Ten years ago ‘telematics’ was considered by the few who knew of it as a rather exotic technology that offered much but delivered little. True, the demonstrations and pilots from the early European PROMETHEUS and DRIVE programmes (see panel) were exciting. But there was little practical implementation. The international and European standards bodies, CEN and ISO, had few standards under their belt; architecture was something to do with buildings; and integration was for students of mathematics!

We have distilled our perspective from experience within the International Benefits Evaluation and Costs (IBEC) co-operative working group(1), which promotes ITS deployment by highlighting the importance of quantitative evaluation during implementation, and sharing experience. We also look at the major expected benefits over the next 10 years.

ITS has blossomed over the past decade largely because of the favourable technical and social environment within which it now exists. Without this, it would probably have remained within research establishments.

It has undoubtedly piggybacked on wider developments in computing, communications, IT and consumer products. Obvious examples are the ubiquitous mobile phone and low-cost GPS systems. Other major enablers have been the availability of high-quality digital mapping and the Internet. Coupled with these technical advances have come a social drive for increased mobility and access, and an appreciation of transport’s wider environmental consequences.

In passenger vehicles, a pattern has emerged of ITS systems appearing in high-end models and progressing rapidly, as volumes increase and costs fall, to mid-range and entry-level ones. Typical equipment now includes anti-lock brakes, electronic stability systems, radios equipped with ‘TP’ (dynamically switching to programmes broadcasting traffic information), and satellite navigation.

Dynamic traffic information is increasingly available through RDS-TMC or proprietary systems, while other location-based services (LBS) are becoming available. These contribute to driver comfort and safety and, to an extent, to network and environmental benefits.

Braking and stability-related functions have contributed to safety. A five-year evaluation of accident data for five US states has shown that electronic stability control systems are effective in reducing single-vehicle crashes, by around one third for passenger cars and two thirds for sports utility vehicles(2).

ITS equipment is now increasingly being used in commercial vehicles to provide route guidance and communication with fleet management systems. The fleet sector is very competitive – so driver assistance and efficient load-routeing translate into fuel and working-hours savings, leading to business benefits.

Freight movement is now an integral part of a logistics process that considers all security and transport issues from source to customer. There has been phenomenal growth in ‘tagging’ (typically by radio frequency identification – RFID), enabling much better tracking and management of goods throughout the transport chain.

For trucks crossing the border between the US and Canada, for example, dedicated lanes cater for RFID-equipped vehicles, with data sent ahead for border checks against pre-clearance information, reducing delays there(3). In Cologne, Germany, services including multi-modal handling, electronic data interchange and smartcard pre-clearance have improved efficiency for 60% of SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) haulage companies(4).

Traffic management
Ten years ago, urban traffic management already had the benefit of dynamic co-ordination systems such as SCOOT. There was also a variety of management systems for information signs, parking, public transport priority, public information, traffic count recording and air quality.

In recent years, ITS-based integration has become increasingly important, allowing efficiency and synergy in all forms of urban traffic and travel management.

ERTICO’s City Pioneers project led the way in Europe by translating research and pilot results into a practical ‘how to’ guide for city managers(5,6).

The 5T project in Turin, Italy, integrates nine ITS sub-systems under a ‘Traffic and Transport Supervisor’, sharing communications, exchanging data and integrating functions. Combined in this way, ITS allows as much as 20% additional capacity on the city’s transport network(7).

Inter-urban traffic management has also benefited enormously from ITS in collecting information (from smarter sensors and probe vehicles), processing and predicting future traffic flows (through modelling and data mining) and managing traffic by alerting drivers through dynamic message signs (DMS). Network managers increasingly use ITS more proactively in dynamic lane allocation, applying mandatory variable speed limits and diversion planning.

Long-term monitoring of speed control and incident detection on the M25 controlled motorway around London, UK, has shown that increased volumes of peak-hour traffic, year-to-year, can be absorbed without increasing congestion; while injury accidents, noise levels and air pollution have all fallen(8).

Road charging is a powerful tool for managing urban and inter-urban networks. In Switzerland, distance-related charging for heavy vehicles, using electronic fee collection (EFC) was implemented in 2001. Its aims were to:

  • Restrict increases in heavy goods vehicles on Swiss roads;
  • Promote goods transfer from road to rail; and
  • Reduce the impact of goods transport on the environment.

In its first year, heavy goods traffic fell by 3% compared with rises of around 6% in preceding years; while the rate of vehicle replacement (to meet more stringent environmental standards) increased. Up to two-thirds of revenues are being invested in public transport projects(9).

A driver assistance system
(Source: PIARC ITS Handbook 2nd Edition)

ITS is also becoming widely used as an enforcement tool to enable and reinforce network management schemes such as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, bus lanes, and speed limits. Enforcement is also a major contributor to resulting safety and efficiency gains, through its influence on driver behaviour.

