How a Mexico City Traffic Experiment Connects to Community Trust

Zoe Mendelson in Next Cities: “Last November, Gómez-Mont, Jose Castillo, an urban planning professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and Carlos Gershenson, their data analyst, won the Audi Urban Future award for their plan to use big data to solve Mexico City’s traffic problem. The plan consists of three parts, the first a data-donating platform that collects information on origin and destination, transit times, and modes of transit. The app, Living Mobs, is now in use in beta form. The plan also establishes data-sharing partnerships with companies, educational institutions and government agencies. So far, they’ve already signed on Yaxi, Microsoft, Movistar and Uber among others, and collected 14,000 datasets.

The data will be a welcome new resource for the city. “We just don’t have enough,” explains Gómez-Mont, “we call it ‘big city, little data.” The city’s last origin-destination survey conducted in 2007 only caught data from 50,000 people, which at the time was somewhat of a feat. Now, just one of their current data-sharing partners, Yaxi, has 10,000 cars circulating alone. Still, they have one major obstacle to a comprehensive citywide survey that can only be partially addressed by their data-donating platform (which also, of course, does depend on people having smartphones): 60 percent of transportation in Mexico City is on a hard-to-track informal bus system.

The data will eventually end up in an app that gives people real-time transit information. But an underlying idea — that traffic can be solved simply by asking people to take turns — is the project’s most radical and interesting component. Gómez-Mont paints a seductive alternative futuristic vision of incentivized negotiation of the city.

“Say I wake up and while getting ready for work I check and see that Périferico is packed and I say, ‘OK, today I’m going to use my bike or take public transit,’ and maybe I earn some kind of City Points, which translates into a tax break. Or maybe I’m on Périferico and earn points for getting off to relieve congestion.” She even envisions a system through which people could submit their calendar data weeks in advance. With the increasing popularity of Google Calendar and other similar systems that sync with smartphones, advanced “data donation” doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Essentially, the app would create the opportunity for an entire city to behave as a group and solve its own problems together in real time.

Gómez-Mont insists that mobility is not just a problem for the government to solve. “It’s also very much about citizens and how we behave and what type of culture is embedded in the world outside of the government,” she notes….(More)”.