What features will the TMaaS data platform have? This question had been previously discussed in depth in an article that examined six software tools. We are now a few months further on and the launch of the new website is fast approaching; the traffic operators of the City of Ghent will use the platform for the first time during the Gentse Feesten 2019. In the following phase, during the Winterfeesten, Ghent residents will be given access to the tool. As you can see the dashboard of the TMaaS web application is gradually taking shape. After testing six software tools, a seventh tool emerged that offers a better match for the needs of TMaaS: the Grafana open source platform. When used in combination with the Carto map visualization system, it forms a great basis for the TMaaS mobility dashboard.
The integration of Grafana and Carto in a new web application
The specific aim of the Grafana open source platform is to reproduce time series data (this is data with a time indication). After extensive testing, it seems that Grafana meets the requirements for the TMaaS dashboard. Moreover, the tool offers good support for several authentication protocols. This means for example, that the traffic operators of the City of Ghent have specific access to the right data. Another aspect that is also very important for TMaaS is the fact that Grafana is an extendable platform. Newly programmed parts that were not available before and that meet specific needs can easily be added. In addition, it provides support for facilitating adjustments for specific dashboards in order to reflect the preferences of users. If someone who is a rare car user logs in, the non-relevant information about cars will disappear into the background. The dashboard will then automatically revert back.
Photo 1: The Grafana tool is tested extensively using data from the City of Ghent.
Grafana offers excellent support for data visualisation in different types of tables, but the support for data visualisation on maps is sub-standard. This is why the tool will be used in combination with Carto for map visualisations. Users will be able to check the location of car parking garages on these maps for instance, as well as traffic density, traffic jams, etc.
Ghent University’s Intelligent systems engineering team (EA18) is currently working on a first version of the new web application around Grafana and Carto that integrates Grafana and Carto with extra modules for registering, logging in, or asking about user preferences.
A visual of the future dashboard
Based on these details, TMaaS designed a number of mock-ups that create a schematic visual of where the different modules are located on the dashboard. This included a comparison with the existing traffic management systems, in particular that of our partners Be-Mobile and TomTom. How do they do it? What are their strengths? What are traffic management centres throughout Europe using at the current time? Based on this information, we were able to create even more detailed versions of mock-ups.
Photo 2: A mock-up of the future TMaaS dashboard.
Integrating the data platform
The integration of the TMaaS data platform takes place over three phases. The tool will be launched in July, during the Ghent Festival. From this point in time the traffic operators of the City of Ghent will be able to make effective use of the TMaaS web application. They will be able to monitor the traffic situations in the city on a big screen based on the data available.
The next phase will start up during the Winter Festival in December. The web application will also be available for the public at that time. In the meantime work is underway on the implementation of modalities that are of specific importance for them: the platform must be absolutely ready to use.
During a later phase, the tool will be complemented with elements tailored to the “Replicator Cities” (these are cities worldwide that will use the TMaaS data platform in the future). Every city has its own needs and that is why the flexibility of the system is a major asset. A concrete example is the integration of data on air quality. In Ghent four or five measuring points exist, but this is not sufficient for using in the platform. Cities that have sufficient data on this will be able to integrate it.
The needs of all the players
When designing the web application, it was necessary to take account of the needs of all the players. Mintlab (KU Leuven) and the European Passengers’ Federation jointly carried out end user research into which modalities are important for the dashboard. During the survey, three questions were asked each time: Who needs the information? What do they want to do? And why do they want to do it? Ghent University conducted research into the needs of a number of cities (so-called city audits), including those of the Mobility Company of the City of Ghent. The report is available here.
When it came to the dashboard for the citizens, user-friendliness came out at the top of the list. It had to be applicable on their mobile devices and be adjustable to their personal wishes with links to different views (car parking spaces, bikes, cars, etc.). Anyone interested for instance in bike sharing, wants to get a clear picture of where he can find these. Or you should be able to click on a station on a map and check whether there is a delay on a bus route, where the buses are in real time, etc. The dashboard of the traffic operators of the City of Ghent will have different features than that of the end-users: the traffic operators always monitor the traffic on a big screen.
The TMaaS researchers also carried out research into data restrictions. Private car parking garages for instances will want to indicate whether there are any spaces free, but do not want to announce how many spaces are actually available. The information that is revealed therefore is always a compromise between user-friendliness and clarity for end users/citizens on the one hand, and the restrictions and needs of all companies and players on the other.