Business Today

Smartening Up Traffic Management

Globalisation, population growth and urbanisation are overwhelming transportation systems around the world.
Vivek Vashishtha | Print Edition: January 15, 2017
Smartening Up Traffic Management

Globalisation, population growth and urbanisation are overwhelming transportation systems around the world, many of which were built to accommodate a fraction of the current load. How can a growing city keep up with ever-increasing transportation management demands? We believe the truly intelligent transportation management system should be:

Instrumented: Smarter transportation management systems can track traffic from source to destination, monitor conditions in real time, and instantly identify defects and inefficiencies across assets and infrastructure using information obtained from installed and mobile technologies, including sensors, cameras, mobile phones, social media and connected cars.

Interconnected: They enable the integration of all this information to give transportation professionals and users easy access to continuously updated information, travel choices, and shipment options, with instant notification of any irregularities in the transport process.

Intelligent: Smarter transportation management systems apply advanced analytics to real-time data to automatically respond to changes in the transportation network, and monitor the health of their infrastructure. This capability can help cities take measures such as dynamically adjusting conditions, aligning congestion toll pricing with demand, initiating security measures, and making appropriate decisions based on environmental impact.

Vivek Vashishtha, Country Leader, Government and Regulatory Affairs, IBM India, explains how proactive planning, improved traffic forecasting and management, and optimised use of existing transportation infrastructure can ensure lower congestion, shorter travel times, increased safety, and reduced emissions and noise.

To gain greater insight into mobility patterns, cities can integrate smart sensors that are built into the physical infrastructure, using vision-based systems, vehicles as mobile sensors, and computer-aided decision-making tools that are based on specific real-world scenarios. It provides transportation managers a far clearer view of current situations. For instance, a large city in Europe uses analytics solution that enables near-real-time collection, aggregation and analysis of huge volumes of people movement data. This 'city in motion' solution calibrates data against surveys and other sources, and then converts it into demand models that the city can use to optimise transit systems. Using aggregated mobile phone location and transit system data, the solution creates a heat map that depicts the density of people during different time periods such as morning or evening commutes. It can also show individual patterns of movement, such as from where and when commuters travel.

Using analytics to detect problems: What if your vehicle could warn traffic management and transport network authorities about potential or existing road hazards? Traffic flow is an interconnected system where individual actions can have a major impact on the system. Small problems, such as a single vehicle braking sharply, can force vehicles behind it to brake as well, quickly leading to a traffic jam. Today's vehicles, and the transport networks they drive on, may already be equipped with thousands of sensors that record information. With smarter transportation capabilities, cities can capture and gain insights from sensor data to help improve traffic conditions and the driving experience.

Gaining insight from social media data: What if a status update on a social media site could be used to help authorities determine whether to reroute a city bus, and avoid a traffic snarl? People connected to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks often report information about incidents in real time - by tweeting or posting about accidents, traffic congestion, and detour information. Social media and smart phone apps can gather rich, near-real-time insights into the use of public transportation, while simultaneously providing riders with helpful information that makes their travels more efficient. Drivers can get personalised commute forecasts informed by social media that help them avoid gridlock before they even get in to the vehicle. Lowering the economic costs of congestion: Congestion costs time and money, and is a drain on the economy. On average, travellers incur 50 hours of traffic delays per year. In 2011, US road congestion wasted approximately 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, and cost $121 billion. The cost of pollution, accidents, and congestion can add up to more than 10 per cent of a country's GDP. However, a 10 per cent reduction in traffic during congestion hours and peak demand will almost eliminate all congestion. Eliminating congestion can lead to a two per cent increase in regional GDP. In emerging markets, this can even be higher.

Cities cannot afford to make mistakes when building their transportation networks. Every investment must create efficiencies and support economic development. Cities that invest in smarter transportation systems can see a clear return on their investment. Reduced vehicle use in mature and developing countries has many economic benefits including reduced transport network and infrastructure costs, and reduced pollution, as well as the resulting business and economic growth development.

Eliminating congestion can lead to a two per cent increase in regional GDP. In emerging markets, this can even be higher.

Reducing environmental impact: Air pollution caused by traffic can cause big problems from both an environmental and economic standpoint. In October 2013, thick smog blanketed parts of China for two days, blocking road, train and air traffic, and causing the closing of primary and secondary schools. The visibility in urban areas was less than 50 metres. Citizens and traffic police were forced to wear masks to escape the pungent smell and unhealthy effects of the smog. According to the World Health Organization, the effects on health of transport-related air pollution are among the leading concerns about transportation, with seven million premature deaths linked to air pollution in 2012.

Intelligent transportation systems: Experts from around the world convene annually at the Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) World Congress to discuss the latest applications. The sharing of knowledge and experiences among ITS community members is a critical contributor to helping the development and implementation of ITS. From connected vehicles to freight management and smart parking, ITS includes a range of innovative information and communications technologies that improve the safety, efficiency, and performance of the transportation system. When integrated into a city's roadways, vehicles and public transportation network, ITS can help reduce congestion, improve mobility, increase public transportation use, and raise citizens' quality of life.

What do cities need to build a resilient, sustainable infrastructure that provides essential services with flexibility and efficiency? An intelligent, future-oriented transportation system that uses the latest technology can help cities perform advanced traffic analysis and optimisation for better decision support. It can help cities increase situational awareness across the entire transportation network, and analyse traffic performance to improve travel experience. It can also serve as a tool to centralise the monitoring of vehicles, and estimate transit and arrival times.

We clearly see the opportunity to apply the latest advancements in technology - cognitive, cloud, analytics, etc. - to provide cities in India with cost-effective, leading-edge services that will contribute to an improved quality of life for citizens, and improved economic vitality for the cities themselves. ~

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