How do you get around? Concordia researchers want to know

How do you get to Concordia? Whether you’re a student, faculty or staff member, Zachary Patterson, assistant professor in Concordia’s department of geography, planning and environment, wants to know. And he’s introduced an app to figure it out.

Photo provided by Concordia University

Christened DataMobile, this app developed by undergraduate software engineering student Robson Razafindramary is designed to collect information about a person’s commute to and from Concordia.

“There’s two parts: when you open the app, there’s a survey and you’re asked about your trip to Concordia, what campus you go to, by what mode you go, how often you go by that mode and if you use an alternate mode, which one you might use,” said Patterson.

This socio-demographic information is anonymous and it’s about the only part of the app that requires user participation. After the user has completed the survey, the app will run in the background, collecting information from the phone’s GPS about the users longitudinal and latitudinal positions, and uploads it when Wi-Fi becomes available.

“We can look at distance, we can get the speed they’re traveling at, we can get the modes, we can get a sense of what their trip itinerary looks like. Do people just go to campus and then go home or do they go many other places?” Patterson explained.

The information collected will be useful in determining travel behaviour and therefore give a better understanding of travel demand.

“Demand creates congestion and emissions and all the things that are bad about transportation. The idea typically in these surveys is [to look at] what the total demand is on the system that you have,” he said.

Patterson and his team are looking to recruit between 1,000 and 2,000 participants to use this app, which is why they’ve made the app to be as “hands-off” as possible. Other than the two minute survey after installation, users are not required to do anything. The app has been designed to not interfere with a user’s regular charging schedule. However, if you are an iOS user, you will have to manually sync the data every so often as Patterson’s team was unable to find a way for iPhone users to have their data sync automatically. It is Patterson’s hope that this app, because there is very little required by the user, will be more popular than its contemporaries.

For example, MIT has been conducting an app-based research project in Singapore and, according to Patterson, as of last year, they had only 75 participants.

“The idea is to get a little bit of information, let it run in the background and hopefully that will increase the participation rate,” he said.

The data retrieved from this app will also be beneficial for students, especially those concerned with sustainability.

“We could give an estimate of the total kilometres traveled on the roads of Montreal, relating to the people at Concordia, and that gives a sense of what our contribution is to congestion or emissions” added Patterson. “If you can use this information to better plan [public] transit, it will mean more people will use transit and fewer people will use their car.”

DataMobile is downloadable from the App Store or Google Play Store.

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