Travel and Transportation in the Age of Big Data

Client Reference Marketing Specialist

A bus, train or car to work. A bike to school. A plane for a business trip. And even if you don't leave your home, your life is still influenced by the transportation industry: virtually every tangible good—food, clothing, medicine, vehicles, computers—has been transported into your world from somewhere else.

Transportation—the movement of people and goods from point A to point B—is the life force of our economy. Yet many of our transportation systems are inadequate to handle and serve the needs of the ever-growing volume of users. Here’s how IBM is bringing in big data to tackle some of the most common issues.

Analyze real-time data streams to identify traffic patterns

One of our earliest and resounding success stories comes from the city of Stockholm, Sweden. The Royal Institute of Technology, working with the transport department at Stockholm, analyzed real-time data streams to identify traffic patterns. Researchers gathered real-time traffic data from a variety of sources such as GPS from large numbers of vehicles, radar sensors on motorways, congestion charging, weather, etc. Collected data flowed through the IBM InfoSphere Streams software—a unique software tool that analyzes large volumes of streaming, real-time data, both structured and unstructured. This data is then used to help intelligently identify current conditions, and estimate how long it would take to travel from point to point in the city, offer advice on various travel alternatives, such as routes, and eventually help improve traffic in a metropolitan area. The following video provides a better understanding of the benefits of this application to the transportation system and to the city of Stockholm.

Read the Royal Institute of Technology Case Study


Reducing urban roadway congestion by predicting traffic conditions

In another instance, we go across the world to the city of Brisbane, Australia. The Smart Transport Research Centre (STRC) is a new research consortium with a mission to improve urban transportation systems through technological innovation. It was recently found that the country’s commuters and transport users were increasingly frustrated by their daily commute, with many reporting that traffic had negatively impacted their health and productivity. Leveraging IBM’s expertise, STRC implemented a solution that provided the South-East Queensland (Brisbane) area with powerful, analytics-based simulation, modeling and visualization techniques to develop innovative ways to better manage roadways and to ensure more reliable travel. It is also the world’s first such project to integrate data across a city’s transport network boundaries. Some of the benefits that this project helped realize:

  • Improved motorway safety and reduced accidents will result from higher-performing variable speed limits, roadway queue management and ramp metering algorithms
  • Real-time and predictive multimodal traffic information will assist commuters in trip planning while reducing emissions

Read the Smart Transport Research Centre Case Study Here


Eliminating supply chain waste by consolidating shipments and optimizing freight movement

Moving from travel to transportation, let’s look at how Con-way Freight leveraged best-of-breed business intelligence for customer satisfaction. Con-way Freight is the industry’s leading less-than-truckload (LTL) freight transportation company, providing guaranteed, day-definite regional and transcontinental service with exception-free delivery, on-time service performance and faster transit times through a single, unified network of more than 300 service centers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. To keep service levels high over the long term, Con-way Freight continuously evaluates and improves its strategy and process management using business intelligence (BI) powered by IBM Netezza. The company needed to analyze transaction-level details on an ad hoc basis to optimize efficiencies based on outlier data while also  boost performance when querying more than three months of data. This best-of-breed business intelligence platform allows Con-way Freight to leverage vast amounts of transaction-level data for deep customer understanding and data-driven business decisions. A few of the many benefits experienced are below:

  • Analysis on more than 50 percent of all business processes
  • Enablement of ad hoc querying by hundreds of users across the enterprise
  • Simplicity, by being in production within three weeks of purchase

Read the Con-Way Freight Case Study Here


The world is urbanizing rapidly, and population densities are increasing. A United Nations report estimates approximately 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. This growth is expanding demands on urban infrastructures of all kinds, including transport. Here’s hoping many more cities and companies across the world leverage the power of big data by integrating technology and intelligence into the physical transportation infrastructure, to improve capacity, enhance the traveler experience and make our transportation systems better and more efficient.