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Cícera is a Brazilian single mother who works as babysitter for Ms. Silva. Every day, Cícera leaves her home at 6:00 am and spends two hours in traffic before she arrives at Ms. Silva’s house. There, she takes care of baby Carlinhos, until 6:00 pm when she goes back home to take care of her own children.

During one of my business trips to Brazil last year, I met Cícera at a bus terminal. Carlinhos’ mother had arrived home at 3:00 pm that day, and released Cícera much earlier than usual. Cícera was very happy. Three more hours to spend with her family!  While she walked to the bus, she started making plans on what she would do with such precious time. “Today I will cook the best meal for my children,” she thought.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

When I met Cícera at the terminal, I noticed she was very anxious. She had been waiting for almost one hour, and no one could tell her when her bus would arrive. Even though she could have taken one from another line, she was too afraid of getting lost and decided to wait for her bus.

The bus terminal felt different and intimidating: she wasn’t used to being there at that time of the day, and no one seemed to be willing or able to give her a hand to get a ride home. Tired and frustrated, she realized that she had missed her chance to get home early.

Like Cícera, many of those who live in Latin American cities experience this unfortunate situation: passengers lack information on bus routes and times of arrival, and—in the absence of real-time information—transportation managers have trouble reassigning idle buses to accommodate hundreds of commuters during peak hours.

However, some cities such as Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Barcelona (Spain), Washington D.C. (U.S.A) and Anyang (Korea) have found ways to solve these problems.

These cities are considered “smart” because they are taking advantage of information and communication technologies to provide better services for their citizens. For instance, by using GPS sensors, transportation managers can track buses in real time, and then share this information with users at bus stops via smart phone apps. Citizens themselves can also help gather this data. Community-based navigation systems such as Waze allow users to share information on real-time traffic and road conditions, helping them save time and money on their daily commute.

 

traffic appsFrom left to right, three useful apps to get real-time traffic information: BCNbus (Barcelona), iCommute DC (Washington D.C.) and Waze (Rio de Janeiro).

If Cícera lived in a smart city, she might have arrived home early, prepared a nice dinner, and enjoyed a wonderful time with her family.

How is your city using technology to improve quality of life? Tell us about your experience!

Mauricio Bouskela is a Senior Specialist in the Competitiveness and Innovation Division in the Inter-American Development Bank. He joined the Bank in 2008 as a specialist in Information and Communication Technology. Mauricio has over twenty five years of successful experience working for high tech companies, including eleven years at Intel Corporation, where he was the Director for Latin America, with responsibility for technology, sales and marketing, strategic alliances and business development. He has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Campinas (Unicamp), has a postgraduate degree in Marketing from Fundação Getúlio Vargas and an MBA in Finance from the Brazilian Institute of Capital Markets (IBMEC).