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Rio’s TMC rises to Olympic challenge

First publishedin ITS International
September October 2016
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ITS Traffic and travel Rio Olympics

Timothy Compston lifts the lid on Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for keeping its transport systems moving during the Olympics – and the outcome.

Hosting the Olympics poses major traffic management challenges for any city and Rio was no exception – especially as it is already one of the world’s most congested cities. Beyond its normal 6.5 million inhabitants wanting to carry on their daily lives, in August Rio was also home to 11,300 athletes from 206 countries. Athletes who, without fail, had to reach their designated venues on time. Arriving late for a heat or a final just was not an option for competitors who had trained for years for this opportunity.

Added to the mix were the hundreds of thousands of spectators wanting to view the action at 32 key venues and to complicate matters further, August is not holiday season in Brazil.

A pivotal piece of the transportation jigsaw puzzle was the Rio Operations Centre (ROC) at Cidade Nova. Sitting at the heart of smart traffic, public transport and incident management, the operations centre is a prime example of IBM’s Smarter Cities. At first glance the centre’s futuristic design, and one of (if not the) largest video walls in Latin America, makes it look more suited to mission control of a space programme.

According to Pedro Junqueira, chief executive of the Rio Operations Centre (ROC) one of the main drivers for the centre’s establishment was not traffic management but to improve the way the city could deal with major natural disasters and ongoing concerns such as flash flooding and landslides. He singles out Rio’s forward-thinking Mayor in this regard: “The Mayor wanted a place that would bring together the main bodies of the municipality to make the work of street teams more agile and efficient.”

Junqueira adds that this was triggered by heavy rain in 2010 which resulted in several deaths.

Significantly, the centre brings together an unprecedented number of government departments and agencies from across the municipality - 30 in total - with 500 personnel working under one roof, across different shifts. This approach, and the implementation of advanced urban systems for visualisation, monitoring and analysis, has helped cut incident response times by 25 – 30%.

Also important from Junqueira’s perspective, the ROC is moving away from ‘silos’ and redefining how information is gathered and interconnected. This includes real-time city-wide traffic data, helping to build a smarter and bigger-picture view of what is happening on the ground. Junqueira cites the example of a demonstration closing major streets: “Through our social networks we can communicate street blockages and suggest alternative routes so the city doesn’t stop.” He says the centre ensures that all public agencies are informed and striving to solve whatever the challenge might be: “We work to save lives, resolve problems more quickly and minimise the impact of incidents.”

Olympian challenge

Fast forward to late July and Junqueira’s talk turns to the measures being implemented for the forthcoming Olympics and Paralympics and the hurdles the ROC needs to overcome: “I guess the challenge that we have is about the culture and the routine of the city, because [the Olympics] is at a bigger level than we are used to. When I say ‘we’ I am talking about services.”
Junqueira contrasts the Olympics’ scale and complexity with the typical events the ROC handles: “It is not like New Year’s Eve which we have every year, Carnival, ‘Rock in Rio’ or even the World Cup because we do have soccer competitions here once in a while.
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Rio completed its Metro Line 4
Rio completed its Metro Line 4 in time for the Olympics
During the Olympics we are talking about 17 days straight in four big and important areas of the city and lots of competitions happening at the same time.”


Looking ahead to the games – then just weeks away - Junqueira said a vital task for the ROC will be to strike the right balance between the city itself - so ordinary citizens can go about their normal business - and the those using the Olympic lanes.

These will include international athletes and journalists all moving from one place to the other at the same time: “There are going to be different rush hours, not only the morning peak hour and the late afternoon, but also some in the middle of the day,” he explains.

At a practical level, Junqueira says that, ultimately, this will translate into how best to work with the vast array of information that is going to be at the ROC’s disposal: “How can we make better decisions or help someone who has nothing to do with the Olympics identify the best route or mode of transport, and those needing to go to a particular venue and who don’t know how to reach it?”  

Waze and Moovit

A real game-changer from Junqueira’s standpoint is the ROC partnerships with ‘app’ and crowd-sourced data providers which have the tools needed to deal with Olympic-related transport requirements. “We have a partnership with Waze that will allow citizens to avoid restricted areas while driving.”

This relationship with Waze goes back to the Pope’s visit in 2013 and Junqueira finds the crowd-sourced information, such as the location of a car crash or traffic congestion, is powerful and useful. During the Olympics it is to be used to inform ‘Wazers’ of the best path to use: “This is much more about City Hall providing them with information,” he says.

