Next American City » Columns » Real-time Data: A Recipe for Happier Citizens
There are certain things in life that most everyone would avoid if they could. Things like sitting in traffic, waiting in a slow-moving line at a government office, or searching for a non-existent parking space. One could argue that these are just a face of modern life in 21st century cities. However, there’s enormous potential for governments to provide data – particularly live real-time data feeds – to help citizens eliminate some of these unpleasant experiences from our everyday lives.
One of the most basic is the web camera feed. To help state residents avoid a lengthy wait at the local DMV office, the Alaskan Division of Motor Vehicles publishes web cam images of the waiting area from each of its offices. Taking the idea a step further, the Singaporean government has created an online “queue watch” website for area health clinics. Citizens can go online and see the number of patients waiting, along with live web camera images of queues at registration and the pharmacy. In addition, the site uses this data to recommend off-peak periods to visit.
Aside from cameras and queues, one of the main areas that governments are looking to provide real-time data is travel. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a new pilot program has just launched to give commuters information about their travel options between San Jose and San Francisco. Called Networked Traveler, the website allows visitors to enter an origin, destination, and travel time – and provides estimates of travel time, cost and carbon emissions between driving, bus and commuter train using real-time data. In addition, the site provides real-time availability data at select park and ride lots. An accompanying mobile phone application means commuters can check their options on the go.
As more cities install cameras and sensors to collect data about what’s happening on the ground (as well as under and above it), the opportunities for real-time data feeds will only grow. Hopefully, more cities will take advantage of this and provide their citizens with access to this kind of information. Provided that people can use it to avoid wasting a couple hours – they’ll be all the happier.