Benchmarking “Smart City” Technology Adoption in California

by Karen Trapenberg Frick

California, and Silicon Valley in particular, is known for technological innovation. But to what extent are “smart city” technologies that could help local service providers manage infrastructure assets more effectively, plan for preventative maintenance, and increase government transparency being adopted? In collaboration with Joint Venture Silicon Valley, U.C. Berkeley Professors Alison E. Post and Karen Trapenberg Frick collected data to benchmark the adoption of smart city technologies in California along with other research team members. View their final published report.

The Post-Frick team web-scraped publicly accessible websites to measure local jurisdictions’ adoption of “smart city” technologies across policing, transportation, and water and sanitation service providers. Web-scraping uses an automated, replicable data collection methodology to track changes in technology over time. This approach works best for technologies that are used by or communicate with consumers, for example Nixle public safety alerts, general transit feed specification (GTFS) feeds, and online public agency meeting minutes and agendas. In addition to technology adoption, researchers also collected relevant organizational and demographic data to track patterns in access. The data for the project can be accessed at connectedgov.berkeley.edu.

To demonstrate how web-scraped data can be used to learn about patterns of agencies’ technology adoption, they conducted an in-depth analysis of GTFS static and real-time publication across California transit agencies. GTFS publication allows agencies to communicate service modifications and emergency alerts with users and improves system resiliency. The study web-scraped GTFS feeds from Open Mobility Data to determine which transportation agencies in California publish static and real-time schedules across a sample of 172 service providers. This methodology provides a transparent and replicable approach to measure technology adoption, with web-scraping script available and maps of GTFS adoption available.

GTFS Adoption in California: Agency Type

Their analysis shows that over half of CA transportation agencies published static GTFS feeds in 2020, while only twenty percent published real time feeds. Additionally, independent transportation agencies were more likely to publish GTFS-r feeds than local government agencies. Large agencies operating in urban areas are also more likely to publish both static and real-time feeds. This suggests that larger agencies may have more resources to publish service data. Agencies in urban areas with higher demand for public transportation also may have a greater incentive to adopt these public service notifications. The findings of this analysis highlight gaps in “smart city” technology access, particularly for small, rural agencies, and provides a starting point to identify barriers to technology adoption within the state.

About the Author

Karen Trapenberg Frick is a Distinguished Fellow at Joint Venture's Institute for Regional Studies. You can learn more about Karen on her bio page.

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