CEO of ITS South Africa Dr Paul Vorster explains how the challenges to achieve mobility for 2010’s Soccer World Cup offer exciting opportunities for the country’s ITS industry…

The ‘mobility paradox’ means that the more we rely on private transport to come and go as business and leisure demands us to, the more we get caught up in rampant congestion severely limiting our mobility.

Insufficient and often sub-standard public transport has aggravated the mobility challenge to the point where complaining about this problem has been replaced by active steps to turn it around.

The mobility paradox requires both immediate and strategic, long-term interventions. Intelligent Transport Systems, ITS for short, will play a vital role in both.

Hosting the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010 in South Africa has pushed transport in general, and public transport in particular, to the top of the agenda.

In his State of the Nation Speech when opening Parliament on 9th February 2007, President Thabo Mbeki said: “Our programme in the social sector for this year will also include…implementing detailed plans for passenger rail and road transport, including the Bus Rapid Transit System in the Metros and recapitalisation of Metrorail.”

There are several immediate interventions currently being implemented, with several more detailed plans already on the drawing board to better manage traffic and reduce the threat of approaching gridlock.

‘Gridlock’ is when congestions become so severe that vehicles come to a grinding halt, as often happens on parts of the freeways leading into metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Commuters on the N1 freeway between Johannesburg and Pretoria have seen the deployment of a network of CCTV cameras with the real-time images being relayed to the Network Management Centre (NMC). Various other field devices also feed traffic data to the NMC to better enable the National Roads Agency (SANRAL) to identify incidents and take appropriate action towards restoring the traffic flow. SANRAL – in partnership with the metros in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekuhuleni – is rapidly expanding this incident management system to freeways linked to the N1. Durban and Cape will see similar deployments and expansions to their respective traffic management systems. Variable message signs along the freeways will provide updated traveller information to commuters, and advises drivers on traffic conditions ahead and when the hard shoulder (emergency lane) is available to relive congestion. This is a typical ITS project.

SANRAL has also announced the introduction of ramp metering as a traffic management tool. ‘Ramp metering’ is the use of traffic lights at the on-ramp, regulating the rate at which motorists can join the freeway to prevent it from clogging up and coming to a standstill. This is another typical ITS deployment.

To combat vehicle related crime and better manage the number of unpaid vehicle licences and outstanding traffic fines, Electronic Vehicle Identification (EVI) is under consideration. In a pilot project, RFID is being subjected to accuracy and reliability tests. This project is still continuing.

SANRAL has also been instructed by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe to take the lead to facilitate inter-institutional co-operation to launch freeway management systems in Cape Town and Durban that are similar to the one between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The instruction for a ‘similar’ system bodes well for standardisation, interoperability and economy of scale. In the absence of a national level ITS architecture, this will assist in promoting a de facto architecture, or at least key elements for it.

While some of the strategic transport interventions focus on the road-based network, there are other equally exciting public transport interventions on the planning table.

In March 2007, Cabinet approved the Public Transport Strategy and Action Plan. All three spheres of government are required to work together in the implementation of Phase 1 and 2 of a high quality integrated rapid public transport network (IRPTN) in the period 2007-2014.

The 2003 National Household Travel Survey revealed that public transport modes used to travel to work grew by 10%, while private car use grew by 20% in this period.

Johannesburg and Pretoria have both embarked on the planned introduction of Bus Rapid Transit schemes. A BRT – sometimes referred to as a train on rubber – will see the introduction of high frequency buses linking high density nodes such as Soweto, Randburg, Sunninghill, Roodeport with the Johannesburg CBD. The buses will travel along dedicated bus lanes with right-of-way and traffic light preemption giving them preference over private cars.

The transport debate has shifted towards a focus on integration and inter-modal transfer, where a typical public transport journey will make use of several modes of transport. This is illustrated by Gautrain, its network of feeder-and-distribution buses collecting/distributing its commuters to and from its stations. Gautrain will also link with transport modes such as Metrorail, long distance and inner city taxis, the BRT systems in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as park-and-ride and drop-off commuters.

The Western Cape has embarked on an Electronic Fare Collection (EFC) project to facilitate commuters using a single, integrated ticket when using different public transport modes. The City of Cape Town has been running a highly successful Public Transport Call Centre advising commuters on planning their travels.

e Department of Transport has progressed very well with its Electronic Fare Collection policy. Given numerous public transport initiatives at provincial and metropolitan level, integrated ticketing is a ‘hot topic’ and the national EFC policy is designed to assist with standardisation and to encourage interoperability. The project has progressed to the stage of regulations being drafted for promulgation by the Director General of the Department of Transport.

While of critical value, interventions such as the examples above need to be supported by long-term capacity building. To sustain such initiatives, skills development programmes must be initiated now. For example, South Africa currently experiences a serious shortage of high level skills such as engineers.

A milestone study conducted in 2005 by the SA Institution of Civil Engineers (SAICE) revealed that there was a shortage of between 3,000 and 6,000 civil engineering professionals (professional engineers and engineering technologists). At that time, the country had capital projects of about R200bn on the books.

Since then, there had been a continued loss of engineering professionals combined with an increase of capital projects to more than R400bn. When private sector capital projects are included, the skills shortage becomes even more pressing.

To contribute towards the long-term strategic interventions, ITS South Africa announced the establishment of the ITS Centre of Excellence.

The ITS Centre of Excellence has been designed as a delivery mechanism for strategic ITS projects. It will operate as a virtual organisation striving to build relationships with other stakeholders, inside South Africa and abroad.

It will grow organically to match its projects with available resources to stand on five pillars. These ‘pillars’ are knowledge management, training, education, research support and innovation. The ‘pillars’ of knowledge management and training are already strong. The education ‘pillar’ is being explored via negotiations with international stakeholders such as ITS Sweden and is aimed at providing the future generation of ITS engineering professionals. Research support and innovation will be explored in support with stakeholders such as the CSIR, the various South African Engineering Faculties, The Innovation Hub (of which ITS South Africa is a Knowledge Partner) and international partners such as the Ertico/ITS Europe-linked Network of National ITS Associations (of which ITS South Africa is a participating member).

The combination of immediate and strategic interventions have opened an exciting range of exciting opportunities to keep growing the ITS industry.

AUTHOR: Dr Paul Vorster
DATED: 20th November 2007