Public Transit Goes Mobile

David Talbot reviews a new project that is using location data from mobile phones to improve public transportation infrastructure in developing countries:

Researchers at IBM, using movement data collected from millions of cell-phone users in Ivory Coast in West Africa, have developed a new model for optimizing an urban transportation system. The IBM model prescribed changes in bus routes around the around Abidjan, the nation’s largest city. These changes—based on people’s movements as discerned from cell-phone records—could, in theory, slash travel times 10 percent.

While the results were preliminary, they point to the new ways that urban planners can use cell-phone data to design infrastructure, says Francesco Calabrese, a researcher at IBM’s research lab in Dublin, and a coauthor of a paper on the work. “This represents a new front with a potentially large impact on improving urban transportation systems,” he says. “People with cell phones can serve as sensors and be the building blocks of development efforts.”