SASMOB collects traffic data in Szeged – and shows the impacts of COVID on mobility

By Antal Gertheis / Updated: 16 Jul 2020

As part of the SASMOB project, the City of Szeged – a CIVITAS Award-recognised champion of sustainable mobility in Hungary – is working on an intelligent data-driven municipal response system, which will help optimise urban mobility services and provide better information to users and commuters.

To meet the data needs of the City and public transport company SZKT, a team led by Vilmos Bilicki PhD at the Software Development Department of the University of Szeged is working on different methods to count passengers and traffic. Both public transport passengers on trolleybuses and traffic (cars, cyclists and pedestrians) crossing the City Centre Bridge spanning the river Tisza are counted automatically by camera images processed by Artificial Intelligence, and only the numbers are transmitted to keep the data anonymous and communication costs low. What’s more, free Wi-Fi hotspots available at public transport vehicles allow to track a significant share of smartphones – again, by a strictly anonymised ID – and organise trips into flows, i.e. extract origin-destination data and even multimodal trip chains.

Combined with the traditional method based on measuring vehicle weight, these new methods provide fairly reliable results. The results of the automated traffic counting on the City Centre Bridge since late February show the following results:

  • The pre-COVID traffic levels counted in late February 2020 were about 130 000 cars, 11 000 cyclists and 12 000 pedestrians weekly.
  • With the closure of schools from the 16 March, car traffic started to fall sharply; bicycle and pedestrian traffic also started to decline
  • With the start of lockdown on 28 March, traffic reached its lowest point: weekly car traffic stood at 55%, bicycle traffic at 79% and pedestrian traffic at 59% of February levels. At the same time, the number of public transport passengers fell dramatically to about 20% according to SZKT data.
    • Bicycle traffic started to rise again quickly, due to seasonality (spring weather) and as an alternative of public transport. Pedestrian traffic started to grow too, albeit at a slower pace.
    • Car traffic started to grow slowly after the introduction of free parking countrywide on the 06 April and the Easter holiday.
  • Following the end of lockdown on 4 May  2020, growth in all traffic modes was observed.
  • By early July, car traffic returned to its pre-COVID level, while bicycle traffic almost doubled and pedestrian traffic grew by 40% (in line with seasonal trends).

Besides providing continuous data supporting decisions, the counting programme tested in Szeged has another advantage: the low implementation costs, that can make it attractive also for other cities in Europe.

Monitoring and evaluation
Walking and cycling