Why Your Cell Phone is the Most Promising Transportation Planning Tool

Emily Badger reports on the growing importance of the cellular phone, and particularly their location tracking capabilities, as the next most essential transportation planning tool.
February 6, 2012, 7am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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While the concept of having your every movement tracked and analyzed by transportation experts may seem like a profound privacy intrusion to many, cellular providers are functionally able to acquire such data right now without explicit permission, and without requiring you to have GPS enabled. As Badger reports, network signaling data can be used to triangulate locations to within 50 meters in dense urban areas. And the only thing keeping cell carriers from exploiting this information is that they hadn't yet figured out they could monetize it for use by transportation planners.

But that is changing. In North Carolina, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is working with AirSage, a company that contracts with cell phone carriers to produce analytical data of use to transportation planners, to conduct an origin-destination study of travel patterns and to measure traffic speeds in their region.

According to Kyle Ward, a transportation engineer with the MPO, "'I personally am still struggling with ‘how do I get this all implemented in transportation?'...So I've only done some thinking in the shower about 'wow, I wonder what else we could do with this.' But I think the more people who realize what's happening, you'll get tons of people thinking about it, and lots of ideas will come out.'"

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Published on Friday, February 3, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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