Taipei city.