Smart mobility: Dublin uses real-time data to reduce congestion

Three things to note as you review this latest smart mobility success story from IBM:

1. Most observers think transportation is the single biggest growth sector in smart cities. The pain is so immediate. The frustration is so high. As a result, transportation projects have not just a rapid monetary payback, but a rapid political payback as well.

2. Projects often start with situational awareness as the first goal -- what's going on right now. But the real gold may be in predictive analytics -- what should we do next. Where should we add bus lines? What are the optimum start times and start locations? How can we take proactive steps to improve a traffic jam we know is about to occur?

3. Projects may start with emphasis on one mode or another -- buses or trams or autos -- but more and more cities are looking for ways to understand and improve the totality of their "mobility solutions." And that means understanding how different transportation modes interact and how to use them in combination to optimize mobility.

Jesse Berst – Chairman, Smart Cities Council


A smart mobility collaboration with IBM researchers is helping keep 1.2 million residents moving efficiently through Dublin's extensive network of roads, tramways and bus lanes. Integrating data from a citywide network of sensors with geospatial data means the city's road and traffic department is able to better monitor and manage traffic in real time.

“Until recently we had a fragmented view of the overall health and real-time status of Dublin’s transport network, making it very difficult to identify traffic congestion in its early stages because the causes of a delay had often moved on,” said Brendan O’Brien, Head of Technical Services, Roads and Traffic Department at Dublin City Council.

Now, Big Data streaming in from an array of sources – bus timetables, inductive-loop traffic detectors, and closed-circuit television cameras, GPS updates that each of the city’s 1,000 buses transmits every 20 seconds – helps build a "digital map" of the city overlaid with the real-time positions of Dublin’s buses.

With that digital map, traffic controllers in Ireland's capital city can see the current status of the entire bus network at a glance and rapidly spot and drill down into a detailed visualization of areas of the network that are experiencing delay.

With improved reporting in place, the data can help the city identify the optimal traffic-calming measures to reduce congestion and help answer questions such as whether the bus line start times are correct or the best place to add additional bus lanes.

“Constantly in motion, cities generate enormous amounts of data that can help officials deliver a better quality of life for its citizens and build competitive advantage with the right tools,” said Dr. Francesco Calabrese, IBM Research Manager, Smarter Urban Dynamics. “Dublin is becoming a smarter city by harnessing Big Data, extracting actionable insights from its transport data and delivering these instantly to decision makers so they can improve traffic flow and awareness of how to prepare for their future transportation need.” 

IBM, a Smart Cities Council Lead Partner, operates a research lab in Dublin that focuses on cities and advancing science and technology for intelligent urban and environmental systems through Big Data, analytics and optimization.