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April, 26th 2011

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Brian Cotton Frost & SullivanBy Brian Cotton, Frost & Sullivan

On April 13 IBM announced the Smarter Traveler, a pilot service developed with Caltrans and the California Center for Innovative Transportation at UC Berkeley.  On the surface, Smarter Traveler appears to be a smartphone app to help commuters avoid congestion before they actually begin their commute – but it delivers much deeper value.

More than just a navigational aide, it uses real-time data on road conditions to predict congestion and alert commuters of potential delays in their usual route.  In the future, one can envision Smarter Traveler proposing alternative routes or even alternate forms of transportation with related data (such as arrival times of trains and availability of parking at the station).  On the back end, this data can feed into a centralized traffic management system, to help transportation system operators understand, predict, and manage traffic across a city or region.

The true potential goes way beyond that.  Smarter Traveler could be part of a public-private partnership model built into an intelligent transportation system (ITS) strategy that takes the problem of the congested city and benefits three stakeholder groups in the center of ITS:  Commuters, regional transportation departments and municipal governments, and mobile communications service providers.

A Government Fix without a Tax Increase

Government would certainly benefit from the service.  Using an ITS strategy to energize a city’s well-being by promoting a smooth, safe, and secure journey clearly helps the government fulfill its mandate.  However, deploying an ITS can mean a large expenditure, often funded with public money.  Nevertheless, city leaders are developing an appetite for public-private partnership models, and Smarter Traveler is the type of service that would be integral to such a scheme.  Using the ITS, the government can not only extract data and intelligence from the service to better manage its transportation system, but also make it available to a communications service provider partner to run a Smarter Traveler service. The government can charge for this data and revert those funds back into the ongoing deployment and operation of the ITS, essentially fixing congestion without raising taxes.

An Instant Success for Cellular Providers

Cellular service providers play in highly competitive markets and a ‘hot’ service can mean multiple market share points.  Using traffic data and intelligence provided through a government’s ITS, cellular providers could easily deploy a Smarter Traveler service to their subscriber base.   This would undoubtedly need to be an opt-in service, giving the government and cellular providers permission to share ITS and location data on individual subscribers in order to address location privacy concerns.

Assuming a market is in a city with congested traffic, a Smarter Traveler app or service that eases the pain of the daily commute for millions of subscribers would be an instant success.  A portion of this revenue could conceivably be shared with the government operating the ITS, funding the collection, processing, and maintenance of the data, which could make the system self-sufficient.

A Commuter’s Dream Come True

The commuter is the obvious beneficiary of a Smarter Traveler service.  Apart from saving time and increasing safety, it has the potential to dramatically improve the end-to-end experience of the commute.  Frost & Sullivan’s Global Urban Mobility tracking study shows that commuters around the world are least satisfied with the speed/time of their commute, with a root cause of insufficient capacity in the system.  A Smarter Traveler service, delivered over a smartphone, can alert commuters to traffic jams and crowded trains, enabling them to adapt their commuting behavior to optimize commuting time.  By suggesting alternate routes, it can also take the guesswork out of the commute, which is a commuter’s dream come true.

Smarter Traveler is a technology that can be a critical link in a public-private partnership, which delivers value to all parties in its ecosystem.  I look forward to the day when it shows up on my BlackBerry.

Brian Cotton is a Vice President in Frost & Sullivan’s Global Information and Communication Technologies Practice, and is responsible for the Group’s North American Growth Consulting business.

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glad to know that finally there’s a smartphone app that could help commuters avoid congestion before they actually begin their commute,..I have no idea about this until i have read this…

Posted by: Dianne Llanos
April 26, 2011
5:35 pm

I think that the initiative isn’t only about traffic alerts to commuters; it is more about an extension of a city-wide/regional traffic management system. Smarter Traveler is designed, I understand, to interface with a city-scale traffic management system. It’s as much about helping transport managers deal with multi-modal congestion, as it is about recommending alternate ways to work during rush hour.

The PPP question is a big topic and something I’m going to write about in the near future. But, a big barrier centers on trust: Government trusting business to advance the governance mandate; business trusting government to let it do them do their jobs without stifling oversight. Modern business models and technology are better able to preserve trust than older models, and outsourcing has validated PPPs to some extent. Government is motivated to look for help in today’s atmosphere of austerity, and will enter into PPPs, as long as they can trust the private entity to whom they will transfer some measure of authority.

Posted by: Brian Cotton
April 26, 2011
12:14 pm

Are navigation apps that show real-time traffic conditions on mobile phones or GPS devices removing the need for initiatives like this? I already have a free map/traffic app showing congestion on my Android.

If not, what are the biggest barriers to developing such public-private partnerships? The lack of regional coordination of transportation in the U.S.? The sluggish and politically-charged government procurement process?

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