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

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Data and Communications

The consumerisation of technology has had a massive impact on the transportation industry. Smartphones, and their companion data plans, are now widely available and increasingly affordable to a greater proportion of the population. The phones themselves, become information sources as well as a platform for pushing out travel information messages or as a means for making electronic payments.

Understanding the challenges and the opportunities posed by the explosion in data, and the value that data analytics can bring is fundamental. The use of natural language processing, graph analytics, distributed computing, machine learning, and predictive analytics - makes it possible to realise its latent value. The data can help inform the provision of better, more targeted services at reduced cost by making better use of the available infrastructure. However the data has to be extracted and aggregated or translated into information from which it is possible to identify new patterns and trends, increase automation, optimise business processes, improve efficiency or productivity.

The transportation industry is no newcomer to the world of business analytics or the collection of data, but, until recently, the data sources were not connected. Data collection, its analysis and its communication are major tools for planning and managing transport networks and services. Road network operators have been able to monitor traffic on the network and specific roads for decades but did not necessarily know anything about the individual user. For instance what were the journey origins and destinations? Was it a regular route – and how regular? The road network operator was missing access to this type of information that could help improve traffic management plans or monitor the effects of demand management schemes. Each transport and network operator used standalone systems, which did not communicate with each other.

Concern for the future of the environment has put the spotlight on energy conservation and pollution control. By using analytical data to understand driver behaviour, it has proved possible to put in place measures to persuade drivers to adopt different travel habits such as eco-driving or using public transport. The aim is to reduce roadway and parking congestion and protect the environment, while offering more convenience to customers.

Key issues in the future will include how to:

  • develop further the multiple uses from a data source;
  • develop and improve the various monitoring systems for network performance;
  • integrate the various existing disparate ITS systems, especially for managing and controlling traffic;
  • manage communications and data in a city or region in an open and seamless way.

Crowdsourcing Data

“Crowdsourcing” is a way of obtaining information on a volunteer basis from large groups of people, particularly the online community. The phrase was coined by the US journalist, Jeff Howe, to capture the interactive nature of gathering information from a crowd. Although the technique was used in the mid-nineteenth century, it has become part of popular culture and business in the internet era – which is why it usually involves a network community in the World Wide Web. People find it is in their own self-interest to participate in the collective sharing of data, views and other information that will influence and improve the performance of a particular application, measure or product. An example is the crowdsourcing of local information for navigation applications that benefit a specific user group such as cyclists or people with a disability.

Crowdsourcing exploits the idea of group intelligence, which means that the decisions of a diverse group of individuals can achieve the same or better result as expert opinion. It relies on the enthusiasm of the people in the crowd.

The motivation of contributors is the key factor in the success of any crowdsourcing initiative. Where people see no self-interest from contributing to a crowd sourcing initiative, other means of motivation will be needed to encourage their participation and generate a sufficient number to deliver useful real-time data. Traditional rewards, such as money, discounts or prizes, may not be appropriate – or the value of the reward may be perceived as too low to motivate contributors. A potential solution can be the use of “gamification” which applies gaming principles to encourage engagement with a task – making the task more attractive. Rewards tap into subjective feelings, such as personal status – and may range from simple scoreboards to more complex incentives such as attaining higher levels of difficulty. A European project, METPEX, used gamification to complement traditional data gathering techniques to develop a “Pan-European Tool to Measure the Quality of the Passenger Experience”. Further background on gamification in ITS is available from a 2013 webinar hosted by ITS Europe (ERTICO).

There are many examples of public authorities and private enterprises beginning to use crowdsourcing and gamification to improve their business operations. For instance, a research project in Austria, TrafficCheck, funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) relies on the mapping and tagging enthusiasm of its crowdsourcing contributors to intuitively rate the traffic quality and safety of signal-controlled intersections.

Real time Data

Real-time data is information that is collected and delivered immediately without any delay in the timeliness of the information provided. Real-time data is widely used in ITS applications including traffic monitoring, route navigation, and the tracking and tracing of freight. Players across virtually all transportation industries can exploit the benefits of real-time data from new and existing sources to develop services and applications that will transform the way that travellers and other stakeholders use the transportation network.

Transport data is growing at an astounding rate. However, data collected from a wide variety of sources is often unused or under-used. The sources may include social communications such as blogs, emails, videos, social media, photos and data collected by different applications and sensors. What makes their analysis difficult is their volume, the speed at which they arrive, their variety, and their ownership, authenticity, trustworthiness and reliability over the whole data life cycle. For example, the generation and collection of vehicle data is the subject of much speculation – in particular on who owns the data. Is it the vehicle manufacturer, the application developer, the service provider, the car owner, driver or the road authority where that data was generated?

Wireless and cellular Communications

Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device Accessibility. As cellular and wireless technologies mature, their speed, data capacity and ability to reach people will be unprecedented. They offer new opportunities and challenges. The purchase of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) is set to overtake desktop computers and laptops in a few years. Making content accessible on existing and emerging platforms and packaging it for the consumer is a challenge which will continue to evolve with technology and help drive innovation in ITS applications and services. Cloud computing, for example, by relying on shared computing resources, has the potential to reduce ITS development costs – as well as facilitate the development of low cost (installation and maintenance) scaleable ITS applications and services in the operational environment. Recent examples, which rely on cloud computing, include: regionalisation of urban traffic control and smart wireless road sensors to monitor pavement conditions or to map noise/pollution points.

This communications technology-driven and data-heavy reality will be amplified in road transportation as the automotive industry rolls out vehicles able to connect to the Internet at 4G or future speeds. Instrumented vehicles and vehicle fleets offer the possibility of rich data on mobility and safety that can help road network operators, vehicle fleet operators and road users alike. These vehicles will provide a low cost platform for acquiring data in real-time across all classes of road - covering not only congestion and travel times, but also trip origins, destinations micro-climate, skid resistance and pavement condition.

Connectivity to the vehicle enables connectivity throughout the value chain by adding partners. Embedded phones provide the basis for four main services currently on offer: emergency call, traffic information, destination information downloads and remote diagnostics.

Communication Technologies

Co-operative applications need stable long-term technology – at least for the life-time of the vehicle. Co-operative driving will need internationally harmonised standards and “trust” protocols for communications between vehicles and with the infrastructure. Safety systems will need very reliable low-latency communications with a split-second response. Current thinking favours installation of Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) but 4th and 5th generation cellular networks will soon provide other communications options. The technology itself need not be a barrier to deployment.

The choice of communications technology is however critical. Cellular data systems are available throughout the world and provide support for many ITS applications but do they provide a sufficiently reliable and responsive service for safety applications? DSRC systems have been developed which are optimised for these services, but who will pay for the deployment and maintenance of the dedicated infrastructure and how will it be used and managed? Commercial technologies are developing fast and the next generation is already being deployed. How long will it be before these services can support machine to machine communications? Is a hybrid solution the answer?

In summary, the automotive industry is engaged in bringing connected vehicles to market as rapidly as possible, based on profitable consumer-led features (GSM, hands-free mobile phones, mobile internet, Infotainment). The commercial business case, in the near-term, is based entirely on using existing telecommunications services rather than develop new dedicated systems. The connected vehicle marketplace is developing at a fast pace. Road operators and other transportation agencies need to engage now or be left behind. The sooner public agencies start planning, providing, procuring, participating and positioning themselves in this connected world, the sooner they will be a “player” on behalf of the public good.


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