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Measuring journey distances for drivers with disabilities

A registered charity approached us with a challenge. They needed a way to measure journey distance for both their own car-using customers and the HGV drivers distributing these vehicles. The solution needed to present accurate distances to ensure that customers weren’t left out-of-pocket, and allow for the lowest running costs for the charity itself. It needed to integrate into their current systems using a bespoke API and support a potentially high-volume of individual journey calculations.

The challenge:

This registered charity helps people with disabilities to get mobile by exchanging their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for a lease on a car, scooter, powered wheelchair or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle. Once the lease has ended, these customers can then return their vehicle to their closest major car dealer. The dealer then lists the vehicle on an online car auction on behalf of the charity.

The charity refunds their customer’s mileage in full, so they needed a way to calculate accurate mileage for their customers. Naturally, every customer lives in a different location, and they are also likely to have a different local car dealer. As such both A and B of the journey are always different - there is no central depot or headquarters to simplify calculations. For the best customer service, the online experience needs to be fast, with minimal processing time, whilst accuracy is vital when reimbursing mileage to someone for whom every penny counts.

Additionally, the charity arranges for onward delivery of the car to the winning bidder - typically another car dealership for resale. This meant that they also needed to calculate mileage and related cost for a HGV to transport the car. HGV travel time is likely to be longer, and potentially use a different route to light road traffic, so the solution would have to accommodate both types of road-user accurately.

Wheelchair user getting into a car.
This charity allows disabled people to exchange their Disability Living Allowance for a lease on a car and claim back mileage on the journey to return the car at the end of the lease.

The solution:

Our preferred solution for this type of challenge is to use our TimeTravel data, a data file of pre-calculated data that works to a postcode sector level of detail. By pre-calculating data, the processing time is kept minimal, whilst working to a postcode sector detail level we reach a good compromise between manageable data and granularity. It also avoids the added client cost of having to invest in a road network map required by industry-level journey planning tools. Data is pre-calculated for different journey variables such as peak or off-peak, and car or HGV travel, to ensure the most accurate result for any given journey.

The limitations of a pre-calculated dataset are the size of the file - at more than 120 million rows of data to allow for every possible journey combination, TimeTravel currently compresses down to around 3 gigabytes. With a constantly evolving road infrastructure and changing postcode geography, the file also needs regular updates. For this customer, that added a development and maintenance overhead.

The solution to this problem was to host the TimeTravel data ourselves and link it to the client website via an Application Programming Interface (API). In this way, we can host the data and ensure it is up to date. Allowing real-time access to pre-calculated data means that the client doesn’t need to worry about large downloads, database loading delays, or regular updates. Most importantly, it means that the web service can be super smooth from the customers’ perspective.

A map showing the different travel radii of an HGV vs a car in the same time period.
A graphic demonstration of the difference in road network and travel times between car and HGV traffic.

The result:

The service is now live and running well. Up time is in excess of 99.99% with an expected usage of around 600,000 look-ups each year. TimeTravel data supplied via an API has proven itself to be reliable and so we are now making it available to other clients who have similar service requirements. We have also developed a full point-to-point version via an API, for those clients that need the most detailed journey planning.

If you would like to explore what our TimeTravel product range can do for you, please get in touch.

How can we help you?

We have more than 25 years' experience of integrating geographical information into organisations' systems.
Get in touch if you'd like to see how we can help your company.

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