The National Academies

NCHRP 70-01 [Completed]

Private-Sector Provision of Congestion Data

  Project Data
Funds: $175,000
Research Agency: University of Virginia
Principal Investigator: Brian Smith
Effective Date: 6/29/2005
Completion Date: 2/26/2007


The objective of this project was to assess the feasibility of transportation agencies using congestion data provided by private-sector vendors, particularly data obtained by tracking cellular phones.


The project is complete.


The contractor's final report is complete and available here.


A significant barrier to effective congestion management is the cost of monitoring congestion for an entire transportation network including limited-access and conventional highways in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Spot measurements of speeds and volumes can be integrated into a web of information, but the deployment, maintenance, and operation of numerous sensors make this system expensive, often limiting its use to major routes in urban areas.

A promising new approach is to obtain congestion data from a private-sector vendor. The most common technique is for the vendor to anonymously track cell phones in moving vehicles and derive useful information such as travel times, speeds, and delays across the system. This approach can provide real-time information regarding the location and severity of congestion throughout the day. The data can also show the effects of system improvements and whether congestion is improving or degrading over time.

There are many concerns (e.g., legal, privacy, public perception, technological, economic, obsolescence, procurement, budgeting) with this approach but the possibility of a cost-effective, comprehensive congestion-measurement system deserves close examination.

Note: This project is a transportation pooled fund project that is being administered by the NCHRP using the normal NCHRP procedures. More information on pooled fund projects is available at https://www.pooledfund.org/


Task 1. Develop a state-of-the-practice report that is suitable for web publication. This report should describe domestic and international transportation agency efforts to use congestion data provided by private-sector vendors. Each effort should be fully described including the project scope and schedule, details of the relationship between the transportation agency and the private-sector data provider, institutional issues arising during the effort and how they were resolved, and information on the data being provided and how the transportation agency intends to use it.

Task 2. Conduct an independent evaluation of the FHWA demonstration projects in Virginia and Missouri. If other significant efforts are identified in Task 1, the oversight panel may choose to add them to this task. Key items of interest are the accuracy of the congestion data provided, the benchmarks and techniques used to determine that accuracy, the accuracy required by the transportation agency's application, the reliability and timeliness of the data, the effectiveness of the relationship between the transportation agency and the private-sector data provider, and the satisfaction of the transportation agency and the data provider with the project.

Task 3. Prepare a final report that clearly describes the lessons learned by transportation agencies obtaining congestion data from a private-sector provider and the benefits of that approach. To the extent practical, the report should identify the data that could be provided for urban and rural freeways and arterials, the approximate cost, how a transportation agency could use those data, and how the data could be integrated with data from other sources. The report should help a practitioner decide whether such an initiative would be worthwhile and how to plan for developing a relationship with a private-sector data provider including specific implementation steps. The report must include a full discussion of the various legal and privacy concerns.

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