These days we’re thrilled when can look online to locate where a bus is or whether flights or trains are on time.  However, the nascent technologies tracking flights and buses can tell transportation planners and managers much more about the system.

My friend Greg Moran, a consultant at Fieldstone Capital, alerted me to a new project that MIT is spearheading in conjunction with Singapore as part of the Transportation@MIT project.  This particular project, in conjunction with universities in Singapore will use information technology to evaluate transportation and commerce and figure out how to move people most efficiently in terms of time, energy and sustainability.

At the heart of the Singapore project is SimMobility, a simulation platform with an integrated model of human and commercial activities, land use, transportation, environmental impacts, and energy use. This simulation will be linked with a range of networked computing and control technology-enabled mobility innovations. The project’s researchers plan to use the data generated by these devices, and a range of new analytical tools that harness real-time information and management systems, to design and evaluate new mobility solutions for urban settings in and beyond Singapore.

“The central theme of this project is straightforward and ambitious,” says Odoni. “Can we bring together the extraordinary recent advances in information technology and transportation science and increase the capacity and efficiency of urban transportation systems to provide high-quality service to urban travelers? And can we, at the same time, ensure a sustainable and livable environment?”

In addition to being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Singapore already has a robust urban transportation system, as well as one of the world’s most complete suites of sustainable mobility policies, regulations, and practices. “Singapore is an ideal location to test some of these ideas,” says Professor Cynthia Barnhart, an operations researcher and one of the organizers of the project.

Singapore is an admittedly exciting place to perform this kind of applied research.  Singapore has a large public transit network that about half the population uses daily and the city-state itself is contained and easy to measure given its size and the ability to truly count what each person is doing.

In a future world where all transportation modes may depend on the electric grid in one form or another performing this type of analysis is critical for creating transportation policy.  This research can help localities plan where to build more public transit networks and of what type.  It can help energy companies decide at what point to release the most energy onto the grid.  It can also help governments incentivize travel at certain times and less at others.  It can reward companies for establishing work hours at certain times of the day to coordinate travel.

In a world where transportation is sustainable it must be efficient.  Efficient in time for the person using it, efficient for energy consumed and efficient in the reliability and durability of the machinery and support systems used in the system.  Real-time data and information technology is the wave of the future in understanding how to make transportation systems most efficient, sustainable, reliable and effective.