This post explains my submission to Ford’s 2014 Traffic Tamer challenge, which is a competition for creating mobile and in-car apps that reduce congestion in London and other cities.
Park 2 Go is a mobile application for park-and-ride commuters and travelers to the greater London area. The app demonstrates how increased intermodal or mixed-mode transportation can improve user choice, while reducing traffic from drivers outside London’s ringways and congestion zone.
This mobile app gives users timely information to make choices when traveling to central London. The user is able to compare the total cost and duration for each mode of travel and decide which trip is best for them. The intermodal options take advantage of affordable parking near rail and bus stations outside London’s congestion zone. In many cases, the overall trip time and cost are reduced by using the park-and-ride route. The app extends Google’s directions service to include routes that make use of both private car and public transportation.
You can try the app on iOS and Android devices here http://park-and-go.herokuapp.com/.
The app allows users to filter the results based upon what is important to them, namely cost and time. The total cost and inconvenience of owning a car is typically experienced in the long term, whereas the pains of using public transportation are experienced up front. For this reason, the app shows a conservative estimate of fuel (current average is £1.29 per liter in UK), parking, and congestion zone costs. A future goal of this project is to include other factors, including reliability and convenience.
What is Intermodal Transportation?
Intermodal transportation combines two or more modes of transportation in the same journey. Passenger travel is usually intermodal, as drivers must walk at the beginning and end of the journey. Travel that utilizes both cars and public transportation is not as common. Still many cities, including London, have designed systems for Park-and-Ride or “Kiss-and-Ride” commuting. The idea is to have automotive transportation feed the city’s public transportation infrastructure.
What are the benefits?
- Reduce congestion
- Reduce cost of travel
- Make travel more convenient and reliable
- Reduce car-related emissions
- Reduce the likelihood of driving-related accidents
- Increased user choice
A considerable challenge for these systems is giving travelers the confidence and right information to use the system. As a report on Intermodal Passenger Transport in Europe says, “for every traveller a change of transport mode is first of all a nuisance. An aim is to make this interchange as seamless as possible with common information, an integrated ticket and a multimodal station where passengers feel safe, secure, and comfortable.”
Assessing the success of Park-and-Ride system is also a challenge. The Park-and-Ride system is comprised of systems that are loosely integrated and overseen by vastly different organizations. For this reason, their is a lack of data about the usage and quality of the overall system.
Parking and Interchanges
Park-and-Ride has several advantages over car-only travel. However, mixed-mode transportation lacks the perception of door-to-door convenience that people associate with cars. Interchanges between intermodal transportation system are particularly problematic as they often result in delay and uncertainty for travelers.
A longer term goal for this project would be to improve the convenience of parking and connecting with public transportation. A transit planning app could consider delays in both traffic and public transit system to provide the user with better information. A mobile application could also automate the reservation of and payment for parking. For this reason, the car parks database prefers parking providers that accept mobile payment.
Why this App?
Google (and other companies) provides excellent directions and travel prediction services. However, there is no realtime mobile service for (car-to-transit) intermodal transportation. Park 2 Go is a proof-of-concept for such a service.
The idea of the Park 2 Go app was to integrate with services like Transport for London transit planner** and the dashpark.com cashless payment system to design a application that provides relevant Park-and-Ride information in a interface that is convenient and familiar.
- Searchable car parks database with information about each park, including information about charging stations
- Real-time routing algorithm for planning multi-modal trips. (Integrates with Google Maps API and Nokia Here API)
- Car routes include traffic delays and costs related to tolls and taxes
- Transit routes include estimated costs for bus, subway, and rail
- Mixed routes include estimated costs for parking (assumes weekly or monthly rate)
- User interface for comparing between car-only, transit-only, and intermodal transportation options
- Map of London’s congestion zone and nearby car parks
- Support of iOS, Android, and Desktop users
How the App Works
The app includes a database of about 200 car parks in the greater london area. The data for these stations was gathered from Transport for London, Dash Tube, NCP, and Parkopedia. The following information is provided for each car park:
- Geographic Location
- Number of Spaces (does not include realtime availability)
- Electric charging station.
The routing algorithm uses the Nokia Here API and Google Map API for transit and driving directions. For Park and Ride trips, the application finds the best car park between the traveller’s current location and their destination. To further improve this process, I plan to to integrate with the ARCGIS API for comparing different driving routes. A production-level application would also keep track of actual travel time and record these analytics to improve the routing application.
The next major step for this project would be to automate the reservation and/or payment for daily, weekly, and monthly parking. NCP car parks already accept mobile payment, but an API would allow the user to reserve and pay parking when they start their trip. An example of an on-demand parking service is BMW’s ParkNow.
** Unfortunately the Transport for London API did not provide the flexibility and performance of Google’s service.