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

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There are a great variety of ITS technologies. The basic building blocks form part of the ITS infrastructure and its supporting framework of data and information – or “info-structure” – that enables further ITS applications to be developed. For example, digital maps are an enabling technology for vehicle navigation and must be in place before navigation and route guidance services can be developed. (See Basic Info-structure). The three most widely-available enabling technologies for ITS in developing countries are Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), cellular mobile phones, and the internet.

The adoption of advanced ITS technologies in some transitional and developing countries has been very rapid. As latecomers in deploying ITS they benefit from two main advantages:

  • they can learn from the successes and the mistakes made by more developed countries and can benefit from the latest systems on offer – saving on research and development costs
  • by starting from scratch, they are less constrained by legacy systems

Countries without extensive legacy technical infrastructure (for example, ground telephone systems) or institutional infrastructure (such as automatic banking systems) are able to exploit mobile communications and smart card technologies with less institutional resistance.

Communications Technologies

To keep pace with ITS-related communication technologies and forecast the rate of their deployment, it helps to understand how these technologies are regulated. In many countries, especially those with developing economies, a single government department may have jurisdiction over both transport and communications. In other countries, the public authorities responsible for these sectors are generally separated (for example in USA there is a Department of Transportation, USDOT, and a Federal Communications Commission, FCC).

A technology review should include all commercial and military technologies that are available. The basic considerations for comparing and choosing between them – for ITS applications – are fundamentally the same, irrespective of how communication technologies develop. A cost-benefit analysis of communications options is a basic requirement. Other important criteria for selection are:

  • communication range
  • geographical and population coverage
  • latency (transmission delay)
  • directionality (for receiving or transmitting wireless signals)
  • one-way versus two-way communications
  • service availability and reliability
  • vulnerability to natural versus man-made disasters – such as sabotage and vandalism

Adapting ITS Technologies

When adopting ITS technologies and systems from other countries, it is important to avoid the temptation of copying the approach to ITS deployment adopted by industrialised countries. Cultural, environmental and human behavioural factors may require a very different approach. For example, the benefits of Area Traffic Control (ATC) systems may be seriously compromised by activities that take up part of the roadway – such as minibuses and taxis stopping to load and unload, itinerant hawkers (street vendors), or roadside dwellings. Sometimes re-engineering, of the ATC system may be required to ensure compatibility with the local environment.

Maintenance standards of infrastructure can also have a bearing on the type of ITS equipment to be installed. For example, if the road surface is poorly maintained, it does not make sense to lay loop detectors underneath it – since they are likely to be out of action for long periods.

ITS technology may be adapted to serve different or multiple functions. For example, in many countries automatic vehicle location using GPS is more often installed on trucks and buses for security reasons – rather than for efficient fleet dispatch. This kind of application may be mandated by government to achieve policy objectives – such as reducing crime.

Climate and weather conditions may require a particular approach. For example, in some parts of Indonesia expressway sign boards are illuminated to improve traffic sign visibility – to overcome the problem of torrential rain in the wet season followed by extremely dusty conditions in the dry season.

Technology Assessment and Procurement

Transport policy-makers and road authorities need to be familiar with ITS technologies so they can assess the merits and risks from an operational perspective. Criteria for assessment include:
  • value for money
  • the degree to which the technology supports policy objectives
  • whether the technology uses open standards and protocols for equipment and data communications (which enable open competition in purchasing equipment and software from multiple vendors, help deliver value for money)

Other important assessment criteria include:

  • interoperability (ease of integration between systems operated by different organisations and between adjacent geographical regions)
  • compliance with current and emerging standards
  • data quality
  • technology lifetime
  • communications across terrain
  • vulnerability of equipment (against vandalism and security threats)
  • the technology supplier’s capability and reliability

The organisation procuring the equipment must assess the commitment and capability of the supplier – either directly or indirectly – through a reference check. “Least cost” tenders are not necessarily the best ones as the suppliers offering them may not have the capability to deliver and may not survive in competition.

Wherever possible, when procuring ITS, it is advisable not to rely on technical specifications that will limit the supplier’s options. A better approach is to develop minimum performance requirements and insist in the tender documents that the supplier provides “proof of concept” for its solution – to show that it will deliver the required performance. This will reduce the risk of procuring end-of-life or obsolescent equipment and is more likely to achieve a good result. Safeguards should be included in the contract, such as break points. Risk sharing can be achieved through prototyping and group purchasing.

Technology Training Opportunities

ITS suppliers are generally willing to educate and train management and staff before and after system procurement – although the training is likely to be biased toward the vendor’s proprietary products. A more reliable way of becoming informed about technologies can be through focused user groups who are willing to talk about the problems and failures they have experienced, as well as the successes.
Reference sources

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