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Trafi is revolutionising city traffic

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Bus, bike, car sharing: In Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, a single app coordinates all means of transport – and makes private cars superfluous. The service will soon start in Germany.

he thermometer shows minus 16 degrees as Martynas Gudonavicius leaves his office in Vilnius’ old town, black slush lines the icy streets. Gudonavicius wants to have a quick coffee. Then, as every day, he will work to combat one of mankind’s greatest errors: motorized private transport.

Outside, at the bus stop, the waiting people pulled their caps and scarves deep in the face. They are tripping around, burying their hands in their pockets. Gudonavicius, meanwhile, arrives at the bus stop almost simultaneously with the bus. He had planned his arrival precisely – thanks to a new app that projects the current position of his bus into a city map in real time.

The bus ticket buys Gudonavicius with another tap on the app. After a few minutes, he leaves the bus again and goes to an electric car that is parked a few steps from a stop. Tap again on the app and the car is unlocked. The payment is automatic.

Since September 2017, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius has one of the most advanced mobility apps in the world. A program that makes it easy to get around the city without a private car and, incidentally, provides city officials with enough data to fundamentally change their traffic planning.

Trafi is the name of the service with which the 550,000-inhabitant city of Vilnius in northeastern Europe is currently developing into a test laboratory for the global traffic revolution. Martynas Gudonavicius is not just a user of this app. He created it together with a friend.

Central component of the traffic turnaround

Gudonavicius sits down in a quiet corner of the café and demonstrates the main features of Trafi on his mobile phone. The core of the app is the real-time map, which displays the current positions of buses, trolleys and Uber vehicles within a few meters – as red, green and black dots.

At other places on the map you can see orange and blue dots appear and disappear again. They show where currently available car-sharing cars park. From April, when it gets warmer outside, the positions of the approximately 300 city bikes will be added.

In addition to the current positions of the means of transport, further real-time data are fed into Trafi: information on traffic jams, construction sites and the weather, for example. “When it’s as cold as it is today, for example, the app tries to minimize footpaths,” says Gudonavicius.

Add to that the personal preferences of the customers. Gudonavicius tentatively enters the address of his office and gets several suggestions:

  • walk a little and take two different buses (“very cheap”),
  • walk a lot and just take a bus (“more exercise”),
  • rent a car-sharing car (“especially comfortable”).

Gudonavicius chooses the most convenient and fastest option: he wants to drive back to the office. The algorithm will remember its preference and take it into account when weighting future route suggestions.

For researchers such as Stefan Bratzel, services such as Trafi are an important component of the traffic revolution. “There is currently nothing that makes the transition from private cars to public transport more attractive than an app that allows you to centrally book and pay for all the means of transport available in a city,” says the car expert from the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach ,

Intermodal services are called such apps in technical terms. In Germany, too, a number of providers are trying on such solutions : for example, Daimler with its app Moovel or the Berlin start-up Door2Door with his service Ally. So far, there is no app in any German city that even works as good as Trafi in Vilnius.

Bratzel says that, among other things, that Germany is a developing country in terms of digitization . In addition, both public transport companies and car-sharing providers often refused to leave their data to intermodal platforms.

“Private cars will soon be like horses”

In Vilnius, you are much more open to new technology. “Services like Trafi are not a threat to us,” says Povilas Poderskis, city director. “On the contrary, the many data that such apps provide helps us with traffic planning.”

Poderskis opens his laptop and shows a map showing where there are many pedestrians in the city. The city has extracted the data from the Trafi app. Now she equips many of these pedestrian hotspots with additional street lights, crosswalks or wider sidewalks.

MIRROR ONLINE

Then Poderskis shows a route on which you can hardly get on public transport faster than on foot, because the buses are usually stuck in a traffic jam. This information comes from the Trafi app. The city has begun to divert traffic on such problem routes or to move bus stops, says Poderskis.

For the city planner of Vilnius such evaluations are only the beginning. He hopes that apps like Trafi set off a chain reaction that ultimately bans the private car completely from the center.

In a next step, for example, super apps could help distribute the various available modes of transport more efficiently in the city. You will soon know exactly how many buses, car-sharing cars, rental bikes or taxis are needed at what time of day in which part of the city, says Poderskis. As a result, dynamic bus routes could arise that change depending on the day of the week or the time of day.

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