Censusless jam

A Norfolk traffic jam that at its peak, stretched over 10 miles during rush hour, prompted the local radio station and press to headline the queue over planned features on women bishops.  Teachers and pupils were late for lessons, emergency service vehicles were caught up and businesses claimed financial impacts.  The cause..?  A traffic census.

Norfolk Traffic Jam 21-11-2012

I was stuck in this jam as well – for a good 40 minutes.  At its height the traffic sensor data suggested an estimated hour plus delay.  So I had plenty of time to reflect upon the reasons behind the hold-up.

I fully understand the need for such censuses; origin and destination information is essential for councils to help plan travel and transport improvements – something of great benefit to us all.

So I got thinking… Are there alternatives to closing one carriageway of a major trunk road, during rush hour, in order to pull over a sample of commuters for questions such as:

–       Where have you come from?

–       Where are you heading?

–       How many passengers do you have?

–       How often to you make this journey?

And I think that there are…

1)   Many of us have technology in our cars that report congestion ahead.  Some satnavs use this live data to automatically reroute us.  Motorway displays use this information to warn us.  How does it work?  The vast majority of us now carry mobile phones.  These devices broadcast a unique IMIE number – the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity.  Mobile phone operators capture and map these broadcasts and this data can be purchased.  There are no data protection implications, as the purchaser cannot link the IMIE to an individual – Personal Information.

So, this answers the first two questions – where are you coming from and going to?

2)   Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a familiar technology used across the road network to spot tax disc dodgers and enforce London congestion charges.

With your number plate linked to your address, councils can contact you to request that you respond to the questions that they need answers to – they might even offer a prize-draw to respondents to increase the poll?

3)   CCTV is the third tool in the armoury that might be the future of traffic census… This technology is advanced and affordable and can easily answer the question of how many people are transported on the typical car journey.

All of these technologies are mobile and can be used, without traffic disruption, over longer periods than a typical traffic census.

None of these technologies will impact upon traffic movement, nor run the risk of commuters avoiding census spots and thus the point of the survey, due to congestion.

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