Leveraging Big Data to Build Sustainable and Connected Cities: The Quito Case

The Challenge

In 2018, the Municipality of the Metropolitan District of Quito identified the need to become more inclusive and environmentally responsible as part of their vision for 2040. The Metropolitan Plan for Development and Territorial Organization (2015-2025) was developed focusing on environmental concerns, urban mobility and citizen participation in decision-making. Quito lacked sufficient data to truly create a smart city through needs-based policymaking.

The Approach

​The city of Quito has multiple initiatives promoting evidence-driven urban development. In collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Telefónica, the Municipality of Quito launched three projects. First, the Luca Transit project, which uses anonymised mobile data and artificial intelligence to understand citizens’ mobility patterns. Second, the Orquestador de la Movilidad initiative leverages technologies such as speed cameras, license plate sensors and bicycle and vehicle counts to monitor and manage traffic flow. Third, the city has institutionalised the collection of citizen-generated data through online participation platforms which allow people to submit projects, vote on proposals and participate in discussions and workshops. ​

The Benefits

Using mobile phone data to track people's mobility, city administrators in Quito can restructure bus routes according to demand, creating an integrated transport system that considers the population’s mobility patterns. The project further allows monitoring of road safety and optimises connections between different modes of transport. This in turn reduces operating costs, shortens travel times and increases comfort by better informing users.

By fostering innovation, Quito improves the quality of its transportation infrastructure, critical to building a sustainable and resilient urban ecosystem in accordance with SDG 9 Industry, innovation, infrastructure. At the same time, by improving mobility and reducing travel times, the initiatives provide better connectivity throughout the city and thus promote social inclusion, supporting SDG 11 Sustainable cities.

Citizen Participation

The electronic platform Quito Decide encourages citizens to submit projects, vote on proposals, participate in discussions and workshops, and volunteer for projects.

The context​

Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean region have been exploring the use of big data for sustainable urban development, with Quito in Ecuador being among them.

Quito's intention to become a smart city was established in the Metropolitan Plan for Development and Territorial Organization (2015-2025), which aims to create a more open, global, and inclusive city. The city had already invested in sustainability and technological infrastructure, particularly with respect to connectivity and the development of information and communications technologies (ICT) tools.

Directory of available data sources of Latin American cities (in Spanish):
The Inter-American Development Bank and Fundação Getulio Vargas prepared a technical report that gives a detailed overview on data sources available on public and private information in the city of Quito.

How can better data contribute to better policy?

Below we outline some of the projects currently underway in Quito.

  1. Luca Transit

Reorganising Quito’s bus routes to connect efficiently to the new metro lines represents an ongoing challenge. To address the issue, the city administration is drawing on data on movement habits collected through smartphones. More specifically, Luca Transit, a collaboration between the IDB and Telefónica, used anonymised mobile data and artificial intelligence to analyze the behaviour and movement of subway users. The goal is to create heat maps of the population distribution in the city, for which movement patterns around train stations, the number of passengers per line and the duration of use of the system are evaluated.

  1. Orquestador de la Movilidad

The Orquestador de la Movilidad project in Quito aims to improve traffic in one of the most congested cities in Latin America. The system interconnects different platforms to monitor road safety and encourage smart mobility by using air quality and traffic flow sensors, speed cameras, license plate readers and vehicle and pedestrian counters. This project led to the municipality bringing in guidelines to encourage the use of bicycles, including electric ones. It continues to provide real-time data to optimise connections between different modes of transportation, thus shortening travel times and reducing operation costs. While it is still in the process of being rolled out, this model is expected to help ease heavy traffic and will enable the creation of a real-time map of urban mobility in the district.

  1. Traffic Visualisation

To identify opportunities for more sustainable transport options, such as buses, Quito analyzes vehicle geolocation data and compares the speeds of buses with those of cars on the same road. For this, data from the Waze satellite navigation app is used to measure the speed of cars while a GPS tracker installed on buses calculates their speed. Combining this data generates insights for future urban planning and educates residents about the benefits of bus corridors during peak hours and encourages public transportation use.

Citizen-generated data

The city of Quito has institutionalised citizen participation. For example: the electronic platform Quito Decide encourages citizens to submit projects, vote on proposals, participate in discussions and workshops and volunteer for projects.

On the Ministry of Environment's website, the city government has further set up a data sharing platform where residents can submit their water and energy consumption and help track the city's water and carbon footprint. This allows for an informed action plan to be created that incentivises sustainable behaviour changes. For example, a goal has been set to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2032, and various actions are underway to achieve this including a landfill biogas project that will annually reduce emissions by almost 5.5 million tons. Additionally, Quito is establishing solar power plants, preventing the generation of 1.42 million tons of additional CO2 emissions each year. Similarly, the city is committed to decreasing its water footprint by 68%, equivalent to 1.5 billion m3 of water saved by 2032. To achieve this, policies have been implemented that promote ecological toilets, water reuse, water efficient appliances and vacuum systems.

Availability and protection of data

Quito's Metropolitan Information System collects the city’s geographic and administrative data and works to ensure that data remains protected. The National Assembly of Ecuador enacted a Personal Data Protection Law on 26 May 2021, but Quito city also has its own regulatory framework for personal data protection, addressing information security in a specific chapter of the Municipal Code. A report by the Inter-American Development Bank and Fundação Getulio Vargas evaluated this regulatory framework, and compared it to other Latin American cities such as São Paulo, Montevideo, Xalapa and Miraflores.

Where do we go from here?

To become an even more connected and smart city and meet the ambitions of the Metropolitan Plan for Development and Territorial Organization, further improvements in the city's mobility are needed. Quito is thus making strides towards developing an automated system for district traffic lights that combines cameras, optical fibre, data centres, information management processes and connects to the systems of the police and fire department.

This initiative serves as a prime example of the potential for co-creation of sustainable urban policies through collaboration between local governments and private companies. As such, Quito can offer valuable insights to other cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and beyond that are grappling with similar issues.

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