Cellphone data is helping to improve travel demand modeling

By Chris Spahr
The Moore County Transportation Committee, working with the North Carolina DOT, has significantly increased the accuracy of its data collection for its long-range transportation plan thanks to the cutting edge technology of aggregated cell phone data developed by AirSage. The Pilot.com, a Moore County, NC, news source, reported that nearly 11.6 million trips were recorded from more than 3 million unique mobile devices between September 20, and October 18, 2012 to provide the most accurate portrait of people’s movement throughout the county with a particular focus on the U.S. 1 corridor. This information, presented to the Transportation Committee on October 16, is being used to determine whether a bypass is needed because of increasing traffic through a certain section of the corridor.

AirSage graphic
How AirSage Works (click to enlarge)

AirSage is a company that generates billions of anonymous location data points and aggregates them to show clusters of people and their movements. This aggregated data can be used by transportation planners to identify where and when congestion occurs on roadways. In contrast to traditional Household Transportation Surveys, which use small sample sizes that can represent as few as one out of every 100 households and rely on people’s memory of each trip, the data used by AirSage represented approximately one in six Moore County residents captured by their cell phone signals.  Once this data was analyzed, it showed that most of the travelers on the U.S. 1 corridor are either local traffic—residents who leave the community and return—or those who travel from outside the county to a local destination.  Very little of this traffic is through-traffic that would use a bypass.
Stephen Later, a Moore County community activist who opposes the construction of a new bypass, sees this data as support for his argument.  “This validates what we have been saying all along, that they should have gotten this kind of data before planning a freeway through such pristine land. Twenty-six months ago…we were told that one-third of the traffic on U.S. 1…was through traffic.  This underscores that a $300 million bypass would be a catastrophic waste of money.” The information gathered by AirSage will be used to develop a travel demand model that will evaluate current and future travel patterns and guide highway infrastructure decisions in the future.
Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.