IBM Social Sentiment Index: Analysis of Traffic in Five Canadian Cities Reveals Top Factors Citizens Feel Most Impact Congestion

TORONTO, ONTARIO, April 2, 2013 -- Drivers in five major Canadian cities are stressed about their commutes and they are coping by using their thumbs and tweeting about it, according to the IBM Social Sentiment Index. The index pulls meaning from the never-ending big data flood of social media messages that now wash over Canadians continuously.

Few things in urban life change as fast or provoke as much emotion and commentary as traffic. Using sophisticated analytics technology, IBM analyzed the social chatter around traffic to tease insights from tens of thousands of comments from people in five Canadian cities. Discovering sentiment around commuters’ preferred routes, challenges or transportation modes could help a city more accurately plan for needed investments in transportation infrastructure and its potential impact to alleviate growing traffic congestion.

In the era of Big Data, with the continued explosion of blogs, online forums and other social media channels, social listening analyzes unfiltered citizen attitudes and actions, distinguishes between sincerity and sarcasm and even predicts trends as they surface online. Being able to quickly understand and respond to citizen or consumer trends helps city officials and stakeholders in other organizations make more informed decisions through useful insights gleaned from the millions of social media interactions people have daily. Armed with relevant social data, decision-makers can better measure and understand public opinion on customer issues or critical city services such as public transportation.

“The ability to effectively analyze data will define the next few decades of transportation, within cities and beyond,” said John Longbottom, Canadian smarter cities leader, IBM. “Worldwide, cities are using these kinds of data insights to better instrument physical transportation systems with sensors or mobile phones, measure the condition of assets and detect patterns to better plan routes, schedules and optimize vehicles, equipment and facilities to expand capacity.”

IBM’s recent analysis of publically available social media about traffic in major Canadian cities provides a real-time, moving picture of the social sentiment people are expressing about traffic. It was immediately clear that Torontonians are the most vocal of Canada’s drivers. Toronto had by far the most social buzz about traffic, and also the most negative. In an 11-month period, Toronto had almost 10,000 Tweets about traffic, almost 40 per cent of which were negative.

The volume of negative sentiment about parking in Toronto, according to the research, suggests it is the most pressing traffic concern. Drivers are circling in their cars and then later tweeting their frustration at not being able to find a parking space.

Sentiment on parking was similar in the other cities. Together, this sentiment may suggest that pinpointing parking data assets and targeting communications on parking availability is an opportunity for the five cities to help further reduce commuter stress and urban congestion.

At the other end of the spectrum, Halifax had fewer than 1,000 traffic-related chatter, only 20 per cent of which were negative. But Halifax had higher “traffic intensity” than any of the other four cities except Vancouver. Traffic intensity is the ratio of total buzz divided by population. More social chatter from a smaller population suggests that traffic-talk per person is much higher on the coasts – Vancouver and Halifax – than in Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal. In fact, Montreal had the lowest traffic intensity rating, which suggests that on a per-person basis Montrealers are relatively blasé about their traffic hassles. At least they don’t do a lot of tweeting about it, according to the index.

Across all the social chatter analyzed, “commuting” and “stress” were by far the most common driving-related topics. “Weather” and “construction” were the lowest overall.

“It might seem obvious to point out that people feel negative about traffic, but even for something where the cause and effect seem so self-evident, being able to look at a large flow of data and analyze it so you can pinpoint specific pain points opens a lot of doors for you in fixing the problem,” said Longbottom, “For a city planner or a company’s chief marketing officer, it is indispensable to quickly know where to focus resources to have the greatest impact on the issues citizens and customers care most about is indispensable.”

About the IBM Social Sentiment Index

The IBM Social Sentiment Index uses advanced analytics and natural language processing technologies to analyze large volumes of social media data in order to assess public opinions. The Index can identify and measure positive, negative and neutral sentiments shared in public forums such as Twitter, blogs, message boards and other social media, and provide quick insights into consumer conversations about issues, products and services. Representing a new form of market research, social sentiment analyses offer organizations new insights that can help them better understand and respond to consumer trends.
For more information about IBM Business Analytics, please visit: Follow the conversation at #IBMIndex on Twitter.
For more information about IBM Smarter Cities, visit and

Follow the conversation at #smartercities on Twitter.

Contact(s) information:

Carrie Bendzsa
IBM Media Relations, Canada