Waze Team Shares Insights on the Future of "Smart Cities"

The Waze Connected Citizens Program is a free, two-way data exchange that empowers municipalities to harness real-time driver insights to improve congestion and make better-informed planning decisions. Since the program’s October 2014 launch, Waze has hosted an annual, in-person partner summit to facilitate cooperation between Connected Citizens Program Partners, engage in candid, forward-thinking conversations, and share best practices. This year’s Connected Citizens Program Summit was held in Paris, France, on October 26 - 27.

In our second installment of the Waze Connected Citizens Program summit behind-the-scenes Q&A, we continue our conversation with Paige Fitzgerald, Head of New Business Development – Data Acquisition at Waze; Lia Lazar and Adam Fried, both New Business Development Managers at Waze; and Meghan Kelleher, Waze Communications Manager. This time, our chat turns to the future of “smart cities.” Cheers!  

Photo credit: Françoise Tancré

Q: What are the major opportunities for cities coming out of the summit? How can cities work to become “smart cities” through the Waze Connected Citizens Program, and evolving in their work over time?

Paige: To reference a quote said by a previous head of the Google Chauffeur project: if cities want to prepare for autonomous vehicles, the best thing they can do now is establish data sharing with private sector entities like the Waze Connected Citizens Program. There’s a lot that goes into the data-sharing process: cities first must identify where the data lives, take that data and digitize it (often from stacks and stacks of paper!), then aggregate fragmented data streams in one place, turning it into a sharable format for internal use (like our CIFS version 2) before they can share it with private-sector entities.

Establishing basic data-sharing procedures now and taking advantage of all the resources that are already available is the best way for governments to prepare for the influx of new data that will come with the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles. By incorporating data into their daily operations and analyzing it to help inform decisions, they’ll be well ahead of where they’d be by simply relying on anecdotal evidence or more antiquated ways of collecting information, such as by collecting surveys every ten years, for example.  

Q: How would you talk to a future partner or a struggling city about how they can go about adopting a mindset of open collaboration, and how to find the resources necessary for success?

Lia: Another important element that really sets our annual summit apart is that we have Waze Map Editors who attend as well. This year, we had several present, which creates an opportunity for increased collaboration between partners and their local community editors. For example, during the CicLAvia event in Los Angeles, two Map Editors were actually in an the LA traffic management center, helping with real-time closures. That led to a number of partner requests for introductions to their local community Map Editors, who can be an excellent resource – especially to cities that are understaffed.

Q: Has it been a challenge for government organizations to feel comfortable inviting the community into such an open dialogue? Or does it ever feel like a conflict of interest on the government’s side?

Adam: Partners want to meet citizens where they are, and so many of them are using Waze. This means that Waze ends up becoming a “megaphone” to reach citizens and receive feedback directly from them, which is a huge asset of the program: it’s a two-way communication channel that we’re able to open up, allowing partners to reach their citizens and community directly.

In a world that’s transitioning to connected and autonomous vehicles, the Connected Citizens Program acts as a bridge for partners, allowing them to transform they way they operate from reactive to proactive. They’re now able to leverage real-time insights to determine how to set up their infrastructure moving forward, solve congestion, and ultimately increase driver satisfaction. That’s what this program is all about.

Photo credit: Françoise Tancré

Q: What could help make the Connected Citizens Program stronger? What’s on your wish list for partners, future partners, and Waze?

Paige: One major thing that came out of the summit was to find a way for Waze to share some of the analytics and storage burden, allowing partners to be able to leverage a central analytics database or platform to help them gain insights from their local data.

Third: many partners also asked for an “SOS” help button within the app, which is something we can work with the Product team on to determine whether we can make the case for some of the feature requests that partners think would be most useful to drivers in their area. This is a significant point, because it means we’re bringing expert transportation leaders from around the world into conversation and collaboration with our Waze Product Team to problem-solve on the challenges that drivers face.

Adam: The biggest thing we can ask for from our partners would be for more data and a wider variety of data types. As we start to evolve the program beyond incidents and road closures, this will open up a whole new set of data possibilities. This could range from electric vehicle charging stations to traffic signal data, weather information, and much more. In turn, Waze could provide partners with improved analytics to make our data easier to understand from day one, giving our partners a clear visualization of where they stand at a given time.

I would also love to have a visualization tool that shows different outcomes for how certain changes would impact a city’s congestion based on historical Waze data, through something like a predictive algorithm. Though this is probably a longer-term wish list item…

Lia: We’ve learned that there are some hurdles during the learning process, as partners get up to speed and familiar with the program. I’d like to see more activity on the Connected Citizens Program forum, where partners are able to rely on other partners for information and help. Now that we’re at critical mass, this will start to happen organically. The annual summit also provides an opportunity for partners to discuss challenges they’re facing in an open forum, and learn more quickly about how they can use tools and available Waze data in innovative ways.

Photo credit: Françoise Tancré

Meghan: Something that I’m hoping to see from partners isn’t actually on the technical side, but on the organizational front. I’d like our partners to help their larger organizations and entities understand why real-time and crowdsourced information is vital to the future of their cities. We need to find new ways to mitigate any governmental concerns and embrace the data mindset by building new systems, like partners like Kentucky and the City of Ghent, Belgium have done. They’ve successfully taken modern approaches and made huge waves even without having cutting-edge set-ups. Likewise, partners like Chris Lambert (KYTC) and Eric Pena (Miraflores, Lima, Peru) have tackled this by layering things like weather alerts on top of traffic information to provide a more 360 approach to a city, allowing government officials and higher-up organizations to truly grasp the value this data provides.

On the Waze side, we need a continued dialogue with our partners so what we know which Waze analytics will be most helpful in addressing their needs, and continually optimizing accordingly so that we’re sharing the information that will have the most impact on improving their cities.

I also want to highlight the importance of case studies. So many cities have major traffic events but they aren’t aware of how much scale it requires to mitigate in real time: this is something that partners can continue to learn from each other. During the City of Ghent case study, Pieter Morlion taught us: if you don’t have a system, how do you build one? This is a big learning, and one that applies to the many cities that don’t currently have systems in place. You don’t have to be a huge organization with fancy technical tools to make a system work, and some of our smaller partners are finding new resources to fill these gaps and tackle large-scale obstacles. Partners like Vitoria, for example, may not have the resources to create their own feeds, but requested external help to get these built, and were able to drive huge change as a result.

In short, it doesn’t have to be a big org with a fancy tech tools to make an impact. Smaller partners are finding new resources to fill the gaps - there’s always a way to find a solution.

Photo credit: Françoise Tancré


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