China Looks to Control Traffic Congestion With Cell Phones

Beijing traffic jam

In a big push to ease congestion, China is rolling out a cell phone-based traffic monitoring platform that enables the government to track where and how 17 million Beijing residents drive. There’s a good reason for this and part of it is this: Last year the Chinese capital experienced a 62-mile, 9-day traffic jam. You read that right.

In light of that incident the government has attempted to expand its highway and to build a super-speed railway. And just yesterday the government launched a new electric taxi service in a suburb of Beijing, introducing 50 electric taxis to the streets.

The cell phone traffic monitoring project will be developed in partnership with China Mobile and will track in real-time the whereabouts of its citizens, in an effort to understand population flow at different times of the day and in certain areas of the city.

“By sending dynamic travel information to citizens, they can adjust their trip plan in downtown areas to effectively relieve traffic congestion,” said deputy director of the Municipal Science and Technology Commission, Li Guoguang. “It is also fairly beneficial for population management. Information obtained through the mobile phone location is more thorough in terms of figuring out the population of a certain dwelling district.”

The initiative is still in its early stages, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on how much, or how little, it leads to invasive population monitoring, as a way to keep tabs on potential protestors. Cell phones proved crucial in recent Middle East uprisings, after all, and China is on edge about experiencing its own “Jasmine Revolution.”

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[Image: Flickr user decade_null]JN