Can big data fix Singapore’s public transportation woes? IBM and LTA say yes

Public transportation has been a subject of great discontent over the past few years. With sky-high car ownership costs in the island-state, it comes as no surprise that citizens turn to trains and buses as their main mode of transportation. In fact, according to Desmond Kuek, CEO of SMRT Corporation Ltd (SMRT), over 6.3 million passenger trips are made daily across the Singapore transport system, and each day trains cumulatively run one-and-a-half times the circumference around the Earth’s equator – that’s about 40,000km.
Can big data fix Singapore’s public transportation woes IBM and LTA say yes
In recent years, however, disruptions have become frequent occurrences in Singaporeans’ daily commute, justifiably causing much unhappiness. For example, in 2012, multiple train breakdowns caused SMRT to be fined a sum of S$2 million back in 2012. As a result of these inefficiencies, heads have rolled, complaints have been issued; and while Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew promised that he would improve the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, these incidents continue to happen on a too-often basis.
In a bid to address these problems, the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA), SMRT, StarHub and IBM (NYSE: IBM) have put their heads together and come up with a solution, aptly titled Fusion AnalyticS for public Transport Emergency Response, or FASTER.
Specifically, the LTA and IBM will combine farecard data and information provided by industry partners SMRT and StarHub, and use data-driven analytic models to provide situational awareness, impact prediction, and actionable insights for mitigating any anticipated impacts at hand. In doing so, they hope to improve the public transport system, and by extension, the commuter experience.
As part of the agreement, SMRT will provide video data from selected MRT stations, while StarHub will provide anonymized telecommunications data to track commuters’ movements on an aggregate-level from point to point. “Through this research collaboration with IBM, SMRT, and StarHub, we endeavor to harness intelligence from the myriad of data collected, and in turn, these analytics will enable us and the transport operators to better manage public transport incidents and special events through improved resource allocation and pre-emptive crowd management,” said LTA’s Chief Executive, Chew Hock Yong.
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