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How big data can create a smarter transport industry

The volume and speeds at which data today is generated, processed and stored is unprecedented. It is fundamentally changing the transport sector.

According to a report by the OECD, “The combination of low-cost and widespread sensing (much of it involving personal devices), the steep drop in data storage costs and the availability of new data processing algorithms improves our ability to capture and analyse more detailed representations of reality.”

However, the big issue faced by the transportation industry at this time is that the data is not being used effectively. Jonathan Simkin, founder and CEO of Swiftly Inc., a Samsung NEXT company explains, “Many of the technologies used by public transit agencies are decades old. They often use Excel spreadsheets, paper and pencil, or one-time studies to analyse their network performance.”

So, the question we explore here is how can the transportation industry benefit from “big data” and truly become a smart transportation industry? Let’s take a look.

3 ways in which big data is creating a smarter transport industry

Big data is already being used effectively by smart cities around the world to improve the transportation industry – from public transport to freight. But no matter what the industry, the key issue for companies wishing to embrace big data is in the understanding and interpretation of that data.

Big Data in transport is not immune from small data problems – especially those relating to statistical validity, bias and incorrectly imputed causality. Before realising returns and benefits from Big Data, Transport authorities will first need to ensure an adequate level of data literacy for handling new streams of data and novel data types. Ensuring robust and persistent metadata with harmonised provenance will facilitate data usability audits.

Having said this, there are already some great examples of big data in action and below we take a look at three ways in which big data is being used to create a smarter transport industry.

1.      Decreasing wait times for public transport

In the USA, more than 55 city transit networks are already utilising big data to create smarter transport networks including the MBTA in Boston, MDOT MTA in Baltimore, Capital Metro in Austin and VTA in Silicon Valley.

In Boston for example, big data has helped to decrease wait times at bus stops while delivering more accurate bus arrival predictions to riders. Santa Clara worked to improve speeds throughout the entire transit network. 

Big data is helping smart transportation solution providers harness technology in new ways. In Baltimore, Swiftly has enabled transit signal priority — automatically changing red lights to green when buses are late — which has helped decrease run times by 20 percent along some of the city’s busiest corridors.

Here in New Zealand, NEC is working with industry leaders Papercast on a range of smart transportation solutions including passenger information and passenger information display systems.

Papercast has developed one of the most advanced solutions of its kind available on the market today and is transforming the way passenger information is provided at public transport stations and stops.

2.      Optimise freight movements and routing

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the pressure on freight with people around the world turning to online orders and deliveries at home. Companies like Amazon are using big data to help to manage their freight and enabling them to offer same-day delivery options.

Knowing exactly which products are where allows companies like Amazon to deliver the right product at the right time to the right customer. Using satellite navigation and sensors, trucks, aeroplanes or ships can be tracked in real-time. Using the data collected, you can optimise the routing of trucks using other real-time data such as road conditions, traffic, weather conditions and other inputs. By combining data sources, you can create an accurate picture of the routes available and calculate the ideal and cheapest routing to the desired destination.

Large freight organisation can have thousands of trucks on the road at any given time. If their usage and routing are not optimised, this can cost the business dearly in inefficiencies, driver downtime and time spent in traffic. With sensor technology collecting data in real-time and the ability to analyse the data effectively, transportation companies can optimise their fleets and increase efficiencies.

3.      Increase safety and reduce environmental impact

It’s not just routing that can be managed using big data. NEC is already working with businesses around the world to help them to reduce accidents as well as carrying out driver profiling. NEC’s Accident Reduction System (ARC) is a solution that aims to reduce commercial vehicle accidents using vehicle operation data and video of accidents and dangerous driving obtained with drive recorders.

ARC takes advantage of a cloud-based vehicle operation data centre to record data which can be accessed from anywhere, realising significant cost reductions.

The Driver Profiling System (DPS) is integrated with NEC’s analytics engine to predict bus accidents. Analysed data includes fleet information, driving behaviour and bus driver features such as driving experience obtained from the driver management system. Driving behaviour data is based on onboard telematics sensors installed by NEC, monitoring speeds, accelerators, harsh deceleration, abrupt lane change, travel time etc.

With all this data, combined with sensors that monitor the health of the engine and equipment, you can predict errors and perform preventative, proactive maintenance, removing downtime. 

By using big data to improve efficiencies within the transportation industry, businesses will also start to reduce their impact on the environment. Smart Cities are constantly reviewing real-time data to reduce traffic congestion, improve customer experience and reduce emissions.

The efficient routing of freight, as well as public transport, can help to reduce the congestion in major hubs around the world. In Los Angeles, the average driver spends 102 hours each year stuck in traffic. This is equivalent to a $19bn economical loss for the city, but also means emissions continue to skyrocket.


The acceleration in both the growth and velocity of exploitable and open data will trigger significant and disruptive change across several sectors – including transport. Big data is not a new concept and is not linked to a single technological change. Rather, what has occurred is the confluence of new data collection mechanisms based on ubiquitous digital devices, greatly enhanced storage capacity and computing power as well as enhanced sensing and communication technologies.

As connected networks and technologies like 5G, IoT and AI evolve, smart cities will get even smarter. In the city of the future, buses, trains, cars and even roadways will be interconnected — enabling digital systems to “talk” with one another to help cities move people more efficiently than ever.

At NEC New Zealand, we are excited to be part of the smart transportation movement. Learn more about our Smart Transportation solutions.


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