Cellphone data proves to be valuable tool in reducing traffic congestion, says study


The first large-scale traffic study to track travel using anonymous cellphone data has debunked some common myths about preventing traffic tie-ups in urban areas, according to a news article posted on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website. Researchers found that reducing the number of cars on the road with public transportation, carpooling, flex time and telecommuting is not the best fix.

The study by researchers at MIT, Central South University in China, the University of California at Berkeley and the Austrian Institute of Technology leverages data from drivers' cellphones to show that the adoption of these alternatives by a small percentage of people across a metropolitan area is not very effective. Nevertheless, if the same number of people from a carefully selected segment of the driving population chooses not to drive at rush hour, it could reduce congestion significantly.

The study, published in the Dec. 20 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrates that canceling or delaying the trips of 1 percent of all drivers across a road network would reduce delays caused by congestion by only about 3 percent. However, canceling the trips of 1 percent of drivers from carefully selected neighborhoods would reduce the extra travel time for all other drivers in a metropolitan area by as much as 18 percent.

In the Boston area, researchers found that canceling 1 percent of trips by select drivers in the Massachusetts municipalities of Everett, Marlborough, Lawrence, Lowell and Waltham would cut all drivers' additional commuting time caused by traffic congestion by 18 percent. In the San Francisco area, canceling trips by drivers from Dublin, Hayward, San Jose, San Rafael and parts of San Ramon would cut 14 percent from the travel time of other drivers.

Because the researchers' new methodology requires only three types of data — population density, topological information about a road network, and cellphone data — the authors of the study say it can be used for almost any urban area. Anonymous cellphone data was used rather than survey data or information obtained from  Census Bureau travel diaries because both are prone to error due to the time lag between gathering and releasing data and the reliance on self-reporting, according to the article.

For more:

-read the MIT article

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