Intelligent transport system (ITS) society ITS South Africa has established a centre of excellence and is hosting the fifth ITS South Africa international conference and exhibition in March 2009, in an effort to encourage the country to use global and locally developed technologies to make transport more efficient, safer, user- friendly and environmentally sensitive.

“The mission of ITS South Africa, driving all activities, is to develop and strengthen a sustainable South African ITS industry that supports the achieve- ment of national transportation goals, by delivering value- added services to ITS South Africa members, and by promot- ing and enabling a strategic sociopolitical environment for ITS deployment,” comments ITS South Africa CEO Dr Paul Vorster.

ITS is a multidisciplinary field of practice that combines transport and traffic engineering, information technology, and telecommunications, in an effort to make transport operations more efficient and user-friendly.

The organisation aims to achieve a balanced transport system in cities where public transport is an option and where ITS technologies can contribute to enhanced transport efficiencies, improve transport- related safety and security, encourage a people-orientated approach in transport and promote environmental sensitivity.

CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE

Vorster notes that South Africa faces transport challenges that demand urgent attention, since without the uninterrupted move-ment of people and goods, it cannot support growth targets.

“We have limited resources, one being the dire shortage of skilled people, and this means we have to make sure we apply our resources to where they can make the biggest impact and create a multiplier effect. “This will not happen by default, but requires appropriate prioritisation and planned use of resources,” states Vorster.

Thus, ITS South Africa has established the ITS Centre of Excellence as a delivery mechanism. It is a virtual centre that encourages cooperation with other organisations where there is a possibility of achieving synergy.

It will grow in accordance with priorities and as resources allow to eventually stand on five pillars, namely knowledge management, training, education, research support, and innovation and develop- ment.

“The Centre of Excellence is already very strong in knowledge management, in particular tactical industry information, and is developing the strategic information dealing with case studies and trends. “The pillar of training is also well-established with several workshops and training sessions taking place every year,” says Vorster.

Further, the education pillar refers to formal, postgraduate and eventually postdoctoral studies to provide South Africa with the next generation of ITS engineers. The pillars of research sup- port and innovation and develop- ment will be based on partner- ship agreements and network- ing that is currently being explo- red.

E-TRANSPORT CONFERENCE

The biennial e-Transport con- ference will focus on the contribution ITS is delivering in a so-called new world economy, which is characterised by a dual economy with new democratic systems, strong first and second world components, rapid urbanisation, more than likely inadequate public transport to cater for the growing needs of its commuters, and congestion resulting from the imbalance between private and public transport.

“This is where ITS South Africa has found a niche in the ITS sector and there is strong local and international interest in this conference,” says Vorster.

Meanwhile, the 2010 FIFA soccer World Cup has inspired accelerated transport upgrades in South Africa, which will require an emphasis on managing and sustaining the new systems. The conference, entitled Mov- ing People Smartly: Transport Solut- ions for Soccer World Cup and Beyond, will take cognisance of this.

SOUTH AFRICAN CASE STUDY FOR ITS

Vorster says that the transport environment in South Africa serves as a case study for the deploy- ment of ITS solutions, because vehicle density in metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Cape Town and Durban causes gridlocks on a regular basis.

Further, travel times are unacceptably long, and trips into the city are unpredictable, owing to the levels of congestion. “You are either going to be very early for an appointment, or very late,” comments Vorster.

Moreover, Vorster states that the vehicle density and levels of congestion disproportionately increase the risk of crashes as well as secondary crashes as a result of the first incident.

“Not being a rich country, and given all the development needs that treasury has to fund, we have to find smart solutions and not try to solve the problem by throwing money at it,” notes Vorster.

While ITS South Africa is not arguing that road expansion should not be conducted, it is stressing that South Africa has to look at ways, such as those offered by ITS technologies, to improve the throughput of the network by managing traffic in a smarter way, by using available technologies to make roads safer, provide relevant traveller information to make it more user-friendly, and through these and other efficiencies, including promoting public transport, reduce the toxic emissions caused by vehicles.

Vorster says that none of the transport solutions considered in South Africa will be achieved without bringing public transport into the picture.

He adds, “We have become victims of our own success as sustained positive economic growth has resulted in the number of private vehicles joining the roads every year outstripping the network’s capacity. In addition to all the improved efficiencies, we also have to promote public transport as a mode of choice.”

Viable options for this include Gautrain, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in Johannesburg and Tshwane, and the Taxi Recapitilisation Scheme.

One example of how ITS will play an integrated role in the new transport system is through integrated ticketing, where a smart ticket will enable a commuter to plan his or her trip using a metropolitan bus, get onto the BRT and transfer to Metrorail to continue the journey with the same ticket. Such a smart ticket will provide operators with management information to better plan their services.

Another example is CCTV surveillance of, for example, bus shelters and station platforms linked to a rapid response unit responsible for commuter safety. Other examples are real-time location devices tracking the movement of a bus and updating the commuters on how many minutes remain until the next bus is due, and a public transport call centre that assists travellers in planning a trip using a combination of transport modes most suitable to their particular needs.

The South African Society for Intelligent Transport (Sasits) was first established in March 2001, following an ITS International awareness symposium organised by stake- holders such as Sanral, the Gauteng Depart-ment of Public Transport Roads and Works, and other stakeholders, such as industry players in the private sector, who were concerned about the growing congestion on South African roads.

Sasits was relaunched as ITS South Africa in January this year, in order to conform to international naming protocols for national ITS associations.