Transportation Agencies Use Social Media to Provide Real-Time Traffic Data

Social Traffic Services

Everyone has experienced the frustration of being late to work or a social event because they have unintentionally chosen a route congested due to an accident, vehicle breakdown or construction. With the rise of smart phones, social media and on-demand information from applications such as Twitter, agencies have new ways to provide real-time traffic updates to roadway users with minimal investment in infrastructure.

In the past, transportation authorities have struggled to quickly communicate non-recurring incidents to travelers. Traditional methods, such as highway advisory radio channels and variable (dynamic) message signs displaying expected travel times or delays, require significant infrastructure investments. Other common methods such as live feeds from CCTV cameras displayed on websites and TV news, or helicopter surveys during heavy commute periods, require investment in equipment and dedicated resources for operations and maintenance. In times when many agencies have limited budgets, the capital investment associated with real time traffic is cost-prohibitive.

Social media and mobile technology offer agencies a faster and easier way to provide traffic and incident data. Twitter and Facebook can be updated quickly and remotely by transportation control authorities to immediately feed information to travelers as soon as it is available. For example, as soon as a traffic operator verifies an incident impacting the transportation network, they can immediately post the cause, location and suggest an alternative route. These applications utilize existing resources and detection data to economically fill an information gap for drivers. In addition, social media offers two-way interaction between agencies and roadway users, with communication and clarification available using just a smart phone and a free application. Television and radio media also benefit from on-demand traffic information that is easily accessed and relayed to the public, especially if a relationship between the agency and a media outlet isn’t established.

Social media is also useful for agencies serving areas where sophisticated traffic data collection and dissemination is not readily available, such as emerging cities in the Middle East. Transpo has initiated a Twitter feed service (@ad_traffic) for the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport’s Traffic Control Center to provide real-time first-hand data from the traffic control center to travelers about major road incidents.

With Transpo’s assistance, the Abu Dhabi Traffic Control Center also provides real-time information via SMS/text messages, which are sent directly to a user’s mobile. Although many of the areas served by the Abu Dhabi Traffic Control Center are still building the permanent infrastructure needed to provide traditional methods of information sharing, drivers can still receive traffic information quickly and choose an alternative route.  This is helping control congestion in the quickly growing region.