Appendix D: The Actors in the ecosystem and the information they collect
The actors in the ecosystem are:
The traveling public
The traveling public use their own vehicles (cars or bikes), use transit, receive and send packages and mail, and/or make their way around the city on their own two feet or in wheelchairs or other assistive devices. They consume information when they use the physical infrastructure or mobility services. They also (knowingly or unknowingly) generate information about their own movements, most directly through their own phones and devices that gather or report locational information, or through their use of services that have locational data (for example, using paid parking or having groceries delivered), or through information they volunteer to provide (like providing crowd-sourced traffic data or locations to avoid because of incidents).
Government transportation agencies
Government departments of transportation (DOTs) plan, build, and manage the physical transportation system. They also manage curb use and parking. In Seattle, this includes SDOT and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Most of the foundational information about the physical components of the transportation network comes from government. These include the location, geometry and topology of the road network, of bridges and other roadway structures, of intersections, of sidewalks, and of other fixed assets like signs and signals.
DOTs also have regulatory information, such as speed limits or parking regulations, connected to physical assets. They hold the plans for new structures or for improving existing structures. They permit activities on the right of way and have information on planned and emergency road closures. DOTs authorize and hold information on detours and re-routes. During severe weather, they have the information on which routes and sidewalks have been plowed so are safe for people or vehicles to use.
DOTs also collect pedestrian and vehicle counts and vehicle flow information. This can be through simple roadbed sensors that count vehicles against time, or more sophisticated systems like cameras, license-plate readers, or WiFi sensors.
Public transit agencies
Public transit includes regional, county, metropolitan or city agencies that run trains, light rail, streetcars, buses, ferries, and other high-capacity vehicles. In Seattle, this includes Sound Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit, and Washington State Ferries.
Transit agencies hold information about their fixed assets, such as the locations and physical configurations of stations and bus stops. They also generate real-time locations of their vehicles, as well as the routes, schedules and fees. They collect information on speed and reliability as well as ridership.
Police, fire, and emergency medical services have locational information about incidents and requests for assistance. They also collect information about vehicular crashes and other transportation-related emergencies.
In coordination with DOTs, they may have real-time information about emergency road closures (although this is usually relayed in analog formats, through voice or radio transmissions).
These services rely on accurate street, sidewalk, and trail infrastructure data to improve their response times. Roadwork and private construction can close sections of the street network which can delay responders especially system managers are not aware of the closures.
Port, freight and courier services
In most cities, government or quasi-government bodies run port services. They collect data on shipment and vehicle volumes coming into and out of port areas, and on heavy haul routes and freight impacts on traffic flow.
A mix of public and private companies provide logistics and courier services. These include publicly recognizable entities such as USPS, UPS, DHL, FedEx, Amazon, and a host of other, lesser-known companies. These providers run large fleets and distribution centers. They hold real-time locational information about their vehicles, including inventories carried by each vehicle, and the destination of each package.
Urban goods and food delivery services
New distributed-delivery services like Amazon Flex are app-driven to allow freelancers to use their personal vehicles to deliver packages. Food and shopping delivery services like UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash, and Grubhub use the same app model. The companies know the origin and destination of each order and delivery. They also gather real-time vehicle locations of their gig workers so they can provide delivery times and confirm receipt to their end customers.
Private transportation franchisees
Private transportation providers include contract carriage (taxis, limousines, for-rent vehicles) or subcontractors of public transit (bus or shuttle service franchisees), or private shuttle services such as employee buses or airport shuttle services.
Most of these services now hold real-time route and location data, either through in-vehicle location devices or through apps on the phones of the vehicle operators.
Mobility service providers
Car-share companies like Zipcar and ShareNow, and ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft (also called transportation network companies, or TNCs), are app-driven services that allow customers to book vehicles or rides. Their interfaces and algorithms usually run on top of maps from the information service providers (see below).
Vanpool and shared-ride services operate on the TNC model but use higher-capacity vans and shuttles. Examples include Via and other early actors that came and went, like Bridj and Chariot.
