A blog from Richard Harris
The Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) industry has made incredible advances since the early pioneering days of the 1970s and 1980s. These have been driven by the revolution in communications, data capacity and computer processing capabilities.
The way we describe what we do has also developed from the road/automobile communication systems in Japan (1984) and the road transport informatics and integrated road transport environment in Europe (1988) and the intelligent vehicle – highway system (1991) in the US through transport telematics (1992) to intelligent transport systems (1994) and the connected, cooperative and mobility systems and services of today.
While I am not suggesting that we rebrand our industry and drop the term ITS, I do wonder if it’s time for a slight refresh.
Maybe ITS should stand for Integrated Transportation Services?
To achieve the transportation element of smart and more liveable cities and regions we need to progress from individual systems and services to an integrated coordinated and more effective suite of services that work better together. Integration is the key to effective data collection, processing and information and management of transport infrastructure and networks. This does not necessarily mean a single large system is needed. So long as the data required is accessible, networked systems can provide the level of interoperability needed.
In 2023 becoming more efficient is even more urgent as we face the challenges of increased economic pressures, demand for mobility resilience and the environmental challenges of climate change. We need to get more from less. This applies not only to our infrastructures but also to our organisational and institutional governance.
Obviously, we have developed and operate increasing numbers of great solutions which improve safety, efficiency, comfort, convenience, accessibility, contribute to economic prosperity, reduce environmental impact and enhance people’s quality of life, but getting the ITS investment message across is still somewhat challenging. ITS must compete for funding along with other transport initiatives. ITS implementation and operation is generally involves revenue costs rather than capital cost and continued adjustment and development are often required to ensure outcomes continue to meet expectations. Unlike new infrastructure (like HS2) ITS solutions seldom have a ribbon cutting photo opportunity or commemorative plaque celebration construction, which may make them less attractive to elected officials.
As an industry we have invented our own language which is a barrier to understanding (AFC, RUC, ERP, ANPR, PNC, UTC, CVHS, LEZ, ULEZ, PT, DSRC, TMC, ITSO, ADAS, MaaS, VRA, EV, TTI, C-ITS etc.). We also continue to add new ideas, solutions and initiatives; Mobility-as-a-service is a good example of this.
Integrated Transportation Services may provide the strapline that will help demystify our industry and better describe what we seek to achieve as we strive to unlock the community wide benefits of ITS?
Its not just the overarching term ITS that has caused confusion, misunderstanding and raised expectations, it is also the way we have labelled individual services, initiatives and technologies.
Active Traffic Management to Controlled Motorway to Smart Motorway
In 2003 the Highways Agency in England established an Active Traffic Management trial on a 17km stretch of the M42 motorway near Birmingham.
The scheme combined new technologies with well-known motorway traffic management techniques. These included mandatory variable speed limits (such as those in use on the M25), enhanced driver information signs and a new congestion and incident management system.
The system allowed operators to open and close any lane on the motorway to traffic to help manage congestion at busy times or traffic build-up due to incidents. This evolved to include using the hard shoulder as a live running lane between junctions under controlled conditions.
The M42 became known as a Controlled Motorway in 2005. The infrastructure included new lighting, gantries, electronic and static signing, emergency roadside telephones, refuge areas, CCTV and mandatory variable speed limits. Drivers polled about the safety of using the hard shoulder showed that 84% felt it was safe.
Having satisfied safety, environmental and reliability requirements, the roll out of further schemes was approved. However, variations emerged with All Lane Running and Dynamic Hard Shoulder schemes joining Controlled Motorways. These became collectively known as Smart Motorways even though the essential technology and proven specifications of the M42 trial were not necessarily included. The difference between Active Traffic Management, Controlled and Smart Motorways is the expectation that users have and the subsequent concerns they have over safety. Calling something Smart doesn’t stop it being dumb.
Is it a clock or is it watching me?
During the development of in-car navigation systems in the 1970s and 1980s we relied on map matching using differential odometers and on-board compasses, as GPS (Global Positioning System) was restricted to military use.
However, in 1983: a Korean Airliner was shot down after flying into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers were killed, including Georgia Democratic Representative Larry McDonald. Two weeks after the attack, President Ronald Reagan directs that military GPS technology (known as NAVSTAR but popularly known as Star Wars technology) be made available for civilian use so that similar tragedies would not be repeated. Initially the location information was deliberately less accurate (selective availability) than for military use and differential GPS fixes were developed to help improve civilian location services. In 2000, President Bill Clinton decreed that selective availability be discontinued in order to make GPS more responsive to civil and commercial users worldwide.
Subsequent developments of commercial in-car navigation systems increasingly relied on GPS for positioning. But the Star Wars tag was difficult to remove. Many believed that the GPS satellites were monitoring (watching) them. Why else would they be called Satnavs? Actually, GPS works using timecodes sent from individual satellites to derive geographic location information on earth.
After many years of trying to simply explain the technology, help came from a surprising source.
UK television presenters Richard and Judy were at the top of their game for many years and a familiar sight in homes across the land. One night it suddenly struck me, they were just like GPS! At the end of their show, they stared directly into the camera and said “Thanks for watching, we’ll see you the same time, same place tomorrow” To which I replied “No you won’t, because you can’t see me”. This gave me the perfect analogy to explain GPS and irony as while they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hear me either.
Richard and Judy debunking the myth of GPS, now let’s make ITS more accessible and understandable.
Biography of Richard Harris:
Richard is internationally recognized as a leading expert and thought leader in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). He has over 40 years’ experience, held senior positions in leading companies (including ICC, AECOM, WSP, Logica and Xerox) and industry associations (including ITS UK, ERTICO, PIARC, IRF, IBEC, MaaS Alliance) and been at the forefront of ITS development and deployment.
His early ITS work included construction and operation of the AA’s UK and Overseas routes databases and developing in-car navigation systems with Autoguide, Ali-Scout and Euroscout (1980s) using infrared beacons and SOCRATES (1990s) using cellular radio. He has extensive experience in key European Commission R&D projects including SOCRATES Kernel, LLAMD, OBU, ITSWAP, TEAM, TABASCO, DATEX II, GREAT, PI3LOTS, CIVITAS, SETPOS, CENTRICO and STREETWISE and helped secure Euro 300m support for the EASYWAY programme.
He was awarded the 2010 ITS UK Rees Hill Award for outstanding contribution to ITS by a UK professional.
Richard was inducted into the ITS World Congress Hall of Fame in 2015 as the recipient of the life time achievement award. His citation read ‘An effective and charismatic champion and thought-leader for ITS for over 25 years who selflessly promotes ITS in general, without commercial considerations or bias. Known, respected, trusted and liked by ITS professionals all over the world, his commitment in worldwide organizations continues to inspire and benefit the international ITS community.’
Richard is author of more than 500 papers, blogs, presentations, publications, articles, videos and CD ROMs published and presented at conferences around the World.