The complexities of transport and logistics can be approached by using systems engineering methodologies and user participation in the design work. The Road Network Operator needs to understand fully the total system structure, its dynamic characteristics and the role and responsibilities of its different road users. It is only then that a proper Human-Machine Interaction (HMI) design can be accomplished with positive user acceptance and operational success.
Analysis breaks problems into their parts and attempts to find the optimum solution. This process of breaking apart the whole, however, neglects the interrelationship between the parts – which can often be the root cause of the problem. The “systems” approach argues that in complex systems, the parts do not always provide an understanding of the whole. Rather, in a purposeful system, the whole gives meaning to the parts.
In order to tackle the sometimes contradictory interests of society and individuals, systems engineering methodologies can be applied. An ideal systems approach would start with the analyses of both the users and the problems which these user groups experience in traffic and transport. Procedures should guarantee that the results of these analyses are then used in the design process itself. The introduction of a user-oriented perspective to Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has similarities with the introduction of quality assurance procedures found in most industrial activities.
There are other industrial elements of the design process, which have to be included in the required human factors work. They focus on the practical realisation of basic ideas of problem solving which firstly have to be turned into functional concepts. A phase of implementation of these concepts into user-accepted solutions follows. This is often a trade-off between system features and system costs. The features (or benefits) are composed of usability, utility and likeability – whereas the efforts to learn and use, the loss of skills, new elements of risks introduced, and the financial costs constitute the cost elements. The use of human factors knowledge is crucial when high usability is sought.
The difficulty of identifying variables to reliably measure all these elements – is evident. The principle of user acceptance is an approach that clearly highlights all the diverging elements that could, would and should influence the design process. It can simply be stated that if the features are valued higher than the costs (using a weighted criteria/cost function) the solution is acceptable and will be purchased – and hopefully used. Market place stakeholders – such as end-users, customers and consumers must be involved.
New products or solutions in ITS are very seldom developed to solve or meet completely new problems and needs. Instead, better performance of already existing solutions is often the goal. It is also clear that old solutions and products will co-exist side-by-side with new ones. The penetration of new technology in society is often very slow and starts with people that can afford to be “modern” and the most up-to-date. Therefore the design must allow parallel operation of the old and the new, and some form of step-by-step development must be used. Other elements to consider are that the long term goals of systems for traffic and transport are usually societal, while the short term (market-oriented) are individual in that they try to create and meet an instant demand. This inherent conflict must be addressed and needs to be resolved at an early stage of the implementation process.
The Road Operator is well-placed to take a strategic and user-centric approach to the design and introduction of ITS. The interactive design process that is required may appear to take a great deal of time and resources but the benefits will become apparent and should quickly, outweigh the upfront costs.
The Road Operator has the opportunity to work with others on ITS innovations that promote and develop integration of transport and other services – to provide additional benefits.
Before introducing ITS or any new technology, or undertaking extensive field trials, it is invariably beneficial to pilot the system or service with a small group of users before more widespread deployment. This approach is part of user-centred design and allows any problems to be addressed, avoiding embarrassing and expensive mistakes.
Encouraging feedback from users and providing suitable mechanisms for monitoring use of ITS allows those responsible for ITS operations to better understand the experience of both occasional and experienced users. This may show how the use of ITS is changing over time (because of changes in other parts of the transport system or the environment) and provides advanced information about necessary modifications, including possibly re-design of the ITS.
ITS can, if introduced through a sufficiently wide systems approach, assist users – by providing a measure of integration within and across modes of transport (for example by combining tolling, parking and public transport ticketing). It can also assist with wider common service provision between transport and other urban facilities such as energy services. These different modes of transport and wider urban services typically have different ownership, governance and objectives which present barriers to integration and enhancement of user services.