Micro-mobility companies provide small vehicles on demand. This includes bike share (docked and dockless) and e-scooter share companies like Jump, Motivate, Lyft, Lime, Spin and Bird.
The above mobility services usually have the most sophisticated data collection services. They gather data from their vehicles and from their users, then use complex route algorithms to connect a user to a vehicle and find the best route for each trip. They also use their store of historical data to improve their routing algorithms and to predict customer demand volumes.
Information service providers
Where mobility service providers provide the vehicles, the information service providers provide the information that helps locate and route the vehicles. There are several types:
Navigation and map services
There are navigation service companies like Garmin and TomTom that provide standalone navigation gadgets. They have evolved from simply providing geolocation and turn-by-turn direction services to gathering data from all their devices (usually those licensed to fleets) to provide better real-time traffic navigation.
Map service companies like MapQuest, Google, Apple, Bing (Microsoft), Waze, Here, Tomtom and the not-for-profit OpenStreetMap began with building their versions of a seamless online map (usually built on a foundation of government road maps). They now use sophisticated methods such as deploying light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and camera-equipped sensor vans; analyzing satellite data; and taking crowdsourced information, then pairing all of those inputs with intelligent search and routing algorithms, in order to enrich the maps they provide with information useful to the user and make the maps more interactive and responsive. They use machine learning to “read” road signs. They provide real-time traffic flow data. They also include land-use and commercial data—where supermarkets, stores and other venues are located. They gather geodata and movement data from apps and cellphones and use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and anticipate the travel patterns of the people and companies who use their services. They also provide real-time traffic delays and road incident information.
Intelligent transportation system vendors
Intelligent transportation system (ITS) providers build and service traffic control systems for most DOTs. Their services range from simple signal-control systems to vehicle-flow sensors and cameras, adaptive signal-control systems, and centralized traffic control systems. Their systems gather traffic counts and congestion conditions. Most systems run on proprietary software. Vendors are incorporating more sophisticated sensors and machine learning into their systems. They are also developing components that push information from the signal systems directly to vehicles.
Many cities, including Seattle, publish the reports and data gathered by their ITS systems.
Payment gateway services
Payment gateway companies accept payments, usually through credit or debit card transactions, on behalf of other services or government agencies. They also facilitate online shopping and, therefore, goods deliveries.
These include parking and curb fee payment service providers that contract with municipal governments to facilitate the collection of parking and load/unload fees.
These companies hold locational data and financial data on their users.
Platform and analytics services
The newest actors are the data and map analysis providers such as Sidewalk Labs, Remix, Populus, and the not-for-profit SharedStreets. These companies aggregate transportation data from other services (freight and vehicle GPS readings, map searches, bike-share location data, etc.) and provide analytical services to government and to the private sector.
There are also map platform providers such as Mapbox and Google Maps.
Less visible to the public and often to local governments are information service providers that don’t deal directly with the public but gather large amounts of data about how people move across space and time. These include:
Beacon low-energy services
Several companies use Bluetooth beacons to track consumers’ WiFi enabled devices as they move through indoor spaces (usually malls, but also airports and other high-traffic areas). They provide phone user locational data at very fine scales to retailers and to marketing and advertising companies.
Some smartphone apps have been found to be collecting beacon data and transmitting it back to the companies that deployed the apps without the express permission of the phone user.
Information brokers buy data (including locational, shopping and financial data) from information service providers, then sell it to other services (mostly to advertisers).
Information brokers directly or indirectly allow companies to track the specific movements of individual customers not just in a store, but across the city wherever there are sensors or online transactions.
How each actor gathers, stores, protects, processes, and transmits information to the traveling public and to each other determines how the transportation information infrastructure works.
Need More Information?
This is a draft plan. It was developed by Benjamin de la Pena, Mary Alyce Eugene, Alex Hagenah, and Sam Marshall along with their colleagues from across the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
If you have questions about this plan, please send us email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions about SDOT, please visit our website at www.seattle.gov/transporation.