Big Data and Urban Transportation in India: A Bengaluru Bus Corporation Case Study
Manchester Centre for Development Informatics Working Paper 72, 2018
23 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 26, 2018
As cities grow, urban transportation is becoming an issue of increasing salience. Simultaneously, big data systems are being introduced into urban transport. This paper analyses the early days of the big data system introduced by India’s Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which runs the city’s 6,000-plus buses. This has three main components: automated vehicle tracking and electronic ticketing machines which generate gigabytes of data per day, and a linked passenger information system with mobile app. Field interviews and document analysis were used to assess the system.
Only an early, partial and contingent assessment can be given because the system had only been implemented for little over a year. It does work in terms of gathering data and informing both management and passengers, though there are some operational flaws still to be ironed out. Substantive contribution of tactical and strategic value has yet to be seen: it seems easier to apply data-intensity to operational than higher-level managerial processes. However, there is already a sense in which big data is changing both the image of the organisation, and the “imaginary” of politicians and managers: the new view of urban transport systems that big data makes visible. As a result of the latter, plans for removal of bus conductors and of layers of middle management are well advanced.
We also see signs of big data enabling shifts in power: from labour to management, from middle to top management, and potentially towards those with data-related capabilities. There is some greater transparency of organisational activities to the general public, but wider transparency awaits full and sustained opening of transport data to other users.
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