Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Environmental and Resource Issues

Road transport is a major consumer of energy and has profound environmental impacts. The effects of transportation are complex and widespread. Air, water, land-use, animals and habitats are just a few of the domains affected at the local, regional and global level.

Transport is the third largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions (14.3%) - with road transport alone responsible for almost three quarters of that (10.5%) according to the World Resources Institute. In Europe, whilst emissions from other sectors have declined, transport emissions increased by 36% between 1990-2007 - despite improved vehicle efficiency – as a result of the overall increase in use of personal and freight transport.

Although transport provides many positive benefits for the individual as well as the economy and society as a whole, it is also one of the greatest obstacles to sustainable development. Unrestrained growth in traffic will continue to exacerbate the problems of traffic congestion and pollution.

People are becoming increasingly concerned about this and a new transport consensus is emerging that recognises that building more roads to meet increasing demand for road transport is not a sustainable option. Instead the focus is on making more effective use of existing infrastructure through better operational management and publicly acceptable ways of reducing demand and increasing capacity. This requires a comprehensive approach to transport and land use planning - fully integrated with policies, measures and technologies which support more sustainable transport. ITS has a key role to play in this new integrated approach.

Raw materials

A major challenge facing resource-dependent countries all over the world is to secure reliable and undistorted access to the raw materials needed for manufacturing and the economy as a whole. This includes rare earth elements that are widely used in road transport and ITS applications such as catalytic converters, flat panel displays, petroleum refining, permanent magnets and rechargeable batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. The main threat is vulnerability of supply - arising from their rarity, the cost of extraction, supply and transformation, and political factors compromising security of supply, all of which may act to increase costs.

In June 2010 the European Commission published a report that analysed 41 raw materials and identified 14 as being critical to the European Union’s (EU) economy. The figure below shows the concentration of their production across the world. They are just as relevant to other industrialised and developing economies in terms of supply and demand. Several form key components of emerging technologies and ITS applications. Of particular concern are the raw materials below used in the production of the following technologies and transport applications:

  • Gallium – for thin layer photovoltaics (used for solar charging), integrated electronic circuits and white light-emitting diodes (used in variable message signs);
  • Neodymium – for permanent magnets (used in electric motors) and laser technology (used in laser scanners for vehicle classification and very accurate distance measurements);
  • Indium – for displays (used in integrated circuits and light emitting diodes) and thin layer photovoltaics;
  • Germanium - for fibre optic cable (essential to road network telecommunications) and infrared optical technologies (used for toll road sensors for electronic payment);
  • Platinum - for fuel cells and catalysts (used in electric vehicles and catalytic converters);
  • Tantalum – for micro capacitors (used in portable telephones, personal computers and automotive electronics);
  • Silver - for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags (used for vehicle identification and tracking) and lead-free soft solder (for less toxicity in electronic components);
  • Cobalt - for lithium-ion batteries (electric/hybrid vehicles) and synthetic fuels (used as a catalyst to remove sulphur impurities in refining petroleum);
  • Copper – which plays a critical role in vehicle components including wiring, electric motors, anti-lock breaking systems and RFID tags;
  • Niobium – for micro capacitors and ferroalloys (used to high strength low alloy steels widely used for structural components in cars and trucks);
  • Antimony - for Antimony Tin Oxide (used for flame retardant applications on automobile seat covers) and micro capacitors.

Shortages of the specific raw materials for ITS components and applications may not have been a major cause of concern in the past. However, today, it is becoming increasingly important with any technology, to factor in future dependencies on the supply of raw materials when developing or deploying applications - whether it be sensitivity to price, rarity or political instability affecting supply. The EU’s 2010 report on defining critical raw materials is recommended to be updated every 5 years. There will be other reports on these issues for other regions of the world which could provide a useful source of information source when making assessments of ITS dependency on raw materials.

In the past, technological progress in exploring, mining and processing raw materials has helped supply to keep up with demand and reduce the costs of extraction and transformation. The value of these scarce resources puts pressure on countries to adopt industrial strategies and measures which distort international trade and investment in the raw materials market. This can involve the imposition of export taxes, quotas, subsidies, price-fixing or restrictive investment rules. Where measures are at odds with international trade agreements - such as those of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – arbitration and formal dispute procedures may offer a remedy to signatory governments.

Production of Critical Raw Materials (Source: Memo/10/263, 17 June 2010, European Commission)

Further Information

The European Union’s 2010 ‘Report of the Ad-hoc Working Group on defining critical raw materials’ aimed to develop a methodology to assess criticality and apply it to a selection of raw materials to determine which were the most critical to the European economy.

Energy and fuels

The United Nations Earth Summit in 2014 reported that energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase under a ‘business as usual’ scenario by nearly 50% in 2030 compared with 2009. In 2009, transport was already responsible for consuming one-fifth of energy use - and contributed around one-quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport and the internal combustion engine, reliant on fossil fuels, accounts for the lion’s share of transport emissions.

As the global stock of vehicles increases, so will global emissions - unless new technologies and measures are developed and implemented to stop and reverse the trend. This includes road vehicles powered by alternative and renewable fuels and supported by an effective refuelling infrastructure, technology to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles, their interaction with the road infrastructure and driver behaviour. It also includes measures that reduce the demand for travel, compact city planning, large-scale expansion of public transport systems and promotion of non-motorised transport. Apart from the environmental challenges, the issue of fossil fuelled transport needs to be tackled since fossil fuels are a finite resource.

