TECHINASIA: Traffic jams in Southeast Asia: the entrepreneur's white whale   August 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm

by Anh-Minh Do

Lately I've been meeting a few teams here and there around the tech scene who are very interested in the topic of traffic in Vietnam. Probably one of the more advanced players is , which is working on a carpool-like service for people living in the city. There has also been a few teams at Vietnam's latest hackathons that wanted to tackle the traffic problems of Ho Chi Minh city with apps. On top of this, the municipal authorities have also been redirecting traffic with electronic signs for the past year. It's a big problem for Vietnam's biggest and most populous city.

IBM tackles the smaller city of Danang

But up in Danang, one of Vietnam's most promising cities, IBM is coming to the rescue. The city's only got about one million people but has one of the highest population growth rates in the country, and is the fourth largest city in the country. In the past decade, Danang has slowly grown a reputation for having a hard working populace as well as being run by municipal authorities that are open minded and forward looking. The IBM contract is yet another move in this direction.

IBM is investing its big data technologies and predictive analytics to build Danang's control center that will be able to forecast and prevent traffic congestion. It'll be tracking all of Danang's 100 city buses and relay all the data to passengers. In other words, IBM and Danang are going to be able to effectively stem the tide of traffic that Vietnam's two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, now face.

This isn't the first time IBM has helped with a city's traffic problems. It's been on the company's Smarter Planet initiative for quite some time now, working on traffic issues across South America and Northern Europe - and now Vietnam.

Startups just may not be the answer

Across Southeast Asia, we're seeing similar problems. In the Philippines, IBM is also helping with traffic, but before that all comes into play, there has been an onslaught of traffic apps from numerous startups. In Indonesia - Jakarta has arguably the worst traffic in the region - where most commuters are resigned to always wait two hours to get to their next destination, there are also a few alternatives, like Lewatmana, and Nebeng.

But these bandaid solutions are unable to hit at the heart of the problem - traffic is a systemic issue. As thoroughly outlined in the documentary movie Urbanized, things like adding more roads just compounds the problem. Can a startup really tackle the problem if there is no monetary sustainability? And for that matter, if a startup can figure out a solution that gets real-time data into the hands of consumers, is that really enough to change the traffic? I think this is exactly why huge companies - not startups with their apps - are the only ones that can tackle the problem.

If we look at Singapore's traffic situation, although it's still a big congested at times, it's largely mitigated by its car taxing solution. It costs more to take certain roads at certain times - IBM proposed a similar solution in Northern Europe. That's the kind of fundamental solution that startups just can't do.

(Editing by Steven Millward)


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