Public transport

Finally, public transport has benefited greatly from ITS. Train and bus location systems have enabled dynamic scheduling and much improved passenger information. Smart ticketing has increased throughput at interchanges and provided much greater knowledge of trip demand that can be fed back into planning.

The Oyster card in London, UK, provides potential cost savings and more flexible fare arrangements as well as resistance to fraud(10). In Malaysia, a multiple-application transport payment system currently covers about 80% of the country’s highway network, involving close to five million card holders and 500,000 in-vehicle units(11).

So ITS has become much more mainstream, just part of the ‘toolbox’ available to transport planners and network operators. It also represents an increasing proportion of the value of individual vehicles.

Perversely, this makes evaluating ITS benefits per se extremely difficult. Ten years ago, evaluation tended to focus on the technical performance of clearly defined demonstration projects; but it now needs to identify socio-economic and other impacts of larger, more complex implementations.

Guidelines on evaluating ITS have evolved, from specific and detailed guidance issued to projects in specific programmes (such as the CONVERGE(12)  Guidelines for the European Fourth Framework Programme), to more generic regional or national guidance, eg in Finland (within the VIKING Euro-regional project), the Netherlands, the STREETWISE and CENTRICO Euro-regional projects(13) and Victoria (Australia)(14), and within the US Department of Transportation (USDOT)’s outreach programme. This last provides databases on costs and benefits, and publications aimed at different levels of decision-maker(15,16). Indeed the US now has a requirement for all federally-funded projects to be evaluated.

Overall, a broad range of evidence is now available on the costs and benefits of ITS-based services (see for example the ITS Handbook, Table 4.1).(17) Since 1999, those involved in IBEC have been working to compile and highlight ITS benefits to help decision-makers and promote further deployment.

Growing demand
The widespread availability of ICT and the ever-growing demand for greater choice in all aspects of daily life mean that patterns of movement are changing, and travel demand continues to grow. At the same time, pressure to mitigate its negative effects on the environment and develop more sustainable communities is also increasing – all within the constraints on the capacity of the transport system.

ITS evaluations during pilot trials have not only demonstrated positive benefits, as described above, but produced:

  • Valuable lessons in advance of wider implementation;
  • Concrete results to contribute to business cases; and
  • Increased confidence in ITS more generally.

This increased confidence has itself led to wider implementation and a willingness to try ITS solutions in new domains.

A touchscreen web phone
(Source: PIARC ITS Handbook 2nd Edition)

The European eSafety initiative is accelerating ITS deployment to help achieve targets for reducing road accident casualties. It also embraces international cooperation, to strengthen synergies and avoid duplication of effort.

For trucks, ITS systems for platooning vehicles into convoys seem likely to emerge as a response to pressures on drivers’ working time, competitiveness, road space and the environment.

An electronic towbar service is now available, and has been tested in, for example, the CHAUFFEUR project(18).

Traveller information services are becoming based on increasingly integrated data from a wider variety of sources, updated in real time and available on a range of platforms.

Both personalised mobile services and fixed kiosks, providing information for journey planning and payment and identifying destination-based activities, are set to expand rapidly.

Cooperative vehicle-highway systems (CVHS) are likely to develop to provide safer and more comfortable driving conditions, but with drivers retaining an element of vehicle control. One example is intelligent speed adaptation (ISA), currently undergoing trials in countries including Sweden, Belgium and the UK.

Evaluation in Sweden has demonstrated safety improvements without increasing journey times, and the potential to reduce urban road accident casualties by a fifth if all vehicles were fitted with ISA. Further work on systems, their impacts, and the frameworks in which they operate is necessary, however, before they can be implemented(19).

Road charging is expected to make difficult but necessary progress towards interoperability and become more flexible, in terms of charging structure, as mobile positioning systems and smart media become cheaper and more robust and slowly supplement systems built on short-range communications and off-board accounts. Implementation within cities, on inter-urban routes and for specific vehicle classes (particularly trucks), is an increasing trend.

The future
Integration of disparate ITS systems at national and regional level would be greatly assisted by agreements over architectural frameworks and development of standards. This is part of an ongoing effort by governments and within the standardisation community.

Despite standardisation’s reputation for being time-consuming, the efforts made have been worthwhile. They are expected to contribute further to a slow decline in legacy and proprietary systems, coupled with greater integration of services.

Future developments in ITS will not depend entirely on widespread implementation of services that have been tested and evaluated in the last ten years. Research and development are ongoing and the next wave of systems is in development, taking advantage of further technological advances. In Europe, for example, improvements in positioning information will enable a new generation of LBS to evolve.

We have shown how ITS services and the approach to evaluating them have moved on over the last ten years, and suggested likely developments over the next ten. But, however successful ITS services are in future at meeting environmental, economic and social goals, the need remains to identify and quantify the impacts, whether to justify investment decisions or provide a case for further investment.

ITS International.com – Friday 3 June 2005