IMC4T is developing a monitoring system that uses anonymised mobile phone data to track transport use and behaviour in cities.

The problem

Within the EU, urban transportation is responsible for 40 per cent of all vehicular CO2 emissions, while traffic congestion costs members €100bn annually – and yet it remains the worst-performing sector in terms of emission reductions.

In reply, the European Commission has adopted a low-emission mobility strategy with a clearly defined target: by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will be 60 per cent lower than they were in 1990. But for emission-mitigation measures to be truly effective requires solid data, and the usual methods of monitoring transportation usage in cities – counting vehicles at intersections or conducting household surveys, for example – are costly, time-consuming and can be inaccurate. 

The solution

The IMC4T project – Innovative Monitoring of CO2 for Transport – is developing a method of monitoring urban transportation usage by analysing the data generated by mobile phone users as they move around a city.

“Every time you text or make a call or check an email, the phone connects to the nearest mobile phone tower,” explains Denis Jorisch, a consultant at global sustainability solutions provider and project lead South Pole Group. “Based on that you help create a data footprint within the city landscape.”

The project is being piloted in Nuremberg. There, South Pole Group has partnered with mobile operator Telefonica, which gathers and carefully anonymises individuals’ mobile phone data before passing it to a third project partner, Swiss company Teralytics.

“Teralytics has developed algorithms that enable it to see how groups of people are moving in a city,” says Jorisch. “By matching individuals’ movements and speeds to the various transport modes within the city, the system will be able to determine whether they are in a train, for example, or have been sitting in traffic.”

The impact

The City of Nuremberg hopes to be able to use this data to better target its resources and to gauge the impact of measures it has taken to improve air quality and reduce emissions. The constant measurement of people’s movements will enable instant feedback; if the city creates a new bus route, for example, IMC4T’s data will quickly show how it is being used and the difference this makes. 

Looking further ahead, the team hopes this project will offer a low-cost solution to cities in developing economies, where transportation emissions and air pollution are much greater problems.

EIT Climate KIC’s role

Aside from its role as the project’s core funder, EIT Climate-KIC has been instrumental in bringing the project’s partners together – including institutions such as the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, which has been helping review the methodology, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, as well as the private companies mentioned above. 

“The great thing about working with Climate-KIC is the way they foster the connection between public and private organisations,” says Jorisch. “They have leveraged their network to get input from all different sides – this is essential when developing new solutions.”