Uncertainty over journey and arrival times is a major problem for travellers and companies delivering goods. ‘Smart’ travellers and fleet managers increasingly expect reliable information to help them make well-informed decisions.
Accurate, integrated and comprehensive travel and traffic information helps all road users in their journey planning decisions and how to respond to disturbances that occur on the way. In this respect it supports the task of the road network operators as well.
Travel information – and by extension route advice – is considered to be a basic service. It constitutes the lowest level of traffic management. Road users are free to decide for themselves if and how to react to the information or advice.
Investment in travel information systems by the road operator is a way of improving customer service. Information systems can also promote intermodal travel, for example by encouraging drivers to leave their cars at a Park and Ride site (typically because of localised congestion or high pollution levels ahead) and continue by public transport. Parking information systems also contribute significantly to reducing city-centre congestion and pollution by alerting approaching drivers to available spaces.
Traffic information concerns the conditions of road network use and can include predictive and current (real-time) information on traffic conditions. Stronger forms of direction include hazard messages or incident warning, and eventually control measures such as notice of road obstructions, lane control, or speed control.
Traveller aid covers all measures to disseminate predictive or current information on traffic conditions and to improve general conditions of network use. Its general aim is safety and user comfort.
Travel aid tasks are not specifically aimed at modifying traffic flows. However, when used for information purposes they must be closely coordinated with traffic management measures as they may induce users to change their travel time, route or mode of transport. In this context, they may be integrated in broader strategies related to demand management.
Generation of travel information by the network operator is a broad concept that cuts across the entire field of operations and entails several areas:
To be able to inform partners and drivers effectively, operators must first define information paths that should be coherent with the operation and management plans.
To fulfil the needs and expectations of everyone involved, the information should be timely and disseminated via all available channels and communication modes. They can be channels operated directly by the control centres (variable message signs, travel information website, RDS-TMC, traffic news broadcast etc.) or by added-value service providers who transform the information into the required data formats for smart phones and satellite navigation, and/or operate additional dissemination channels themselves. (See Traveller Services)
Provision of client-specific, personalised (enriched) information is often let to independent, value-added service providers, who extend and build on the information stream made available by the road operator. However, there should be an agreed framework for safety-related advice and direction in the absence of specific instructions from the traffic centre, in order to avoid confusion or the undermining of the set traffic policy.