In 2007 the World Energy Council (WEC) published its ‘Transport Technologies and Policy Scenarios to 2050’. This analysed the shifting energy needs and technology solutions for transport over the next 40 years. It assessed existing and potential fuel and vehicle technologies - both qualitatively and quantitatively. The aim was to develop a roadmap of technologies and measures needed to meet the WEC’s objective of sustainable energy. It outlined the policies needed to achieve the objective. Sustainability was measured in terms of:

  • accessibility (access to modern energy);
  • availability (reliability and security of energy supplies);
  • and acceptability (environmental sustainability of energy supply and use).

The qualitative measure was how far each technology contributed to reduced consumption.

One of the key trends identified was a shift from largely petrochemical-powered passenger vehicles in 2020 towards an era in 2050 with a significantly higher proportion of both hybrid vehicles powered by renewables (biofuel and hydrogen) and pure electric vehicles. This gradual change in the primary fuel source for personal travel is likely to require greater integration between the transportation and energy sectors. ITS technologies may help integrate energy management systems as part of a wider e-mobility solution.

The World Energy Council produces an annual Energy Issues Monitor. Its 2014 edition assessed key energy issues in terms of their level of impact and uncertainty in the future. It is worthwhile tracking these assessments to identify the energy issues that may impact on mobility trends/patterns and mobility technology in the future.

Further Information

Further information on energy and fuels is available from the World Energy Council’s study

Climate change

There is increasing scientific consensus that global warming is under way, linked in part to human activity. If atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are to be stabilised, efforts to reduce them will need to be sustained over many decades at a global scale. To meet the challenge of reducing the carbon dioxide emissions, new forms of propulsion for vehicles are being introduced (electric, hybrid and fuel cell drives) whilst traditional petrochemical engines have become more efficient.

Since climate change cannot be prevented entirely, it will also be necessary to adapt to it. For transport this will mean finding new ways to plan for, detect and respond to extreme weather events – smart transport, energy and communications infrastructure, materials and vehicle components, smart detection and maintenance technologies, new organisational models. ITS technologies have a role to play.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. Its 2014 report highlighted the threats posed by weather-related events to critical infrastructure (energy, communications and transport).

Danish Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change

Part of a future transport strategy could be to assess the impact of changing weather patterns on transport infrastructure and put in place plans to improve the resilience of the transport networks to changing weather patterns and severe weather events. An example of this is the Danish Road Directorate’s strategy for adapting to climate change, which was developed in 2013.

The IPCC also develops scenarios to predict the impacts on global temperatures and weather patterns - of increases and decreases in greenhouse gases. Particular attention is focused on carbon dioxide, as one of the major gases produced as a result of the use of petrochemical and other carbon-based fuels in transportation networks.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Climate Summit 2014

The 2014 Climate Summit announced that a shift towards more sustainable transport is essential to achieve the internationally agreed goal of a maximum rise of 2 degrees Celsius in average global temperature. The alternative was a doubling of transport’s greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the twenty first century (2050). The International Energy Agency estimated that a shift to sustainable, low-carbon transport in the same time-frame, could save governments, companies and individuals up to US$70 trillion. The IPCC announced several initiatives to put the transport sector on track towards a low-carbon future. These included one on Urban Electric Mobility - to increase the number of electric vehicles in cities to 30% of all new vehicles sold annually by 2030, whilst simultaneously developing the enabling infrastructure for their effective use.

Further Information

Further information on climate change is available from the IPCC’s website.

Air quality and noise

Road transport is a major source of pollution contributing to poor air quality and noise distrurbance – particularly in urban areas, alongside busy roads and nearby major transport interchanges such as airports and bus stations. Air pollutants from transport include nitrogen oxides, particles, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. All have a damaging impact on the health of people, animals and habitats locally. Road traffic noise is linked to hypertension, sleep loss, changes in heart rate and stress.

Over the past 30 years or so, there has been significant progress in reducing vehicle related air pollution and noise. This has resulted primarily from improvements in the technology for fuel vehicle systems, the use of catalytic converters to treat combustion products, the development of cleaner burning fuels, the introduction of alternative and renewable fuels and electric vehicles, and eco-friendly driver-vehicle applications.

Despite the gains there is a risk that increases numbers of vehicles on the road will erode the benefits. Similarly, new developments can often bring unintended negative consequences. The silence of electric vehicles for instance can increase the risk of incidents and accidents with pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users leading to a demand to design-in noise.

World Health Organisation – Air Quality and Health

In 2014 the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced a report analysing premature deaths across the world in 2012 that were attributable to ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution. It found that some 7 million deaths could be attributed to their joint effects (3.7 million were related to outdoor air quality issues) - making air pollution one of the world’s largest environmentally related health risks.

Advice to practitioners

The ability to adapt to environmental threats, without causing major impacts, is often based on the level of resilience of the networks under threat. When planning ITS deployments it is good practice to undertake scenario planning to try to understand how the deployments will be affected in different and sometimes extreme circumstances. These may point to a need to put in place backup systems for power and communications for elements of the ITS infrastructure. An example might be systems to divert travellers away from flooded parts of the transport network.

In the future there may be restrictions on when and where certain types of vehicle can be used. Low emissions zones have been introduced in some cities for different types of vehicles – and ITS play a role in monitoring and enforcing them. Similarly the use of ITS to manage vehicle speeds and reduce them can result in a reduction in the amount of fuel used by vehicle and its consequential levels of carbon dioxide emissions (See Speed Management). The introduction of electric vehicles has led to new forms of refuelling infrastructure as well as the development of e-mobility management systems for vehicles - due to the shorter range of pure electric vehicles and the need to efficiently manage that range.

From an ITS perspective technology can be used to monitor air pollution and manage transport emissions in the following ways:

  • enforcement of low emission zones by ITS technology;
  • implementation of specific operational measures when air quality is poor;
  • management of traffic speeds and flows to reduce emissions;
  • enabling greater use of lower emission vehicles and modes of transport with enhanced integrated information systems.
Reference sources

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