TRAFFIC CONTROL: Study uses cell phone data to track congestion

Findings show 1% reduction in vehicles could reduce travel times up to 18%

Traffic Control News MIT News December 24, 2012
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A new traffic study released Thursday examined better ways to reduce traffic congestion in two major U.S. metropolitan areas using driver cell phone data. The results demonstrate that a reduction in vehicles at key locations and times could improve traffic flow by up to 18%


Researchers from the four institutions involved—including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Central South University in China, the University of California at Berkeley and the Austrian Institute of Technology—examined traffic patterns in Boston and San Francisco for the study. They found that if 1% of drivers in five specific areas in each metro stayed off the road during rush hour, travel times would improve significantly—14% in San Francisco and 18% in Boston.  


Cell phone data was used due to concerns about the reliability of sources traditionally used for such large-scale traffic studies: survey data and U.S. Census Bureau data from travel diaries. The two major concerns were lag time between gathering and release of data and reliance on self-reporting.

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