Twitter Fights Transport Problems

Researchers from Israel, Britain and Italy are suggesting a new method to collect information on transportation problems following mass events, like football matches, using the tweets made by citizens on Twitter, according to a new study published in the journal “Procedia- Social and Behavioral Sciences”.

“The ability of social networks to produce information on heavy traffic, road hazards, quality of service of public transportation and more is valuable to decision makers,” said Dr. Tsvi Kuflik, the Head of the Information Systems Department at the University of Haifa and one of the authors of this study.

One of the major needs of decision makers and planners in the field of transportation is to get real-time information on transportation issues such as heavy traffic, “bottlenecks”, safety hazards, availability or unavailability of public transport, etc’. Other important information includes knowing whether there is a special event coming up that might cause specific problems like a big football game, creating unusual traffic, bottlenecks, crowded public transport, problems with parking and such. Authorities and planners in the field of transportation must be able to prepare and address days of mass events differently than other regular days.

The three year study began in 2011 and was led by Dr. Susan Grant-Muller from the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. It was funded by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) in collaboration with Dr. Ayelet Gal – from the Technion and Dr. Silvio Nocera from the University of Venice, Dr. Tsvi Kuflik, Dr. Einat Minkov and Mr. Itai Schor from the University of Haifa. The researchers chose to focus on Twitter because it is a public social network and mainly because of its short messages that enable to extract relevant information with relative ease.

For their study, the researchers chose to focus on specific dates when games of the Liverpool soccer club were being held. They were able to develop a method to examine tweets hours before and after the games and find the ones related to transportation issues (that were sent by road users and not by transport authorities). The tweets that were found were arranged according to specific subjects.

The system turned out to be successful beyond their imagination: it found over 1100 tweets that were somehow connected to transport, 900 of which were related to problems experienced by users and that were caused by the games hosted by Liverpool. About half of the complaints were related to the quality of service (mainly public transport, etc’), in about a third of the messages Twitter users were looking for a ride or some guidance about the best means of transportation to their destination. Approximately 16% of the messages were reports of unusual events like accidents. The main complaints were related to crowded buses and trains, availability, accuracy of transport services and long travel times.

“Our research shows that the information people tweet on Twitter is an “information gold mine” that has not been used yet. Correct identification of relevant tweets from Twitter can provide first hand information about the problems, complaints and customer expectations – in our case, of the citizens themselves – and enable policy makers to better plan the steps they need to take”, the researchers concluded.

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