Transportation agencies across the United States will have access to reports from Wazers and be able to use the data to identify unplowed roads and more quickly and efficiently deploy crews to clear snow.
“Our partners can use this kind of information to help them improve their operations,” said Dani Simons, who leads public-sector partnerships at Waze. “It will give them a clear view into what roads have and haven't been plowed.”
While some cities run snow removal operations in-house and have technology to track where crews are plowing, those that depend on contractors could benefit from the crowdsourced app’s insight into real-time road conditions.
“Then they can prioritize and deploy their resources better,” Simons said.
Waze developed the Unplowed Road feature in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Transportation. In preparation for winter, VDOT officials this summer asked Waze if there was a way to report unplowed roads and use the crowdsourced data to aid the state’s winter operations.
“We wanted to explore this method of information gathering to help improve safety and better assess the conditions of our roads during winter weather,” VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Rob Cary said in a statement.
VDOT plans to monitor the real-time reports on road conditions this winter and determine how best to incorporate the Waze data into future operations, Cary said. The feature could help the state rethink its response resources next year. Virginia sets aside $205 million for winter weather-related expenses, and has more than 2,500 VDOT crew members and additional contractors handy for snow removal statewide. During a busy season, they handle nearly 700,000 tons of salt and nearly 2.4 million gallons of liquid calcium chloride and salt brine.
The data is free to about 1,300 government agencies that are part of the Waze for Cities Data program, Simons said. She said the work with VDOT exemplifies “what can be accomplished when we collaborate with public-sector partners to meet community needs.”
The snow warning feature is live in the more than 185 countries where the app operates, promising to come in handy for millions of Waze users in areas with harsh winter weather. The feature is silenced in areas with no inclement winter weather.
Users can report, in real time, icy and unplowed streets they encounter in their travels, and the app keeps them informed when they are approaching a road that has already been identified by other drivers as unplowed.
The Unplowed Road feature is the latest road hazard added to the Waze app, a Google company. Users report and are alerted of other issues on their routes, including potholes, water on roadways, crashes and vehicles on shoulders. Wazers globally make more than 60 million reports every month, according to Waze.
Through the Waze for Cities program, the company feeds anonymous data from user reports to local governments, and the agencies use it to try to make roads safer.
In the nation’s capital, for example, Waze a few years ago fed the District Department of Transportation with data about pothole reports. DDOT then used the data to guide its “Potholepalooza” campaign to repave damaged roads.
In Maryland, the State Highway Administration announced last week a partnership that will allow the agency to share road closure incidents in real time with Waze users. Through the feature, the state will alert users about road closures and detours, as well as potential delays due to roadwork.
“This partnership allows us to share road closure and detour information on the Waze platform instantly, arming our customers with the information they need when planning a trip on our roadways,” said Greg Slater, the former SHA administrator who was recently named state transportation secretary.
Waze expects many agencies, including those in the District and Maryland, to join in using the winter weather feature.
Simons said the reports from users have helped governments monitor traffic patterns, hazards and road conditions and helped them better respond. She said the addition of the winter feature will give agencies insight on where to get work crews in a timely fashion, allowing them to expedite their snow removal operations and make roads safer.
“They can’t have traffic cameras everywhere,” she said. “But we can provide a little bit of data and our partners have a virtual picture of what's going on in the roadway.”