Phone-based congestion measurement app pilot-tested in Bogotá


Bogotá Mobility Secretariat (SDM) has partnered with ClearRoad to run a three-month-long pilot in the City of Bogotá, Colombia to test the feasibility of a phone-based application to measure congestion, manage traffic, and provide data on congestion pricing strategies.

The pilot, called ParceGo, is looking to improve traffic management, reduce GHG emissions, and improve the lives of residents.

In 2021, Bogotá was ranked as the 8th most congested city in the world, according to the Inrix index, with drivers estimated to spend around 94 hours per year sitting in traffic. In March 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city was forced to suspend its pico y placa (peak and plate) traffic management system for the first time since it was introduced in 1998.

The pico y placa system was adopted to regulate traffic during rush hour by restricting the transit of vehicles in the capital based on their license plate numbers and the day of the week.

Bogotá introduced an enhanced version of the legacy pico y placa system in June 2020 entitled “Pico y Placa Solidario”. The enhanced traffic management system adds new options, paid exemptions, and a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) exemption program. Although the enhanced system has the potential to combat pollution, reduce traffic, and promote better vehicle use and carpooling, it has faced multiple challenges related to enforcement and manual verification that has limited the program’s effectiveness.

Bogota ParceGo

The ParceGo pilot follows SDM’s call for proposals to design a system that eliminates the problem of enforcement and explores new traffic management strategies that will help the city reduce the negative impacts of congestion and collect funds to finance sustainable modes of transport in the city.

ClearRoad, a US-based transportation and technology company, is working alongside Cornell Tech, a technology-focused campus under Cornell University, to execute the pilot and to analyze the data to determine the optimal traffic management strategy and pricing.

“It’s important to set prices that will achieve the city’s goals — reducing congestion, raising revenues, and providing equitable access to the roadways,” said Dr Nikhil Garg, assistant professor at Cornell Tech. “To set these congestion prices, we need to know how people will react to the prices: will they pay, change their route, or change their trip? And it’s especially important to understand how people will differ in their responses.”

During the three-month pilot which takes place from April to July 2022, participants are asked to record all their trips using the ParceGo app. The app will measure overall usage and gather data on driving behaviors in identified congestion zones and main roads that have been selected by the city. An incentive scheme is currently being run to encourage app use among volunteers and is intended to provide data that will help determine optimum incentive and pricing schemes.

“Our hope in participating in the pilot is to understand these questions [on pricing and behavior], and to develop the technical tools needed to provide better congestion pricing in the future,” added Dr Garg.

To date, the pilot has received more than 2,530 applications with 1,377 identified eligible users; 244 users were eventually selected to participate in the pilot. Eligible participants had to be at least 18 years of age, Android smartphone users, and vehicle owners. All types of vehicles were permitted to apply, including small trucks and commercial vehicles, to accurately capture the diversity of trips and vehicles that usually take place in the city.

Future development of the ParceGo app is expected to include features that allow users to sign-up or pay for exemptions, as well as digitally verify vehicle occupancy for HOV exemption. Aside from determining optimal pricing, the pilot hopes to demonstrate the effectiveness of a phone-based app as a means for traffic management and for gathering congestion data.

ClearRoad CEO, Frederic Charlier, said, “ParceGo is the first of its kind that explores alternative ways to implement congestion pricing. It’s promising because it shows that we can implement sophisticated and forward-thinking traffic management approaches by adapting them to the local context and taking advantage of affordable technologies already in the hands of Bogotá residents. We don’t have to settle for legacy systems, we just need to be a little more creative.”

At the end of the pilot, ClearRoad and Cornell Tech will submit a report to SDM on the success and shortfalls of the technology and the feasibility of adopting a phone-based app as a means for traffic management and enforcement. The report will also include an analysis of driving behavior and suggested incentive or pricing models that the city can utilize to achieve its goals of reduced congestion and reduced pollution and GHG emissions that will ultimately improve the lives of its citizens.

This story is based on an article that was originally published here.

Images: Adobe Stock.

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