Yesterday, Stockholm had the heaviest November snowfall since 1905 — over 40 cms in one day. The result was a city in frozen motion. Buses and cars with summer tires got stuck on the roads. They blocked traffic for all the other vehicles including the snow plows. In the news we read about people who were stuck in their cars for 10 hours or more.
All of our smart devices gather information and predict what will happen. Some of this information needs to be sought out. Often the information comes to us as alerts. As soon as my train started, Google alerted me to problems in traffic on the road.
No doubt information about the weather and traffic conditions was out there. Some people would have to seek it out. Many others would like me be alerted proactively by our tech. Why then did our digital technology not stop the chaos from happening? I can see several reasons:
- A traffic system near capacity. The traffic system in Stockholm is stretched to capacity even on normal days.
- A minority of cars and buses lacking winter equipment. It only takes a few cars getting stuck to perturb a traffic system that has no margins.
Every year, a number of motorists are surprised by winter but they need to get to work and drive anyway. Why don’t people change to winter tires on time? Digital transformation and smart cities promise us descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics to help avoid problems.
No doubt, the descriptive and predictive analytics is there and it is being pushed to citizens. But just as obivously it does not get the desired effects. People still do things even though they know they shouldn’t. This doesn’t mean we should give up. It means we should get better at nudges.
- Helenelund Station in heavy snow: Owned by the author