Technology has been fundamental to transport ever since humans began to think beyond their feet, but recent rapid advances in information technology promise to transform transport management in ways that would have been inconceivable even 30 years ago.
We need this transformation. The decongestion of transport corridors is clearly an imperative. So how do we reduce congestion? How do we improve safety and security, and how do we minimise the negative environmental impact of many transport systems? These are not easy questions, but all answers depend on putting greater intelligence into transport systems, in turn helping users make more intelligent choices about their journeys.
The concept of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) is about enabling these choices. It’s about transforming road usage through a combination of real-time travel information services and next-generation infrastructure charging. It’s about sophisticated infrastructure asset management in all transport modes, coupled with advanced access control and ticketing in public transport. It is about improving door-to-door journey times and taking much of the stress out of travel, as well as making those journeys safer.
Critically, by reducing congestion and making public transport more attractive it is about drastically reducing transport-generated pollution, encouraging conditions for sustainable economic growth.
Fortuitously, these requirements coincide with the development and maturity of a series of enabling technologies. For example, the real-time monitoring of performance and energy consumption is now possible through the use of RFID and other technologies, while wireless networks are able to pass on important information about the performance and location of transport assets.
The arrival of this technology opens up a myriad of possibilities for more efficient use of transport assets. The trend for dedicated infrastructure for different modes of transport (such as bus lanes and high occupancy lanes for cars) will accelerate, and will depend upon the ability of organisations to transmit, process, produce and analyse large volumes of data. IT systems will play a crucial part in assuring sustainable transport well into the 21st century.
However, sustainable transport is not just a case of increasing the infrastructure available, but also a question of maximising the use of existing infrastructure and the interoperability of all transport assets.
Real-time traffic and travel information will contribute to the accessibility of main ports (harbours, airports and logistical hubs) and optimised choices for individual travellers. Floating car data, multi-modal public transport schedule databases, satellite-based location services and geographical information systems will start to converge.
Overall, today, there are three key interrelated areas in which technology will help to provide for a more sustainable transport infrastructure. These include:
• Real-time and location-based information services, enabling choice and decision making about alternative transport routes.
• Ambient and/or embedded intelligence to facilitate sophisticated asset (and especially energy consumption) management. With dwindling fuel supplies and continuous price pressures, alternative fuels are becoming more competitive and energy management systems more attractive.
• Next-generation road charging and environmental management solutions with integral calculation of real-time emission rates.
A key success factor behind successful implementation will be to ensure interoperability of the various systems across states and cities.
This interoperability will allow even more advanced systems in the future, including seamless travel supported by true multi-modal and real-time information systems, enabling smarter choices for individuals and logistic service providers; a strong increase in supply chain re-thinking, looking at the energy consumption of the movement of raw materials and finished goods across the total value chain; accelerated implementation of low-cost sensor technology and geo-spatial location-based services to drive accurate real-time energy management and emission monitoring; next-generation infrastructure charging systems that include actual emission monitoring and charging – and a corporate energy consumption and emission dashboard to enable proactive management; and personal carbon cards integrated with future electronic access control and transport ticketing schemes.
Dynamic traffic management: the essential ingredient
Core and central to ITS is dynamic traffic management. At the moment it is a broad concept, but it will typically involve the harnessing of real-time information to control traffic flows, perhaps by optimising signal systems at entry and exit points to a road or by switching traffic to contra flow lanes.
Dynamic traffic management means getting more timely information about accidents and breakdowns to emergency services, and indeed to other drivers. However, it could bring fundamental benefits to all transport modes.
In the near future, all vehicles, trains, ships and even cargo planes will be able to transmit ID and other useful information about themselves directly to data processing centres, offering traffic managers comprehensive real-time views of all movements on their networks as well as a range of interventions they can make to adjust and optimise those traffic flows.
This total management concept means that, for example, port operators can monitor multi-modal movements around the port and co-ordinate the arrival of ships and freight transport to ensure an optimum transfer of cargos. It means that rail managers gain much more granular control over train movements, signalling and platform capacity, helping to move more trains at higher speeds over the network.
Arrival of smart retailing
Electronic payments have already revolutionised most forms of retailing and accelerated the commercial exploitation of the internet. Now we’re entering the next phase of the revolution, with mobile technology freeing transactions from fixed terminals. The implications for transport systems are profound.
As an alternative to dedicated smart cards the new systems will be able to use the intelligence of personal devices (typically a mobile phone) and global navigation satellite services to work out automatically when someone is making a billable journey. The system will be able to ‘read’ the user’s identity, the start and end points of the journey, the time of the journey and process a transaction according to the payment system details given by the intelligent personal device.
Current versions of this scenario use ‘proximity’ sensors at station entry and exit points, linked to a fixed communication network, but will become truly wireless in the near future: real-time positioning information will show when and how you are using part of the public transport infrastructure, and collate both billing and other useful information.
The key challenge is to integrate these technologies with legacy systems, often involving multiple operators. Such ticketless systems will remove many current barriers and associated queues. Where barriers are still required, biometric technology can capture ID data automatically and in seconds grant access, ensuring that moving between stages remains effectively seamless.
Smart retailing in transport not only brings greater convenience for travellers and lower cost retailing for operators, it will make it far easier to move between transport modes, transforming how we plan and execute our journeys.
If dynamic traffic management discussed earlier is primarily a tool for infrastructure managers who need to optimise movements over their network, real-time travel information is about the way those managers can help travellers themselves make smarter choices about routes and transport mode.
However, the real step forward here is in that the system goes beyond individual transport modes to help people manage their real journey. It is ‘traveller-centric’. Indeed, if a traveller is carrying a mobile communication device the available positioning data enables us to track their progress and send any important new advice proactively.
With such knowledge travellers can adjust their plans, shifting the load from a congested part of a transport network to a less congested route or mode.
Automated ticketing can make this mode-switching easy and painless but all of this shows how a core technology expertise can solve multiple transport problems.
Intelligent transport systems will be fundamental not only to the future of transport, but to the economies and the businesses those systems serve. The alternative is not so much ‘unintelligent transport systems’ but gridlock and perhaps even environmental disaster. There is a better way forward.
Craig Lennard is the managing director for industry, distribution and transport at Logica.