According to a recent analysis by global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the smart city concept is starting to take hold and many companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of the opportunities, among them California-based startup Urban Engines. Following two years of research at Stanford University, the Urban Engines team recently unveiled a software programme designed to reduce congestion on public transport.
Urban Engines aim to make urban living better with software that powers the essential systems at the heart of every city, starting with transportation systems. Using spatial analytics and behavioral economics, Urban Engines helps alleviate urban congestion and ease the time and challenges of daily commutes. Part of the solution has come in the form of an incentive for passengers: if they registered their smart travel cards and commuted in the hour after these peak times, they may earn points which might be used in a raffle to win cash.
Urban Engines uses data from travel cards, for example, Oyster card in London, along with GPS data from trains and buses to draw up a detailed model of how the residents of a city move through their transport system. The results in turn showed where challenges lay. Drawing up this living profile in Singapore and the subsequent incentives resulted in a decrease of peak hour travel of between 7 percent and 13 percent, according to the company. The pilot study for the system was conducted in Bangalore where incentives such as lottery tickets were used to switch an estimated 17 percent of commuters from their regular pattern. Another study took place in Stanford. The system is now being used in Sao Paulo, Brazil to help manage the 17,000-strong bus fleet while it is in its early stages in Washington DC.
“Years of research at Stanford has shown that small shifts by commuters in the right places and at the right times might relieve congestion,” said Balaji Prabhakar, co-founder and Chief Scientist of Urban Engines, and Stanford Professor and Director of the Stanford Center for Societal Networks. “With the launch of Urban Engines, we’re taking that learning to the real world and hope to impact the urban landscape at a global scale”.
Cities are currently home to half of the world’s population, expected to grow to 5 billion people by 2030. This places an increasing importance on city transportation systems and their citizens. Urban Engines is generating high standard insights, reporting, and graphical views displaying how commuters move within transportation networks across time and location. With this insight, city transit officials may make better use of existing infrastructure, improve city planning and operations, and deliver shorter and more comfortable commutes for citizens.
“As urbanisation continues to challenge regional transportation systems throughout the world and particularly in developing countries, we need sustainable, cost-effective solutions. Urban Engines’ work offers potentially revolutionary solutions for addressing the challenges of commuter congestion through incentives and data-driven insights. Urban Engines is already impacting cities and commuters around the world as the company has implemented its software for major cities, including Sao Paulo in cooperation with the World Bank, Singapore, and initial deployment in Washington DC.” says Shomik Mehndiratta, the World Bank’s Lead Transport Specialist for Latin America.
Shiva Shivakumar, co-founder and CEO of Urban Engines, has said, “We’ve proven over the last few years that the combination of insights and incentives generated by Urban Engines are able to highlight congestion hotspots and shift supply and demand to make urban commutes better. We’re operating in cities on three continents with millions of commuters making billions of trips per year and we’re just getting started.” Urban Engines investors include many important business investment players, led by Google Ventures and supported by Andreessen Horowitz, Eric Schmidt, Ram Shriram, SV Angel, Greylock Partners, and Samsung Ventures.
How might Urban Engines software help the City of London if it was implemented?