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You can help plan future transit infrastructure
with new U of T City Logger app



If you ever wished that transit agencies and transportation planners could understand what you really need to get around town — well, now there’s an app for that.

This week, University of Toronto researchers launched City Logger, a new Smartphone application.

The designers of the travel-diary app hope to better understand the travel needs of residents across the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area by collecting richer and more detailed information directly from you and other residents. They aim to portray the region’s mobility over time.

The idea is that crowd-sourcing could provide wider-reaching data that provincial and municipal officials can then use to plan transportation infrastructure that more accurately reflects what the population needs to travel through the region.

The government of Ontario, municipalities in the region and key transit agencies such as Metrolinx and the TTC continue to fund the Transportation Tomorrow Survey. U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering have conducted the transit surveys and managed the results every five years since 1986. The transit agencies and governments, in turn, have used the data to inform their transit planning.

However, according to the team, the regional transportation survey has not changed much since 1986 and relies heavily on landline telephones, missing huge portions of the population.

The survey already details the travel habits of thousands of households, representing five per cent of the region’s population: arrival times, departure times, mode of transportation and more. The most recent version, in 2016, gathered information on more than 850,000 trips.

But as comprehensive as the survey has been, the team feels that it could be even better. For example, although you can answer survey questions online, the researchers first contact respondents through landlines and or mail, approaches that miss whole segments of the population.

Reporter Tyler Irving of the U of T News interviewed the team for a recent article.

Eric Miller, a professor of civil engineering at the university and the principal investigator on the project, told Irving that, as more people are using smart phones, trying to reach subjects by landline has become an issue, which is why the university is launching the new app.

“Think of university students,” Chris Harding, a PhD candidate in Miller’s lab and a member of the survey team said to Irving. “If they’re not living with their parents, or if their parents don’t have a landline, we can’t reach them. And if they live in residence, we wouldn’t have their address either.”

Miller said the traditional survey required “an army of people” that asked, when people answered their home phones, where they travelled on a given day.

“But people tend to forget short trips. You ask them what they did and they say went to work and came home, but forgot about going for lunch,” Miller said. The app is also a much better tool to capture walking and cycling trips, he said.

The new initiative is far from perfect, he said, as not everyone has a Smartphone — he estimates 60 to 65 per cent of Torontonians own one — and the data will complement their traditional survey, he said.

This summer, the team piloted several new ways to reach people for the survey, including a web-based survey, partnering with employers and conducting door-to-door interviews. Their toolbox now also includes this new smart-phone app which they hope will both increase the reach of the survey and improve the quality of data collected.

“One real advantage is once the app is loaded we can observe people day after day for a week or two,” Miller said. “You can identify patterns in people’s lives.”

For example, while you may remember leaving home at about 8 a.m., the app can show that you actually left at 8:17 a.m. Apps can also better capture walking trips, which the current TTS only records for work and school trips.

The idea is to capture, in granular detail, transit users’ behaviour. The app runs in the background collecting location and time data and prompts users about the nature of their various trips — from commuting to work to trips to the grocery store to bicycle rides to walks.

“It’s a powerful yet anonymous way to have your voice heard, and your transportation needs recognized,” says Harding. To sweeten the deal, the team is offering people who use the app for at least one week a chance to win gift cards for local shops and online stores.

Their goal is to get at least 1,000 downloads within eight weeks. If all goes well, planners will use the anonymous data within weeks and will guide future data collection efforts in the region.

Miller’s team reports to the Transportation Information Steering Committee, which is chaired by staff of Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

You can now download the Android version app free of charge on Google Play (Android phones). The iOS/iPhone version will be available on the App Store later this month and you can enter your e-mail address on the sidebar of the City Logger home page to learn when it becomes available.


Sources:

  • U of T News article, “Better transportation planning? There’s an app for that from U of T — and it needs your help”, here.
  • Canadian Press article (from the CBC New Toronto website), “U of T team launches app to track transit data to cut down on gridlock”, here.
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