Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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RNO Information Systems

The purpose of this approach for the road operator is to achieve widespread, timely information dissemination to operating partners or road users, as required. This action involves listing all components of the information system, identifying blockage points and organising or reorganising the information chain to ensure the system functions effectively. (See  Systems Approach)

Successful dissemination of information is the end result of a system in which each link is crucial to success, so the operator must ensure that each link functions effectively:

  • data gathering system must be adequate and reliable
  • during operations, information systems must be reliable and capable of forwarding data and information on time:
    • substitute or back ups systems may be necessary for network security or emergency response
    • data gathering and information dissemination paths may also differ depending on circumstances (crisis situation)
  • at staging points, information must not be unduly delayed – a person must be identified and available each time an action has to be performed (such as verification of information received or development of information for transmission)
  • at switching points, information must be forwarded as quickly as possible to the correct location

Computers can be used to automate all or part of the actions described above. (See ITS & Network Monitoring)

When information for users is relayed by an intermediary – especially the media – operators must listen to and/or read the messages actually sent by the intermediary, noting the date and time sent, to assess the quality of communication.

An information system is more effective when all players involved have a good overview and a clear understanding of their role. The quality of information received by users is very closely linked to the actual systems and can actually enhance the department’s image.

Objectives and Methods

The common objective of all traveller information services is to provide high quality, real-time, detailed information on transport operating conditions, including weather, so that individual travellers can make informed decisions regarding whether to make a trip, when to make it, what mode to take, and what route to take. Traveller information should be available both before a traveller begins a trip, as well as while the trips are under way, so that adjustments can be made to reflect changing operational conditions.

Traveller information can be provided in a number of ways. A summary is provided here.  (See also Traveller Services and Driver Support)

In recent years the Internet has become ubiquitous as method of conveying pre-trip traveller information. Some systems offer subscribers the option of receiving alerts by mobile phone, e-mail, or other electronic methods regarding major incidents or conditions on specific routes. Telephone dial-up services remain a popular means of pre-trip and en-route information dissemination. Commercial broadcast media, including radio, cable television, commercial television, and teletext services are other commonly used methods of dissemination of travel information.

Telephone: In the United States, a nationwide three digit telephone number, 511, has been designated for traveller information services. The success of this initiative lies in issues such as the perceived accuracy, timeliness and permanent operation of the 511 service. Also, because of the variety of organisations involved (geographically, public/private, different travel modes), the issue of co-operation is the other challenge. The success of this initiative shows that appropriate institutional agreements, when designed early enough in the development process, can be a powerful lever to deploy effective ITS operations services. (See Journey Planning)

Driver information systems: by means of roadside VMS or in-vehicle units, contribute generally to a better performance of the traffic system by raising the level of awareness of drivers about the current status of the network and its likely evolution. Users of traveller information services generally agree that availability of high quality, real-time traveller information saves time, helps them to avoid congested locations and incidents, and reduces uncertainty and stress associated with travel. (See En-Route Information)

Variable Message Signs (VMS) are used to disseminate en-route traveller information in virtually all locations where electronic traffic monitoring also exists. These signs are typically placed in advance of key bottlenecks or decision points and can display fairly detailed information on location and extent of congestion, travel times, alternate routes, and downstream weather conditions (for example wind, precipitation, snow). (See Use of VMS) Highway Advisory Radio is also used, although its use appears to be declining with the growing popularity of traffic-responsive satellite navigation units and smart phone applications, which are now widespread. (See Radio)

In-vehicle navigation: En route information provided through in-vehicle navigation systems and smart phones is spreading. The VICS system in Japan, which enjoys a high market penetration of in-vehicle navigation systems, is one of the most extensive applications. Dissemination of detailed en-route information is accomplished through transmission from beacons or FM sub carrier broadcasts to the in-vehicle device. Other countries have followed Japan in deploying this kind of system. (See Advisory Systems)

Subscription services: Pre-trip and en-route information alerts provided through social media, messaging subscription services (Internet and Smartphone) is growing in popularity.

