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Smart city projects still dragged down by data silos

Companies like Lyft are part of smart city projects to reduce traffic congestion and improve transportation. Find out what types of applications could have a greater impact.

In congested cities across the nation, city planners, legislators and innovators have long collaborated on ways to use technology to alleviate urban transportation problems and traffic congestion.

Lyft, a ride-sharing service, sees its alternative transportation model as a way to achieve these goals. Based on principles of the sharing economy, San Francisco-based Lyft's peer-to-peer app matches commuters with available drivers. Its ride-sharing model complements public transportation, as it allows commuters to pick up a ride at a public transit stop if they missed the train, or they can join other commuters to form a carpool. These kinds of smart city projects strive to pool transportation resources to reduce congestion, but also create greater efficiency in cities straining to keep up with the demands of residents.

"Every city is looking for ways to make mobility easier and more integrated," Annabel Chang, director of public policy at Lyft, said. "If you have missed the last train and need to get to your hotel, Lyft [app]-enabled vehicles can fill that gap and a way of making all these options work together."

Earlier this year, General Motors invested $5oo million in Lyft to collaborate on two Internet of Things-related projects: developing self-driving vehicles and building the Lyft app into all GM cars equipped with OnStar, GM's navigation security and service app.

It will take a visionary player to build the philosophy of converging data.
Bettina Tratz-RyanGartner

Applications like Lyft are largely about efficient commuting, but they could be better integrated into other data sources useful to drivers and passengers. Commuters, for example, need rides, but they also need access to information about available parking, accidents and road closures. They may also need information about nearby restaurants or other entertainment venues, or insight into available parking garages nearby.

Lyft is developing new features within its mobile apps, including a chat function that enables riders to indicate when they're running late. There are many more integrations, however, that could make commuting even more efficient.

"What is really different in a smart city is that you connect to city data that creates a more holistic environment, from [parking] meters to crowd-based environments to commuter data for times of day," Gartner analyst Bettina Tratz-Ryan explained. "It will take a visionary player to build the philosophy of converging data."

Unfortunately, the various pieces of a city's infrastructure typically operate in silos, which prevents smart city projects from thriving. If these pockets of data remain islands, it can stand in the way of deriving real efficiencies and operational intelligence.

"Once the different infrastructure components of cities begin to talk to each other, send data among each other and have some level of intelligence, cities will become smarter and serve people better," Jonathan Reichental, CIO of the city of Palo Alto, Calif., said.

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