Urban mobility is a critical factor for the economic productivity of a city, and for the quality of life of its citizens and their access to basic services. In the wake of COVID-19, cities are reevaluating their urban mobility strategies and policies. According to ESI ThoughtLab’s survey of 167 cities globally, 55% of city leaders said the pandemic had caused them to reconsider mobility and transportation approaches to accommodate changing citizen behaviors. This was the second most important pandemic impact reported. The top impact was that COVID-19 would cause a reconsideration of approaches to urban planning, reported by 69% of respondents.
Mobility was a major area of focus for the city of Bogota, Colombia even before the pandemic. With 7.8 million inhabitants and 1.2 million vehicles, the metropolitan area has been suffering from significant traffic congestion problems since the 1990s. The 2019 Global Traffic Scorecard shows that Bogota is the city most affected by traffic congestion in the world, where drivers lose an average of 191 hours a year on the road. According to the local government’s estimate, the economic cost of traffic congestion is US$1.8 billion annually, equivalent to the overall annual investment in health.
Traffic problems have become worse because of the increase in the number of private vehicles on the road in recent years and the reduction in the capacity of public transport as the city’s population grows. In our city survey, Bogota’s city leaders cited mobility and transportation as among their main investment priorities over the next three years, second only to public safety and security.
Years ago, authorities set up alternate-day driving (based on odd- and even-numbered license plates), but the initiative has not been effective at reducing congestion. More recently, they turned to more technology-driven solutions. In 2019, in partnership with World Sensing (a Spanish IoT company specializing in sensing solutions for smart cities), Bogota was able to develop one of the most complete and advanced mobility management solutions in the world. It integrates data from traffic lights, bus stops, traffic cameras, bicycle lanes, and other elements to provide a comprehensive understanding of urban mobility that enables real-time management.
Real-time data key for developing solutions
Bogota has learned that data is a powerful tool for pinpointing and addressing the most pressing transportation issues. It helped officials design measures to reduce congestion and contributed to improved road security by helping them understand the factors that cause accidents.
According to Grace Quintana, a leader in digital government and transformation, one of the biggest challenges to solving mobility problems was acquiring and utilizing the real-time data needed to create an efficient government plan.
“We created an open data model called GAQO, focused on Governance, Administration, Quality and Optimization of data,” said Quintana. The tool was created with the aim of facilitating use of data to solve any kind of problem in Bogota, particularly in the public sector. For instance, officials are in the process of implementing GAQO in the National Health Superintendency.
“What GAQO does is create a roadmap detailing what our problems are and what kind of data can help respond to them. For instance, how many cars are in Bogota, where do accidents happen, at what time, what color are the cars?” said Quintana.
Alongside Jorge Sneider Quintana, a mechanical engineer with expertise in transportation, Grace Quintana conducted aa mobility study utilizing GAQO that helped to determine a key data point to reduce congestion: 65% of car trips in Bogota involve only one or two passengers, a factor that increases traffic dramatically in a city where 60% of vehicles traveling on the road are private. This information revealed that heavy load vehicles were not primarily responsible for Bogota’s traffic jams as was originally thought; instead, the main culprit was private cars.
This information also allowed Quintana to pursue other solutions that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improve the city’s air quality, minimize road accidents, and reduce traffic. Her team is working to develop a new vehicle that would only occupy 50% of the space that is currently taken up by a normal car on the road. The project is still in its early stages but, if successful, would allow Bogota residents to drive their vehicles every day without restrictions (instead of on alternate days, as is currently mandated).
“It’s important to make data open, available, and useful to people. GAQO ensures that no data is wasted and that we are utilizing it to satisfy the need for information and to solve issues. This model generates value for the government, giving us the ability to improve products and services,” said Quintana.