Thursday, 18 May 2017

The world of rating –“Nosedive” from Black Mirror

These days, we often face opportunities to rate things and experiences such as movies, books, goods, services, etc. What if we could directly rate people using our smartphones? What if the average rate that people give us would change our lives?
In the 2nd event of Urban and Transport Challenges on Screen, we watched “Nosedive” which is one of the episodes in the famous British TV series, “Black Mirror”.  As part of this event, a lively discussion took place after watching the episode. Some important points from the discussion are noted below.
Nosedive is set in an alternative reality where people can rate each other. The main character, Lacie, is obsessed with the rating game. One day, Lacie was invited to a wedding of her old friend, Naomi, who had a very high average rate. She understood it as a good chance to boost her rate to make her dreams come true. However, things did not turn out to be as good as she expected.
From the perspective of Transport Planners, we see that this episode gives us the opportunity to reflect on the current transport services that already function based on rates such as Uber. In these services, the users take the role as active agents who provide their opinions and feedback to the community. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages these rating systems create.

Rating Uber Drivers
We do not rate each other at the moment to escalate social status and access to better opportunities as the series showed. However, rating systems are becoming more and more common especially in online purchasing of goods or services. In the transport system, Transportation Network Companies such as Uber or Lyft are an example of how the drivers and the users are exposed to this “rating game”.
Rating systems are  very innovative idea to keep the service efficiency levels for the shared platform economy. One positive aspect of these systems is that customers can potentially receive more convenient and satisfying services. In terms of Uber, users obtain chances to avoid “bad drivers” by checking drivers’ average rate. However, little is known of the effect of drivers rating the users.
From the driver’s perspective, the rating systems would be overwhelming. One of the characteristics of rating systems is that people can give positive or negative feedback very conveniently. This feature is essential to encourage people to give feedback. Yet, it also gives people opportunity to give feedback following their temporal emotion.  Though it is the best if drivers can give the perfect experience to passengers all the time, isn’t it a little bit too harsh to expect drivers being very nice all day?

Rating Bus drivers – Average rate as a data of source
The users of public transport services often face dissatisfaction with the services. Introducing rating system to express opinions about the services gives the operators feedback which may lead to improvement of their services. In fact, the satisfaction with the bus services has already explored through focus groups, survey, interview to passengers on a bus, etc.
For instance, Transportfocus (2016) reported that bus passenger survey was carried out in the UK. The results of the survey were later used to understand the level of dissatisfaction of bus users. Bus drivers have already been rated. Hence, if we introduce the system that passengers rate a bus driver for every journey as well as other qualities of bus services, a lot of things can be done using this huge data.

Is this episode just a script?
Currently, all Social Network Services such as Facebook and Twitter have a function to give “like” to others’ posts. Many service providers ask us to give feedback about services we receive. There are gated societies where only “high average rate” people can enter. In many occasions, we may have already been “rated” and judged by “average rates” which does not show who you are but who others think you are. Although Nosedive is set in alternative reality, it seems that we are already living in a very similar society.
We haven’t experimented any explicit issues delivered by a rating system as Lacie, the main character of the episode, faced. Nonetheless, in the future, we might face problems when the rating systems become more common as businesses based on shared platform economy grow. At that time, we expect that rating systems have developed in such a way that individuals’ bias caused by internal and external factors are considered. 
I hope society will not fully rely on one piece of information, a rate, and keep being critical bout their judgement. Besides, I hope we can use this great chance to obtain the new big data to improve the transport system and the future society as a transport planner and as one of the citizens of this world.

Haruko Nakao

Transportfocus. 2016. Bus Passenger Survey Autumn 2016 Report. [Online]. [Accessed on 10th May].
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Friday, 24 March 2017

Amores Perros, a Transport Researcher perspective.


As transport planners, we see the city as a place of encounter, opportunity, recognition, emancipation, as a place of continuous improvement of our well being.  In our cities, we find jobs, distractions, leisure and pleasure.  As planners, we wish to connect all city dwellers to the places where opportunities rest. We design our transport systems to facilitate citizens achieve their dreams and expectations.
The movie “Love’s a bitch” (Amores Perros) presents us a different city. The city as a place of dis-encounter, where people only find misfortune, and while trying to be unrecognised are obliged to live in confinement. We see people struggling to find jobs, no time for distractions or leisure and where pleasure becomes a painful experience.  Both cities, the one we as planners understand and wish upon and the city the movie presents us, exist. We believe that the systems we have created have also helped with the divisions between the two realities presented.  There is a strong disconnection between both realities, and we believe that our transport systems are encouraging such disconnection. The movie gave us the opportunity to reflect on this detachment and start thinking of ways to approach the dilemma.

For the last 100 years, cities around the world have been building a lot of road space to accommodate the car as the maximum symbol of that facilitator. However, increasing congestion, air pollution, accidents amongst others have diminished the ability of the private car to help city dwellers achieve their life dreams. As a reaction to this, planners all over the world have turned to public transport, bicycles and walking as an alternative to the car.  We are firmly committed to the improvement of these sustainable transport modes to replace what once was the objective of the private vehicle. 

We are conscious as transport planners that we do not have all the required tools to approach the presented problems. But we do find in other practices, such as health, education, housing, etc., the tools, and technics which could enrich our understanding of the challenges which cities are facing. We believe that cities, transport practice and research could improve by integrating with other fields. We also understand that it is time to go to the ground, palpate the other city; the city we have been ignoring for decades and rethink the planning approach to focus more on planning for and to the people.   

Investing in more sustainable transport modes runs the risk of falling in the same adverse effects the car has brought to our cities if we do not acknowledge the existence of the other city which we have left behind. Finally, we understand that it is everyones’ responsibility to be the saviour of their community, all of us play a significant role. But we as transport experts, see ourselves as the facilitators who can bring the tools and techniques to the communities who have been left behind for decades and who know best what their problems are.