Cell Phone Tracking Data Sold in Hopes for Better Decision Making: Transportation’s Future with Technology at The Congress of the New Urbanism’s CNU21
Rob Milam, Fehr & Peers
He began by lending us some perspective: If you were to purchase a hard drive with the intent to store all music ever recorded by man on it, you would spend just $600.
Milam presented his wisdom pyramid. From base to top, the pyramid was labeled: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. He said that the goal of wisdom is to make better decisions through data.
Step one: converting data into information.
Potential data sources include satellite images, cell phone data, GPS fleet tracking data, RFID, LIDAR, and social media.
Satellite images can predict sales via photos of parking lots.
Cell phones collect an immense amount of data, including data from apps. Airsage reports 15 billion data points are gathered every day from smartphones. Origin/destination analysis can be performed via cell phone data. Congestion, traffic speeds, and travel time can also be tracked. Transit location and ridership is also valuable information. Preferred bike routes can also be found via cell phone data.
Step two: creating knowledge from that data.
Questions to ask:
Who are the users of this system?
Why are they users of this system?
How can we better manage our network?
What’s the cost to implement and maintain this?
Are we confident in our recommendation?
Milam said that projections can be off by +/- 40%. He suggested that we all pay more attention to the accuracy of these projections, as these are the basis for many very important decisions. He argued that the models used to create a lot of projections are based upon “synthetic,” or assumed, data.
Step three: synthesizing the data.
Milam shared a couple tweets from a certain bus line in a recent study area:
“Alright bus. Let’s see if we can make it home somewhere near on time… Please?”
“Man on my bus: “I’m broke, I just got out of jail can I get a ride?” Bus driver: “sure” me: so scared.”
He said that this sort of tracking is also an opportunity to better target populations for marketing campaigns. For example, if people are making car trips along an existing rail line, ads on the side of the road may be more effective than anywhere else.
LOS, or level of service, emissions, and speed analyses can also be performed via cell phone data.
He told the audience that he’d like to see these tracking techniques more widely applied to pedestrian and bicycle travel in the future, but right now it’s not the norm.
Do you feel as though all of this tracking is for the better or does it creep you out?
Credits: Images and references linked to data. Pyramid graphic created by Aascot Holt.