Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Benefits of ITS

Author David Crawford (Transport Associates Network, UK)

People and businesses want transport that is safe, cost-effective, reliable, convenient and respectful of their environment. ITS (Intelligent transport systems) can save time, money and lives and protects public health, townscapes and landscapes – if they are properly planned and implemented with those benefits in mind. It does this through the application of information processing and communication processing technologies to road transport – car, truck, bus, tram, metro – and the road/rail transport infrastructure.

Transport and travel are essentials for everyday living, working, commuting, learning, shopping, leisure and, for companies, trading and distribution of goods. Virtually every person in the world, and every organisation, is a transport user or dependent in some way on transport. This is true whether people are homebound or based at static locations, or whether they are physically on the move on the roads - car drivers, truck and delivery operators, public transport vehicle drivers and passengers, cyclists or pedestrians. They all want smooth, safe and convenient journeys.

As economies, populations, migration, commerce and consumer demand grow, so does the pressure on transport infrastructure and systems, from its users and others who depend on it. This has become increasingly evident over the last few decades, with increasing road congestion and overcrowding on public transport. The emphasis is now on ensuring that users benefit from reliable and resilient transport. The solution lies in technology – specifically ITS – working in a policy context.

The central feature of ITS is its ability to deliver in real-time, traffic and travel information and a flexible means of network control. It is a key enabler of sustainable transport system which:

  • meets safely, the accessibility and mobility needs of those that live and work in an area or make use of the transport networks
  • offers a range of convenient and affordable transport options making best use of infrastructure
  • manages congestion and incidents to maintain a good level of service to road users
  • provides the means to limit air pollution and noise from road transport – contributing to a better quality of public and environmental health
  • supports a lively economy and the efficient transport of goods and freight
  • provides a tool for implementing transport policies – such as demand management or public transport priority

The way that ITS operates is often invisible (buried cabling or wireless communications). While people may experience some form of ITS every day (for example, traffic signals or variable message signs on roads, or searching for travel information on websites or via their smartphones), most will not realise how widespread ITS is in their daily lives. Nor will they appreciate how much they can benefit from the ways in which it makes their transport more user friendly.

ITS practitioners (including road network operators, managers, planners, engineers and surveyors) need to understanding the benefits of ITS and being be able to argue convincingly for investment in these technologies – often to a non-technical audiences such as governments, the media and local communities. This highlights the importance of gathering firm evidence of benefits through monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes of ITS deployments – and using the results in the appraisal of new projects. (See Project Appraisal)

More and more ITS schemes have been, or are being, evaluated, resulting in an extensive and growing literature on costs and benefits, including how to assess them – and understanding exactly what the benefits are and who experience them. See Evaluation. Informed awareness of ITS can be a critical factor in decision making by national, regional and local governments, directors of transport operating and related companies, investors and developers looking for locations for expansion, and the management and financial consultants advising public- and private-sector clients.

International Benefits, Evaluation and Costs (IBEC)

IBEC is a voluntary global cooperative of ITS professionals. It aims to encourage the international exchange of information and experience on the application of ITS technologies to transport needs and problems, their benefits, and the best way to monitor and evaluate them. It has a special interest in supporting ITS implementation in developing economies.

Its membership is open, with the aim of bringing together, and meeting the needs of, not only ITS professionals, but also transport planners, researchers, manufacturers and suppliers of ITS systems, decision-makers in public- and private-sector client organisations, as well as the transport-using public. This last is a very important audience, whose needs for ITS information are not always well catered for.

Members have access to its website library and information services.

Issues for Developing Economies

Early adoption of ITS is highly beneficial to developing economies as the rapid growth in vehicle use that they experience places increased pressure on their existing infrastructure – which needs to operate more effectively to cope with the increased volume of traffic. ITS traffic management and public transport technologies and applications can help make best use of available road capacity. (See Passenger Transport)

The cost of physically extending existing infrastructure – particularly in built-up areas – needs to be assessed against competing demands for transport investment and other priorities. Decision makers also need to be confident of being able to manage new roads efficiently to gain the optimum benefits from them. This can be achieved by planning to install ITS technologies at the outset of a new construction. (See Deployment Strategies)

To a large extent developing economies can draw on the experience of the developed world in obtaining the benefits of proven systems without having had to bear the full costs of bringing them to market. This may also provide an opportunity to create employment through commercial partnerships between local businesses and foreign suppliers. Care needs to be taken to ensure that any ITS deployment is well adapted to the local context to ensure success and maximise benefit. For example, direct transfer of ITS technology rarely works without some modification to take account of technical and maintenance skills levels and other factors – such as the environmental and cultural context, public readiness and acceptability. Poor road and vehicle maintenance, and poor driving skills, lead to high levels of road traffic accidents – nearly three quarters of all those in the world.

Developing and emerging economies have a large proportion of vulnerable road users (VRUs) – for example, pedestrians, cyclists, hand-carts, cycle-rickshaws and animal transport. According to the Indian Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, over 18% of all road traffic accident deaths involve vulnerable road users. The challenge is to make ITS technologies and applications that are flexible enough to respond to this traffic mix.

Most important is the early development of a policy and technical framework for ITS deployment in a local context. This will set out in advance the principles for specifying and choosing individual ITS products and services that meet transport needs as efficiently as possible. It will also consider the institutional capacity to work across organisations to install and maintain advanced technology – to secure maximum benefit to the economy and long-term gains in efficiency. (See Deployment Strategies)


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