They told me I was crazy …

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… when I suggested last year that everyone having an iPhone with the TomTom app installed could solve traffic problems.

Imagine that we all had this in our cars. Imagine also (and I know this might be a stretch) that we all entered our route plans into the iPhone and those plans were uploaded into the cloud. Then all of this information could be aggregated and the ‘optimal’ route for each of us worked out so that traffic was minimised. We would then receive directions based on the centrally coordinated route and all be better off for it.

Now, for this to work, a sufficient number of people would have to have an iPhone or equivalent. I’m not sure what the sufficient number is (it is probably less than 100%). Now you wouldn’t be compelled to follow the instructions handed to you but if it was meaningful you would follow them anyway as it will likely make you at least weakly better off by doing so. That is, the routes handed down could be incentive compatible and also update in real time as others came into and out of the mix.

The point is that iPhone adoption (and consequent buying in to the centrally controlled traffic system) would involve positive externalities and hence, there would be a prima facie case for public subsidisation of them.

Read the comments to that post to see how much pushback I had on this idea.

Now, courtesy of Felix Salmon, we hear that TomTom is doing precisely what I forecast.

In the future, when 10% of drivers use TomTom’s HD Traffic™ navigation system there will be what experts are calling a ‘collective effect’. Essentially, our road networks will start to balance out and we will reduce traffic congestion for everyone.

Well may I say, “ha”!

6 Responses to "They told me I was crazy …"
  1. While I don’t want to dismiss your ‘eureka’ moment (well done!) I think most people who have worked with the technical side of logistics and route navigation have had this idea to reduce congestion, or a similar one.
    The same general idea was discussed in an Anne McCaffrey novel, of all things, twenty plus years ago.
    What I would like to see is dynamically routed light public transport options based on submitted commuter routes and timings.
    For instance, here in Perth, I tell Transperth that I want to commute to work between destinations X and Y between 8 and 8:30 am daily.
    From time to time I dial up an off-the-cuff transport request as well, or say I’m sick that day.
    Transperth dynamically routes minibuses to pick up people at stops in my local area, ignoring those who don’t have requests in.
    At any time I can use my smartphone or home computer to check when Transperth is currently offering to pick me up in my “window”.
    I think some (possibly less dynamic) version of this is achievable based on commuter service requests.  It could be cheaper and more efficient to run than existing fixed route transport services where buses are frequently empty or nearly empty, or travel long, circuitous distances in the evening or early morning without picking up or dropping off a passenger.

  2. Joshua

    Its a great idea, especially if inputting routes are made simple.  EG having several routine )pardon pun) routes.  What I find less compelling is the argument that because there are external effects there is a case for public subsidy.  It i salmost always to find spillovers if we look hard enough.  Heck, my dress sense probably generates negaitive externalities.  Can I argue for publc funds to underwrite a stylist to inform my clothing purchases?  The fact that TOM TOM are proposing to do this without governmetn support suggests the market doesnt feel the need for a public handout.

  3. Given that my Tomtom often takes me round in circles I am not convinced! Between Iphones and Tomtom we would find the freeways empty and the byroads parking lots. Mind you I have found the ipad app in Singapore for using public transport to work perfectly – but of course that requires a good public transport system so forget about that in Sydney or Melbourne.

  4. Stop me if I’m wrong, but did you just settle the socialist calculation debate in favour of the socialists? Because if this technology can do dynamic, multi-acter, real-time geographic route planning, then centrally setting wages and prices should be a cinch.

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