Data Analytics & AI

City of LA could lose $11.8 million a year – and it shows the power of data

“Data is fueling the digital economy,” Ted Ross, General Manager and CIO, City of Los Angeles, told delegates at Smart City InFocus in Yinchuan last month. He likened it to coal, steam power and silicon chips, in terms of disruptive power to change the entire landscape of society and industry.

Ross commented: “The greatest companies on this planet are those that have been able to master and are effectively leveraging data. And in the same way data is completely transforming industry and private sector, data will transform government, and we’re seeing it today. Data will fuel smart cities.”

He shared a number of clear examples of how data is helping LA transform government, engage citizens and tackle some of the specific challenges it faces.

Cleaning up the city

Like many cities, LA has an app, hotline and online service which allows citizens to report issues 24 hours a day, such as trash dumped in the street, for example.

However, the city soon realized it had an “inequity” problem, which it was also criticized for in the media.

“Lo and behold, wealthier communities were more aggressive. Less affluent communities were less aggressive [in reporting issues],” Ross said.

He explained: “Really what we ran into was an issue with our data. We were responding to crowdsourcing, in many ways. Yet, there was a fundamental flaw in this approach because the people who were engaging in the crowdsourcing model weren’t representative of every community, even though we pushed very hard to leverage things like a mobile app.”

The city launched the Clean Streets program. There are 22,000 miles of road in Los Angeles – sanitation crews began to drive around each one and categorize them as ‘clean’, ‘somewhat clean’ or ‘unclean’. Since January 2016 there has been an 82 percent reduction in ‘unclean’ areas and an 84 percent reduction in ‘somewhat unclean’ areas.

“We only have finite resources, like every other city and every other organization…when we get that laser precision focus, we can [get results]. But the key [was]the data and the intelligence,” Ross said.

LA is now starting to automate the process with machine learning and sanitation crews using dash-cams as they drive the streets.

“What you’re going to find in the future is truck after truck assessing the cleanliness of our streets and allowing us to reallocate our resources properly,” he said.

Keeping LA moving

LA has an automated traffic surveillance system, including 40,000 heat detectors, 4,000 pilot, automated intersections and 500 cameras.

Through this, the city is seeing a 12 percent reduction in traffic as well as a 16 percent increase in vehicle speeds and a 20 to 30 percent reduction in traffic stops.

“You can just ‘go through algorithm’,” Ross said, noting that machine-to-machine communication enables the management of traffic patterns in real-time with no delays. The next step is integration with other smart city verticals.


In LA, two hours each week on many streets is blocked off for street sweeping. During this time, the street is unavailable for parking. Even if the street sweeping is complete within the first five minutes of the closure period, the street will remain closed. If people park there they will receive a ticket.

The city is piloting an initiative that uses the GPS in the street sweeping vehicles. Residents are notified via mobile app when the work is complete so that they can park. Traffic officers are notified too so they know not to issue parking tickets.

Ross said, “We estimate the City of Los Angeles will be losing [up to]$11.8 million of revenue per year [if the initiative is rolled out across the city]. Well, good for us. Because when it’s all said and done, government is not there to raise revenues; government is there to deliver a service.”

Jumping ahead of an earthquake

The threat of an earthquake looms large for LA due to its proximity to the San Andreas fault line. By the end of 2018, the city plans to have an app-based earthquake warning system in place.

Residents, schools, businesses, etc., will receive a 30- to 45-second advance warning, depending on their location. The system detects an earthquake’s up-and-down p-wave, which travels faster and precedes the destructive horizontal s-wave, and converts that signal into a warning.

“That data intelligence gives us the ability to jump ahead of an earthquake with precious seconds to make a difference,” Ross said.

Everything comes in threes

Ross concluded with three key points about how LA approaches data:

  • Reimagine the customer experience using data. Leverage data to completely change the way that we’re operating.
  • Optimize internal-data sharing. If you don’t have a data-driven culture, you’re not going to leverage it through your community.
  • Empower staff to seize data opportunities. “The great power is in my staff. They’re empowered to identify opportunities and to seize what we call ‘business onus’ so that we can then deliver on that and empower it. There is so much intelligence and wisdom in the people in the organisation. If we tap into that, we can be that much more effective.”

TM Forum takeaway

Carl Piva, Head of the Smart City Forum, TM Forum, comments, “Los Angeles is a front-runner city in many areas related to usage of data, and we look forward to working with the city on how to grow its local data economy.”


    About The Author


    Sarah is a freelance writer and editor with an interest in new technologies and how they impact our everyday lives.

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