Information terminals and kiosks: Pre-trip traveller information in kiosks located in employment centres and other public places (e.g. freeway rest areas and shopping malls) are becoming commonplace, although the experience with kiosks this dissemination method has limited utility for real-time road information. Use of kiosks for public transportation information appears to be more successful. Real-time public transportation information is also successfully disseminated at transit stops in many locations using electronic signs. (see Kiosks)

Information Requirements

Information requirements are set by network operations stakeholders, transport operators, emergency services or assistance providers and road users themselves – the latter possibly clustered in Motoring Clubs and Road User Organisations. As might be expected, there can be some variety in the geographical extent and the level of detail of the information these players need in support of their activities, or to really fulfil their travel needs.

Predictive information: This information may be on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis and concerns general traffic condition forecasts and the main anticipated disturbances. Its implementation requires:

  • real-time centralisation of information on the network situation (traffic, weather) and on scheduled actions (roadwork, events)
  • transmission of regular information bulletins through national or local media (radios, newspapers, television), or specific road information facilities (kiosk, telephone enquiry service and Internet)

Real-time information: This information concerns the currently-experienced traffic conditions and disturbances affecting motorists on a given route. It requires:

  • a permanent system to detect and monitor traffic flow conditions
  • real-time information systems by variable message signs installed along the route, by specialised radios or by ITS servers. It may be necessary to have specific in-vehicle equipment to receive some of the information

Real-time information also includes information to operators of customised services or navigation and guidance systems.

Information Quality

High quality traveller information services must be driven by high quality data on transportation system conditions and performance. Effectively fusing data into useful information from various input sources is a significant challenge that is critical to overcome if traveller information services are to be effective.

For systems that automatically post or otherwise provide traveller information based on input from traffic monitoring systems, data reliability is a critical issue. Effective automatic means of checking or filtering raw data must be in place to ensure that erroneous or misleading information is not posted.

In order to be useful to travellers, traveller information needs to be multi-modal (road and transit), and regional (crossing jurisdictional boundaries) in scope and include information about motorways and urban streets, as well as location and availability of parking.

Travellers are interested in receiving end-to-end trip information in a single query. The objective for end-to-end travel planning involves links to intercity travel providers, such as rail and air lines, to provide complete travel and routing information, door-to-door. Future enhancements for end-to-end travel may include linking to intercity travel providers, such as rail and air lines, to provide complete travel and routing information.

Information provided by traveller information services must be immediately beneficial to the user in making travel decisions. Advising travellers through a variable message sign that there is “Congestion Ahead” on the network has little value if not supplemented by information on location, extent, and severity of the congestion and potential alternate actions.

It is important to maintain the accuracy of the information provided. For example, VMS which frequently show incorrect or no information will lose the trust of road users. This will defeat the whole purpose of the system. To ensure accuracy the issue of interconnections between the various centres must be addressed, if they are separate either in terms of the services that they provide or their locations. The seamless integration of information exchange between various centres becomes a major issue. This requires the adoption of a standard for data exchange and cooperation between the various players.

Commercial Services

Though there is significant private sector involvement in many examples of traveller information services, the commercialisation of traveller information for profit is variable. Traveller information services that have been financially successful have generally involved packaging traveller information along with other information. (See  Location Based Services)

For traveller information services to be successful, they must be marketed to potential users on a continuous basis. This marketing should be tailored to various market segments (such as road users, transit users). Successful traveller information services also seek customer input on services offered and are responsive to feedback received. For example, VICS of Japan continually solicit user requests and demand through the Internet, in order to better accommodate their needs.

Though not widely provided at the moment, users are interested not only in real-time information on network conditions but also in predicted conditions (for example: “a key junction is currently uncongested, but if the current trend continues, what will conditions be when I reach the location in 30 minutes?”). This will be the next important development in traveller information services.


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