note: This article is by Francois Luus, research scientist at IBM
past October, the central business district of
Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa (named for the combination of the suburbs
Sandown and Bryanston) hosted the second annual EcoMobility World Festival.
a month-long opportunity for citizens to experience what it would be
like to live and work in a city where active street life and social inclusivity
is supported by a sustainable and forward thinking urban transportation culture
and system that gives priority to walking, cycling
and public transport.
Mayor Franklyn Mpho Parks Tau and Local Governments for Sustainability
converted certain road spaces into ‘ecomobile zones’. Central streets were
entirely or partially closed to personal automobiles; park and ride facilities
were offered; temporary express lanes for public transport were organized.
Priority was given to moving people versus moving vehicles, with the intention
of raising awareness and changing commuters’ behavior. And they asked for IBM
Research’s help to mobilize – and measure – their citizens’ participation.
As one of Johannesburg’s most dense business districts, more than 100,000 cars enter and leave “Johannesburg’s richest square mile” on a daily basis. The consequences of this congestion impacts residents’ health, productivity, CO2 emissions and air pollution, and general degradation of quality of life.
One of the
most accessible forms of public perception is via social media, such as
Twitter. Characterizing the social media conversation around ecomobility,
primarily through topic-driven sentiment, is a valuable way of measuring public
opinion and understanding.
which opened its latest lab
in Johannesburg last April, became involved in this project because of our
focus on driving innovation in urban renewal. Using IBM Insights
for Twitter for live social media tracking and sentiment analysis of whole
tweets, we were able to build an interactive, topic-driven sentiment and
opinion explorer for Twitter. The custom tool gave us, the mayor, and other
city officials a direct and interactive way of differentiating conversations
based on sub-topics, such as transport modes, public transport facilities,
practicalities and environment issues.
analysis of tweets is particularly difficult because of the frequent occurrence
of abbreviated and colloquial speech. Aberrations in tweets can also preclude
the use of standard natural language processing, which greatly complicates the
task of accurate sentiment analysis. These difficulties are mitigated in part
by statistically summarizing the basic sentiment determined by IBM Insights for
An important aspect of the tool that IBM Research-South Africa developed, namely Twitter Engagement Analytics, was a visually-interactive,
data-driven user experience that exposes the underlying Twitter insights in a
very navigable way to users – in this case, the mayor and city officials. They
could explore topics of discussion through live outlines of frequented
hashtags, keywords and phrases during EcoMobility month to see – and contribute
to – the greatest moments of engagement: the start of EcoMobility month in
Johannesburg on 1 October 2015; the heatwave of 5-7 October; and the Grayston
scaffolding collapse on 14 October.
The Good, The Bad & The Future
rediscovered the simple joys of walking as the last part of their journey when using
shuttles and buses. Using services such as the Gautrain, a high-speed intercity rail, reduced commuter stress in some instances, and new Metrobuses received good feedback from riders. Free park and rides, shuttles and public transport services were one of the main sources of positive sentiment on social media, as were dedicated lanes for taxis, as they interfered less with normal traffic.
Public participation in the conversation of ecomobility has been
estimated around 6,000 participants who posted 18,000 tweets. The most influential users to post about EcoMobility were:
The role that Twitter played in helping citizens rediscover these joys of mass transportation was as an information dissemination medium constantly used by the organizers to inform the public of available public transportation and ecomobility events that highlight the benefits of urban ecomobility.
On the flip side, some park and rides, such as the Rosebank Gautrain parking lot,
and the Gautrain ticket offices experienced high occupancy and volume at the
start of EcoMobility month. General building construction around Sandton
was perceived to be a serious safety hazard for pedestrians and cyclists,
especially on Rivonia Road; and vehicle drivers complained that construction
during EcoMobility deteriorated traffic flow. The temporary cycling lanes on
Sandton Drive were also seen as a cause of traffic delay and the lack of
dedicated cycling lanes on William Nicol Drive was a definite safety concern
for some cyclists.
Citizens expressed a great desire, on social media, for improved
public transport infrastructure and safety. The government is taking great
strides to transform all of Johannesburg into a pedestrian city with more
seamless transportation transitions at key intersections and roadways, and by
upgrading and building sidewalks.
Maude and West streets, for example, in the future will host
widened pedestrian sidewalks and new cycle lanes. And a permanent cycling lane
will connect Sandton and Rosebank. The linking between the Gautrain and
its bus service with minibus taxi services is also being considered by the City
of Johannesburg, since it could better integrate public transport. The Metrobus
and Rea Vaya bus services are in the process of being extended to improve area
coverage, as well.
Express lanes for car pooling and public transport would be
reintroduced on Republic, Sandton Drive and William Nicol in the future. There
was an overwhelmingly positive sentiment for dedicated lanes seen on social
media, which motivates this reintroduction. Park-&-ride facility ideas were
also well received by the public, as measured by 33 percent positive sentiment,
versus 4 percent negative sentiment. These facilities will continue at
Brightwater Commons, Emperor’s Palace, Montecasino and Westgate.
these findings will help my city move towards a greener future, where every
citizen can work and live together in harmony. I admire the community’s
willingness to learn, grow and bear the demands faced by an emerging worldwide
Labels: Africa, analytics, South Africa, transportation