India is on the fast track . Metros, expressways, highways… But many a time, stations have been opened without feeder services, parking lots or security services. If proper traffic volume estimation is not done, it can lead to insufficient booths at toll plazas. Again traffic volume estimation is necessary for deciding the number of lanes- four or six –in highways. In spite of access to technology and tool, many of our projects are severely handicapped as they are not based on sound and objectively gathered data. Accurate data paves the way for better planning.
While working in the UK with a traffic data collection company from 2003, Senthil Mariappan, saw this problem and conceptualised the idea of providing analysis of traffic data as an outsourced service that could be run from an offshore location. There was a gap in the market created by the ineffective infrastructure planning process. The answer, he realised, lay at the input stage – the quality of data fed into the planning process. Here was a huge gap to be addressed, one that would make a significant impact. In 2008, he decided to return to India and start his own company. Along with Madhu Meenakshi, he founded DataCorp as a sole proprietorship.
DataCorp soon opened operations for a client in Glasgow with a team of five, taking up outsourcing work analysing data collected in the UK. Gokulnath joined the company as head international operations. The company began growing by leaps and bounds. Today, DataCorp has 750 employees worldwide, with a presence in India, UK, Ireland, Australia, West Asia, The United States and Canada. It has a market share of 80% of the traffic data collection in the UK. DataCorp does not provide any products but is only a provider of services.
In 2014, DataCorp got incorporated as a private limited company. Senturan Karthikeyan from TCS came in as the Director of Domestic Operations to focus on the Indian market. “India is a hard market to enter as the challenges are very peculiar. The biggest problem is that projects do not adequately budget for proper data collection. The customer has to be educated on the need for systematic data collection and pre-study. For all the hype around smart cities, budgets continue to be allocated before any before-after impact analysis is done. For example, a tender may be put out for 1000 CCTV cameras, but no prior impact assessment is done to see if 1000 cameras are actually required or that it solves the target problem. What is needed is a timely intervention at the first stage of the process – the data collection stage”, says Senthil.
Still, all said and done, India remains an untapped market and there is tremendous scope to improve standards to International levels. The key lies in educating customers that good projects can only be executed with good data. DataCorp has taken the lead in this field as data collection is usually a non-core activity for most of their competitors. There is no real dedicated traffic data collection company as yet in this field.
One of the key characteristics of traffic data collection in India is that most of the processes are still done manually. Even to get data like count of vehicles, a human has to be employed to do the job. This is notoriously unreliable and data accuracy is severely compromised. The human operator can be distracted, makes mistakes and needs to take breaks. The problem can only be solved with the right materials and technology. For example, to count vehicles, DataCorp has introduced Automatic Traffic Counter (ATC) technology. These machines are far more reliable than a human operator. However, even the ATC has an accuracy of around 90%. Confirmation of the data is required. Keeping this in mind, DataCorp has also introduced videography and post-processing of the video feed as a service to ensure accuracy close to 100%. This is a case of manual process supplementing automation. This is similar to the service provided for international customers.
The span of services offered by DataCorp is expansive – Train and Bus Station surveys, Origin – Destination mapping, Journey Time analysis, Traffic Conflict surveys, Queue length analysis and much more. New technologies like Automatic Number Plate Plate Recognition (ANPR) have been effectively deployed. ANPR technology has proved very useful in OriginDestination mapping, a task that would have been next to impossible for planners without technology.
Today, DataCorp is engaged in 1500 survey locations across India with a presence in 15 states. The aim is to give the clients professional video evidence and showing them that they can get accurate data. In addition to this, customers are advised on alternative technologies like volume counters and videography using modern technology sourced from the international market. If planners can plan scientifically with proper data it has better chance of being effective. By analysis of traffic patterns planners can identify where to build a bypass to ease congestion. Technology can also be used to analyse traffic patterns at busy signals during peak hours and reduce queuing.
One notable success was with the Dharmapuri police department. They wanted to track the incidence of helmet violations. DataCorp conducted a traffic data survey and analysis and came to the conclusion that 80% of the offences happened at two particular peak periods – two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. This finding helped the Dharmagiri police to concentrate their efforts during peak hours, without having to waste resources throughout the day.
DataCorp has also undertaken traffic studies for a major South Indian metro and municipalities in Sholapur, Nagpur, Chennai and Bangalore, along with extensive ATC deployment on a major national highways. It is now looking to expand its footprint nationwide.
The accuracy of traffic data collection and the subsequent predictions are of paramount importance in the fulfilment of an appropriate planning, design, maintenance monitoring and management of the road network. A well-planned road network contributes to the overall infrastructural health of the nation and is a catalyst for development in other sectors. While there is no shortage of ideas for innovative public projects in this area, or of expertise in planning and execution, there is still a lacuna in the area of good data collection and analysis. Senthil often repeats the mantra: “Let’s not compromise on Data”.