Open Data to Address Urban Transport Challenges in Russia

September 4, 2015


Traffic jam in St. Peterburg, caused by road repair works.

  • A growing number of vehicles, endless traffic jams, an outdated traffic management system — all this makes urban transport an ever-bigger challenge for Russian cities.
  • Open transport data could become a critical element in a comprehensive solution designed by St. Petersburg transportation authorities.
  • A new World Bank report offers advice on developing open data and showcases international experience.

September 4, 2015

How often have you been late because of traffic jams, wishing you had chosen a different route or used public transportation? Endlessly looking for free parking, buses being late, wasting hours in traffic jams – all this adds to the enormous stress that residents of Russian cities are used to. The residents of Russia’s St. Petersburg should feel lucky, though. Now, thanks to a phased-in integration of open data technologies, many transportation issues will become a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, in recent years, residents of Russian cities have been facing increasing urban transport challenges. Rapid growth of cars, an outdated public transport system, and poor traffic management have made the situation much worse, with the speed of surface transit averaging 8-9 kilometers an hour at best.

St. Petersburg is facing an especially daunting challenge. The unique urban layout, multiple canals and bridges — so attractive to tourists— exacerbate the current traffic management challenges. The task at hand for the city is to improve transport infrastructure, upgrade public transport and its accessibility to increase population’s mobility.

Delivering timely information on the flow of urban traffic, providing instant access to information on traffic congestion, the availability and cost of parking spaces, and current public transit routes could go a long way towards addressing a whole range of issues.

The World Bank has presented a report titled Opportunities and Strategies for Mainstreaming Open Data in Transport Projects in St. Petersburg which suggests that the socio-economic and environmental impact of the new program to improve the urban transport could be enhanced through the use of open data when designing new information systems.

Open transport data

Over the past several years, the open data concept has gained popularity.  The rationale behind this idea is based on a proven fact, that making government data available to the public in open and unrestricted digital formats will help people leverage its potential.

The development of applications and services, based on real-time urban transportation data, will address public transport needs. Transport database could capture actual traffic information in the city, geolocation data of parking places, public facilities and important social infrastructure.

Based on these datasets, any third-party developer could create useful on-line services and mobile applications. For instance, a mobile app, which will create a route to the nearest hospital, given the user’s current location, real-time traffic situation, public transport schedule, and doctor’s appointment schedule.

The transportation sector holds the biggest potential for open data projects, as it generates an increasing volume of information of high public demand.

Providing and sharing transport data openly is a relatively simple, efficient and budget-wise approach for delivering this information to customers. London is a case in point: open transport data sparked a massive development of more than 500 apps and services, launched by professional developers and local enthusiasts. The city transport authorities saved a substantial resources abandoning development of its own applications.

The World Bank report highlights examples from a number of metropolises, which may be of use to St. Petersburg in its quest for the best ways of improving a management of urban parking, traffic and public transport.

While ensuring an efficient and sustainable functioning of transport data systems remain paramount, it is equally important to streamline transportation and passenger flows by providing a real-time updates on the traffic conditions in the city. This will help residents to save money and time on their daily commute. Experts believe that a positive social and environmental impact of open transport data will multiply by virtue of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and lowered resident stress level.

St. Petersburg has a unique chance to become Russia’s center of excellence and business innovation in the area of open transport data. This will benefit not only the city residents and visitors, but will become a model to mainstream open data projects across Russia’s transportation sector.