Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
A guide for practitioners!

You are here

What is ITS?

Authors  Professor Mashrur (Ronnie) Chowdhury (Clemson University, S. Carolina, USA)    Professor Adel Sadek (State University of New York, Buffalo, NY, USA)

Intelligent Transport Systems (abbreviated to I.T.S. and written ITS) refers to the use of information and communication technologies in transport. The development of ITS is still evolving. The extent to which these technologies are used – and the degree of sophistication in their deployment – varies from one country to another. Transport professionals around the globe need to understand the principal applications and capabilities of ITS so they can assess potential advantages, associated costs and how ITS may best be deployed.


Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are the control and information systems that use integrated communications and data processing technologies for the purposes of:

  • improving the mobility of people and goods
  • increasing safety, reducing traffic congestion and managing incidents effectively
  • meeting transport policy goals and objectives – such as demand management or public transport priority measures

The definition covers a broad array of techniques and approaches that may be achieved through stand-alone technological applications or through integration of different systems to provide new (or enhancements to) existing transport services. ITS provides the tools to transform mobility and improve safety – and is particularly relevant in the context of road network operations.


ITS aims to serve the user of the transport system by providing– for the individual – more reliability and comfort for individual mobility and – for the operator of the transport system – more effective operations and decision making. The overall function of ITS is to improve the operation of the entire transport system (often in real-time) for transport network controllers, travellers, shippers and other users.

ITS deployment is influenced by commercial interests and policy initiatives at the international, national, regional and local level – which impact on the business practices of stakeholders in the public or private sector.

ITS provides a flexible approach to addressing common transport problems – one that emphasises the use of information, optimal decision-making and a high level of system adaptability. This compares with the more traditional approach of building additional road infrastructure and adding physical capacity. ITS offers alternatives to meeting future travel demand in situations where conventional approaches may not work – for example in heavily built-up locations or in areas subject to stringent environmental regulations.

More specifically, ITS includes a variety of tools, such as sensing, communications, and computing technologies – which can be applied in an integrated way to the transport system to improve its efficiency, safety, sustainability and the resilience of network operations in the events of serious disruption.

Its applications

ITS has the potential to relive some of the most difficult problems that affect road transport today. In general ITS applications have the capability to:

  • improve traffic flow by reducing congestion
  • quickly detect incidents and appropriately respond to them
  • improve air quality by reducing pollution levels locally and minimising travel delay
  • improve safety by providing advance warning before potential crash situations
  • minimise the impacts of environmental, highway and human factors that contribute to accidents

ITS can also make travel more convenient by providing travellers with accurate and timely information about the traffic conditions on the network, and available transport options. It can also foster economic growth in a region, by improving mobility, enhancing travel time reliability and reducing energy consumption.

Road network operations

Many ITS applications have a role to play in effective road network operations – the aims of which include:

  • making best use of the capacity available on the road network
  • ensuring that the road network operates in the most efficient, safe, and sustainable way possible

In general, ITS applications that are designed to improve the efficiency, safety and/or sustainability of road networks are the applications most frequently adopted. Examples include:

  • systems for managing traffic and travel demand – such as traffic control, incident management, electronic payment, travel demand management, parking management and control
  • traveller information systems applications that allow road users to make informed decisions on their travel choices – such as driver information and route guidance

The concept of connected autonomous vehicles is becoming feasible and gaining support which will have major implications for road network operations – which will need full evaluation. (See Driver Support)

Video: Austria ITS FOCUS: Traffic Management and Control

Its benefits

All road users, including drivers and their passengers, pedestrians and cyclists – across all modes of road transport, including private cars, buses, coaches and commercial vehicles – can benefit from greater use of ITS. For example, ITS applications support:

  • commercial vehicle operations of commercial operators, regulatory and tax agencies and road users – providing benefits such as electronic administrative processes and automated roadside safety inspections
  • public transport from the perspective of both operators and travellers – providing benefits such as improved observance of time-tables, optimised operations, improved security on-board vehicles and at terminals – and a higher standard of service by providing real-time schedule information to travellers. (See Benefits of ITS)
Reference sources

No reference sources found.