He is also keen to highlight Moovit which “has a similar DNA to Waze but is for users of public transportation. We have a good partnership with them too.” He explains that the plan is to encourage spectators to use Moovit. In effect Waze will be for citizens that have nothing to do with the Olympics with Moovit targeted at individuals wanting to know their best travel choice and when a bus will arrive at the Olympic venue.

Even before the Olympics started Moovit was demonstrating its worth: “If we have a problem we can send a push notification, so Moovit is very powerful.” The first time the push notification was used was for an issue in the subway and it reached 135,000 users who were informed about the delays. “By reaching them through the app we were able to reduce the demand at several stations.”

Regarding the establishment of ‘Olympic lanes’ to facilitate the Olympic family’s commute, Junqueira says these were initially dictated by a traffic engineering company which specialised in developing the routes to Olympic locations and building the lanes network. Alongside this, he says considerable energy was expended explaining to Rio’s citizens that these are not simply VIP lanes: “The lanes are not there to make the city suffer, or to have bigger car congestion, but because of the need for predictable journey times for athletes; after all they make the show happen.”

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The video wall in Rio’s Operations Centre
The video wall in Rio's Operations Centre was renewed and updated in readiness for the Olympics.

Supporting all these changes he said City Hall, with the help of the Federal Government, was able to install more than 200 cameras to monitor the Olympic lanes.

ROC gearing-up

In the build-up to the Olympics special area were created inside the main control room to act as the home of dedicated Olympic groups, otherwise known as clusters. Junqueira said the focus of the clusters was the transportation arrangements for the games themselves and the plan was for other parts of the control room to operate normally: “Different agencies are coming together to form this arm of more than 100 people.”

It was imperative that vital elements of the control room’s technology should not fail during the Olympics and the video wall’s lifespan was ebbing away. Therefore the decision was taken to change the whole video wall before the event and enhance the technology at the same time: “We could have come to the Olympic Games with this lifetime [of the screens] almost gone after five-and-a-half years. We now have a new video wall.”

The reconfigured wall has 104 screens (up from 80) and the new technology allows the operators to split the images inside the video wall. “We can even communicate with the video wall from our cellphones,” explains Junqueira.

What he describes as the ‘intelligence behind’ the video wall comes from a Bilfiner-Mauell (now Mauell) solution and the screens themselves from Samsung. Many parts of the old video wall are being used by other municipal partners.

Post-event

Catching-up with Junqueira between the Olympics and the Paralympics, he was happy with the traffic management results and the network of partners. “The operations centre managed to keep traffic engineers well connected with the additional responsibilities which come with being a host city. I consider the Olympic Games operations as a good example of how huge events can be organised by Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.”

Looking back he felt that the cluster teams in the Rio Operations Centre were a key factor in that satisfactory outcome: “They kept everyone informed and were able to make quick decisions - sending resources to the places where they were needed. Every problem that we’ve had was rapidly addressed and solved by our agents in a very coordinated way.”

Coincidentally, Moovit reported a 40% increase in daily usage during the Olympics along with a 70% rise in trip planning.
The biggest problem Junqueira identified was dealing with the bad weather during the closing ceremony: “The wind
was above 100km/h and kept to that level. It was very challenging to manage the arrivals of the authorities, athletes and spectators, with the consequences of the heavy winds.”

As to any advice he might give to future host cities to keep traffic moving and citizens informed, Junqueira says above everything else it is teamwork which wins through: “Every city has different technologies and financial possibilities so there is a need to work together and coordinate action. Of course every type of monitoring and communications services is needed too, from cameras to communication protocols. This allows the population to be well informed and technicians – and others - to take the right decisions.”

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Timothy Compston is a freelance journalist who writes on traffic technology and security issues.

Kapsch radio  for Rio Metro

In readiness for the Olympics, Rio completed Metro Line 4 which connects the beachside neighbourhood of Ipanema/Leblon with Barra de Tijuca, home to Barra Olympic Park, in 13 minutes. The line benefits from dedicated voice and data connectivity through the use of Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) provided by Kapsch CarrierCom.

At the beginning of 2015, Kapsch was selected by project lead ENG (www.eng.it) to deliver the TETRA network including four base stations, 60 in-train cab radios, 21 optical repeaters and 140 hand-held portable radios.


Contactless wrist bands 

Also prompted by the Olympics was a new partnership between Gemalto and RioCard, Rio’s public transportation ticketing operator, to implement contactless transport ticket wristbands.

The RioCard contactless transport wristbands were introduced in preparation for the expected 500,000 foreign visitors. When fully implemented, the solution will simplify secure payments and improve convenience of public transport (bus, ferry, subway and train) for residents and visitors.  

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