I was told about a great new route to commute to work by a colleague and it was really good for a while. The 14km trip took about an hour by motorway and not much quicker taking the main arterial route. Then more and more people found out about it. It was nice and scenic too.
I noticed a lot of people turning into a residential side street and then farther on my journey, a large line of cars coming from another residential street all trying to get onto the main road. I also noticed that people didn’t want to let them in and wondered why.
One day I was using Waze and it told me to turn up that side street, so I did and suddenly I went from a stand still to 2 minutes of 50 kph, then guess where I turned up? About 30 cars ahead of where I would have been, if only I could get back on the main road. I had unwittingly become a rat runner!
It turns out that Waze (and Google) look at the traffic density and cleverly find alternate routes, but often it does so into residential roads that aren’t suitable for heavy traffic.
I recently discovered that in some towns in the US locals found a way to get around this. They went onto Waze on their local streets and reported that the roads were congested or even put in map errors saying roads were closed.
In some cases this can cause major problems. For example in 2017 a bridge in Atlanta collapsed. The Georgia DOT had just started a relationship with WAZE and they were one of the first Real Time Travel Information Services to inform motorists that they had to take an alternate route. That’s where the problems started.
Locals, suddenly beset with huge lines of traffic from the I-85 Interstate tried to manipulate the app by reporting false road closures. It worked for a little while, but WAZE has algorithms that notice when a road is still being used, despite information provided by ‘motorists’ and corrects for it. So the closure notes got overwritten, but were replaced by more fake closures.
This can be a real problem in a situation that is dynamic, for example where the DOT establishes a temporary detour, but only runs it at certain times. The road is shown as closed but then WAZE sees traffic going through it. This is of course a great reason for DOT’s to partner with authorities who have the official knowledge and SOP’s for managing unplanned road closures.
The challenge is of course that there are many car navigation and routing apps, all with their own algorithms and feedback loops. When there is a major event like a storm, floods, slips, it’s not unusual for people to follow the incorrect information from their navigation app, instead of what the authorities are trying to tell them to do.
Whilst people tend to trust DOT information when there is a serious event, many don’t use it or even know it is available unless they hear about it on the radio or other news media, or social media. They use Google Maps, WAZE or car navigation devices/apps from TomTom, HERE, Garmin and others and if you follow a hashtag I used to use #TheGPSMadeMeDoIt, you will find loads of stories that may astound you. My mother used to say “If someone told you to jump in the lake would you do it?” Well follow that link and you will find stories where people did exactly what the ‘GPS’ told them to with sometimes funny, sometimes disastrous consequences.
This creates the dilemma. Should a DOT provide their own travel information or allow 3rd parties to manage traffic flows. During Hurricane Florence there were stories of people driving around barricades because their phones told them to. A real challenge when you have to evacuate a million people who prefer to trust their app rather than the authority charged with managing traffic flow, especially when it is so ingrained that when the emergency hits people aren’t thinking straight, they are just trying to get to safety.
I was looking at a web site designed for families to plan for an emergency. It includes what you should have in your emergency kit, contact details for family and how you will connect if telephone lines are down and where you might meet in the event of an emergency. What it didn’t show was, where to find official, trustworthy information to allow you to relocate. I mean, if a road is under 3 feet of water, who is most likely to know the facts and the traffic management plan?
So I understand why people hack WAZE. If I lived on a street used by rat runners, I’d be tempted to create a fake road closure or traffic jam too. I’ll plagiarise the last word from Carlos Santana, with apologies.
You’ve got to stop your hacking WAZE, baby
Before I stop following you
You’ve go to change, baby
And every closure that I show is true
You’ve got me running in traffic jams all over town
You’ve got me sneaking and peeping, rat running around
This can’t go on
Lord, knows you got to change, baby