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If Navigation Apps Don’t Alleviate Congestion—Could City-Wide Traffic Software Help?

Traffic software providers Mobi and Axilion have taken two very different approaches to solving the world’s congestion crisis

3 min read
Image of a dog sticking his head out of the car window while stuck in a traffic jam.
Gridlock congestion is aggravating to everyone, even canines.
Photo: iStock

Aside from being a major nuisance to commuters, traffic congestion costs the average American driver $1,348 annually in lost time. According to INRIX, an analytics company based in Washington state, Americans lost 97 hours each to congestion in 2018 alone. 

We are in a congestion crisis and the problem is not exclusive to America—Londoners lost 227 hours apiece due to congestion, according to the same study. 

With the rise of technological advances including IoT and AI, multiple companies are now working on ways to reduce congestion for residents and cities alike. Mobi, a traffic management company based in Israel, sells technology that aggregates data from a wide variety of sources to predict traffic patterns and optimize mobility. 

VP of Marketing Ron Srebro says the company uses public data, cellular data, and its own IoT-based data to “paint an accurate picture” of a city’s real-time traffic patterns. Once installed along a roadway, Mobi’s custom wireless sensors detect signals emitted by vehicles and their passengers on the road, including those from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled devices. After analyzing data from all these sources, Mobi’s software creates traffic simulations which help the team figure out what tools the city might employ to combat congestion.

Image of the Mobi sensor on a white backgroundMobi’s wireless smart sensorPhoto: Mobi

Mobi has worked with the city of Atlanta for years to control traffic during large events, including for the 2019 Superbowl. According to Mobi CEO Dov Ganor, Atlanta’s traffic management center makes special changes to city-wide traffic routes for those events, based on guidance provided by Mobi’s system, causing traffic to operate differently than it does on the average day.

In this scenario, Mobi’s data-driven system is meant to give officials the tools to shift from management to control. “They can now be active,” says Ganor, and prevent traffic jams before they form.  

Mobi also gives cities the power to make their roadways dynamic, Ganor adds. As traffic changes, operators can manage roadways to reflect those changes. For example, the lights in New York City’s Battery Park tunnel change depending on whether it’s rush hour or a weekend. Using data, Mobi can predict how these changes will affect traffic before the city actually implements changes, essentially giving cities the ability to test in a controlled manner. 

A screenshot of Mobi's system and example data it collected. Mobi’s system shows the median net speed with flow indication along selected routes, helping cities predict patterns in traffic.Illustration: Mobi

Mobi is now working with Atlanta as the city builds its new Department of Transportation facility, which will house all aspects of transportation management under one roof. 

Another Israel-based company, Axilion, approaches traffic management slightly differently and is also rolling its software out in U.S. cities. Although Axilion still uses data to predict traffic, its system can automatically prioritize vehicles based on weight. If a bus approaches an intersection, this technology can prolong the green light, allowing the bus to pass and reducing commute times for public transit riders. 

“Our solution is applied through a hardware agnostic abstraction layer that can create weighted priority,” Axilion CEO Oran Dror says. For example, the software pushes the Jerusalem Light Rail through 100 percent of lights along its route; the lights change in its favor, creating a “greenwave.” 

Screenshot of the greenwaveA graphical representation of Axilion’s “greenwave” along New York City bus routes. Graphical representation of the greenwave emulator is available as part of Axilion’s Trans-Em Director tool.Photo: Axilion

“This is known as adaptive traffic signal response. It offers greenwaves, allowing the train to stop only at stations, not lights, all the while taking pedestrian safety into consideration,” Dror says. 

In April, New York City started piloting the Axilion software under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Better Buses Plan. When the Jerusalem Light Rail system started using Axilion’s product, average commute time dropped from 80 to 42 minutes, and ridership increased 387.4 percent.

Dror couldn’t disclose which cities are using Axilion’s software at this point, but did confirm it’s used in “major urban areas across the east and west coasts,” as well as in France and Switzerland. 

“If we do not fix the current congestion issues, urban streets will become more congested and polluted with overcrowding of sidewalks,” says Dror. “But, I’m optimistic. Solutions are available to help overcome the growing traffic problem cities around the world are facing.” 

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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