The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Holly Krambeck, a transportation economist at the World Bank, whose work focuses on urban transport in the Philippines. Krambeck discussed the considerable data quality challenges associated with making the nation’s streets safer, and how she leveraged data science talent at Open Data Day in February 2014.
This interview has been lightly edited. Holly Krambeck asked us to note that her responses do not reflect the views of the World Bank.
Travis Korte: Can you introduce some of the problems associated with urban transport that you’ve worked on in the Philippines, and how you’re working to address them?
Holly Krambeck: My team and I have been focused on three areas of intervention: improving the efficiency of public transit provision and use in Manila, road safety in Manila and Cebu, and congestion management in Cebu. More specifically, our work has been targeted at building the capacity of transport planning and traffic management agencies in these two cities to make these improvements themselves, through introduction of more efficient data collection, management, and analysis techniques. Our work draws heavily upon principles of crowd-sourcing, open data standards, open-source software, and open data.
TK: In addressing these problems, you mentioned pervasive data quality and data availability issues in the current systems. Can you describe those?
HK: In Metro Manila, home to about 12 million people, about 80 percent of all trips are made using public transport. Yet, when my team began working there in 2010, there were no maps of the 900+ [vehicle] rail, bus, and microbus network. And I don’t just mean there were no publicly available maps; even the government officials responsible for planning and governing the public transit system did not have a visual picture of the areas the system served.
Imagine you were in New York or Paris, and there was no map of the public transit system. For you, or the transport agencies responsible for planning and operating the system, chaos!
The Department of Transport and Communications had a mandate to rationalize the bus and microbus network, which would have the potential to dramatically improve traffic flows, improve road safety, and more efficiently meet demand for services. So, as a first step, we helped them build their first consolidated database of public transit service data—the location of the routes, key stops, operating hours, etc. We used an open data standard for the database—the General Transit Feed Specification, and we also developed open-source tools to make further updating and maintaining of the database easier.
As for road safety, road accidents are a huge issue—not just in the Philippines, but throughout the developing world. Road accidents are the number one global cause of death among 15-24 year-olds and the number two cause of death among 25-39 year-olds—and about 92 percent of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. But to meaningfully address this issue, we need to know where the accidents are.
Traditionally, road accidents in Cebu and Manila have been manually recorded (often in beautiful cursive script) in logbooks. We worked with traffic management agencies in these two cities to develop an open-source platform for creating a geo-referenced digital record of all accidents. We started the program in February 2013, and to date, more than 10,000 accidents have been recorded. Moving forward, we are now working on tools to automate the analyses of these accident data, so that the traffic management agencies can more efficiently assign traffic enforcers, and so that cities can more effectively target road safety infrastructure improvements, given limited resources.
Finally, in Cebu, we developed an open-source platform for collecting and visualizing “floating car data,” for use in generating a database of travel time and traffic volume data across the city, and eventually, a real-time congestion map. A big shout out to the teams at Conveyal and Integrated Transport Planning for working with us and our Philippine counterparts on developing these tools!
TK: With the launch of the Philippines Open Data Portal and a growing commitment to open data within the government, you’ve gotten some new resources to work with. Is there crucial data that’s still not being adequately collected, or do you more or less have what you need for preliminary analyses? What are the next steps from a data perspective?
HK: One of the best things about working with the Philippines in this sphere is their openness to sharing transport data, as this not only increases transparency, it also results in tremendous economies of scale in terms of applications and analyses that are derived from these data.
We have enough to begin implementing meaningful reforms in Manila and Cebu. That said, I have a data wish list that is 10-pages long! I think the holy grail for all transport professionals is to find a way to capture travel demand data as quickly and cheaply as possible—traditional household travel demand surveys be prohibitively expensive, take months to implement, and result in generally low-quality data. We’ve been looking into ways to leverage cellphone data, but we have a long way to go before we can begin to standardize methodologies.
TK: At Open Data Day on February 22-23, you led a team to develop a dynamic visualization tool for some Manila traffic data. What’s the goal of this visualization, and what still needs to be done?
HK: Yes, Thore Fechner and Dave Johnson developed a prototype web-based tool for being able to quickly and easily visualize the road accident data reported in Manila and Cebu. With this kind of visualization, it would be easier for traffic management agencies to see how they could more effectively deploy their traffic enforcers, based on where the highest likelihood of accidents will be, by time of day and day of week. The visualization would also help agencies such as the Department of Highways and Public Works to more efficiently allocate resources for targeted road safety improvements, as well as track, over time, how effective those improvements have been in improving road safety.
We will show this prototype to our counterparts to give them a sense of what is possible, collect their feedback, and then use this (alongside other data and feedback we have received) as a basis to design the next phase of our program.
TK: After the visualization and the bus map are complete, what are your next milestones for transit in the Philippines?
HK: All we are doing now is building the capacity to collect, manage, and analyze the most fundamental pieces of data we need to improve an urban transport system. The next step is to actually begin the process of making improvements. We hope this will largely be led by our counterparts, stepping in as needed with lending or technical assistance to support.
Photo: Flickr user Kahunapulej