Mobilidata: how data can make our traffic greener
Be-Mobile is a subsidiary of Proximus specializing in intelligent solutions for sustainable mobility. The business uses technology to help travelers reach their destination safely, smoothly and as comfortably as possible. In this article, CEO Jan Cools (LinkedIn profile) explains how Mobilidata, a Flemish government project, will make our traffic run more smoothly and more sustainably.
Traffic jams. We've all experienced that uneasy feeling of being stuck in traffic, with your plans for the day ebbing away while there's nothing you can do about it. It was exactly that frustration fifteen years ago that convinced me to startup Be-Mobile. My idea was that we could use data to monitor vehicles and manage traffic better so as to ensure fewer traffic jams.
Fifteen years later, Be-Mobile is doing exactly that and much more: we send road users traffic information on their smartphone, automate toll charges for lorries and make parking much simpler with the 4411 mobile app. In short, we are using data and technology to make mobility more pleasant and more sustainable for everyone. This technology has evolved significantly over the past 15 years and will continue to do so at the same rate, so we can expect great innovations over the next 15 years.
We're already taking a step towards these innovations today with the Mobilidata project initiated by the Flemish government. This project fits in perfectly with the European Mobility Week, for which this year's theme is 'Better Connections': after all, Mobilidata's aim is to help road users adapt better to each other and the road infrastructure. We currently use GPS data from smartphones for this, but we are also seeing a move towards vehicles that already have this connectivity built in. There is so much we can achieve with these better connections and I'm happy to give you a glimpse of this below.
Smart traffic: safer and greener
These days, most cars have sensors that tell you when you're approaching an obstacle while parking or maneuvering, for example. But what if you could also get in-car warnings about more dynamic factors? An approaching ambulance, an accident on the road ahead, a slow-moving maintenance vehicle, and so on. Currently, we only tend to notice these situations once we're in the middle of them. But with connected vehicles, you would receive advance warning in plenty of time, so that you can anticipate them better. That is safer and, what's more, it prevents traffic jams from forming.
We could even go a step further and not only connect road users with each other, but also with the road infrastructure. Consider the benefits of intelligent traffic lights that respond to the current traffic situation, or adapt to changing weather conditions. With Mobilidata, we are working to implement 350 such intelligent traffic lights in Flanders. For example, these lights can give priority to emergency services and public transport, and road users can receive information about the speed they need to maintain to go through all the lights on green. That instantly benefits the environment since less braking and acceleration means fewer emissions.
The future of (public) transport in a connected world
Speaking of the environment: conversations about mobility and sustainability generally revolve around public transport. Encouraging more people to use public transport is an important initiative of course. However, it isn't a one-stop solution to every problem. In an urbanized area like Flanders, the car is a necessity for many people, especially those living outside the city centers. This urbanization, and the resulting traffic jams, is also one of the main reasons why Flanders and the Netherlands are such forerunners in the field of traffic data technology. We can't curb the increase in cars; and the number of journeys undertaken is also still growing.
But that doesn't have to be a problem. The emergence of greener cars and innovative technology such as intelligent traffic lights is constantly reducing the amount of pollution from traffic. The next step is the introduction of autonomous vehicles. To many people, this may seem a long way off, but the technology already exists, and data projects such as Mobilidata are clearing the way for the introduction of these autonomous cars. Furthermore, we can see that mobility is a highly sought-after service today: the popularity of car-sharing and ride-hailing (travel with a personal driver such as a taxi or Uber) is growing at lightning speed. And this trend is set to continue. In short: the lines between private mobility and 'public' transport are blurring.
More journeys in traffic creates more risk of traffic jams, but it is precisely thanks to today's technological innovations that we can prepare ourselves for tomorrow's problems. It isn't just traffic lights that can be connected to road users: in time, the entire traffic system can be managed dynamically based on users' data. Consider variable speed limits, intelligent toll collection to guide users' behavior, live parking data so that people know in advance whether they will be able to park somewhere or not. These are all ways in which we can create a traffic situation that works for everyone: road users, residents and the environment.