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Intelligent Traffic Systems: Reshaping the transportation network in Smart Cities

Today, almost every Indian megacity is experiencing traffic congestion and its subsequent problems.1According to the IBM 2011 Global commuter Pain Survey, New Delhi is the 6th most painful city in the world when it comes to traffic congestion. (IBM 2011 Global Commuter Pain Survey, 2011)2.

Traffic congestion is a threat to the economic, environmental, social and sustainable development of a city and traffic management has always been an issue of concern for urban policy makers. Ever increasing transportation needs of the exploding urban population cannot be met perpetually as the available land mass doesn’t change.

Thus, the need of the hour is to reshape the transportation networks taking into account the rise in motorized vehicles as well as the aging and sub-optimal infrastructure available in Indian cities. Introduction of Intelligent Transportation Networks (ITSs) offers a viable solution and can help urban planners reduce traffic congestion in cities to a large extent. Free flow of traffic guided by various traffic apps, smart sensors, ensure shorter travel times, increased safety and security along with reduced emissions and noise .

Integrating technology into transportation system

Technology equips transportation system to send right information at right time to traffic planners and commuters. Real-time data available about traffic on roads and congestion helps planners and commuters to react and plan their trips accordingly. Technological integration into the transportation system also benefits in predicting and analysing the traffic to avoid congestion and gridlocks on the roads, thus making commuters’ life more enjoyable, stress free and comfortable. Technology like passenger information systems and GPS monitoring of public transport vehicles also enable commuters to easily switch between two different modes of transport eliminating travel delays (IBM 2011 Global Commuter Pain Survey, 2011). Some of the components of smart traffic management are:

While incorporating intelligence into the transportation system, the three major areas of focus should be Traffic management, Parking Management and Incident Management.


Smart Traffic Management

The first and foremost way to solve issues of traffic congestion and resultant problems of stress, anger and pollution is to monitor and predict real-time traffic. Traffic analysis and prediction capabilities provide a comprehensive solution for traffic management while reducing traffic loads on roads or redistributing traffic congestion across the network. In order to acquire relevant mobility data and patterns, cities can incorporate smart sensors, cameras, mobile applications or computer aided decision making tools into the physical infrastructure to manage traffic movements. These transportation management systems are able to track traffic from source to destination making access to continuously updated information easier.

a)    Mobile Applications for Real-Time Traffic Updates

Connecting to social media and installing smart phone traffic apps help riders to gather near real-time insights about the prevailing traffic condition to make their travels more efficient. Many metropolitan cities are experimenting with the concept to give travellers traffic updates through the smart phones such as RAC- Mobile traffic app in UK which provides to the travellers instant updates about the traffic condition allowing them to plan the route accordingly . These systems can help drivers to get personalized traffic updates beforehand that help them to avoid gridlock on road.3.
 
The companies offering mobile traffic apps gather information either from freely available data via transport agencies and local government or from on –road vehicles. However, this typically involves use of expensive sensors installed on few roads and thus could be cost-prohibitive and sub-optimal. Hence, companies like INRIX or Google majorly depend on data acquired from smart phones only. People using a smartphone with enabled location mapping can be tracked to study real-time traffic conditions thus generating more accurate and appropriate information4.
In India, “Traffline” is providing real-time traffic information to the commuters to plan their route by sourcing its information from the moving vehicles that have GPS installed in them. Daily commuters share real-time data on social networking sites which can be accessed by other fellow commuters. The company has developed its own processing engine which collates, filters and processes the data thus acquired. Live traffic feed is provided for free to the commuters.5
 

b)   Computer aided decision making tools: VICS and ETCS

Vehicular Information and Communication System (VICS) and Electronic Toll Collection System (ETCS) can be used to monitor and predict traffic efficiently.

VICS sends road traffic information about congestion to in-built navigation screens in cars throughout the day. Roadside beacons are installed which transmits traffic information to cars commuting from one place to another. ETCS is a wireless toll system where toll is automatically charged to the account as car passes the toll6. It was developed as a solution for congestion caused by traffic jams at toll booths. It has been estimated that ETCS can reduce congestion by 30% . ETC system depends on ETC cards and an in-vehicle device which communicates with the sensors installed at toll booths.7, 8

c)    Using ICT to support Public transport

Monitoring and predicting traffic patterns also helps in managing movement of people around multiple modes of transportation. Multimodal movement improves transportation system by reducing commuting time resulting into customer satisfaction and ridership of public transit systems.

ICT systems can go a long way in encouraging more usage of public transport. Through online scheduling systems, riders can get real-time updates of all the buses or trains along with their route details as well as time of arrival on their smart phones. Integrated fare management creates an interconnected payment system that allows commuters to use a single smart card to pay for all transportation needs thus eliminating need for multiple payments. One comprehensive ticket can improve the travelling experience by reducing boarding times, creating shorter lines and allowing people to travel in different modes of transport conveniently9, 10.


Smart Parking Management

Metropolitan cities in India do not have enough space to accommodate the rising number of vehicles on roads today. The parking space available in most of the urban centres in India is almost half of the parking space needed11  - forcing people to park their vehicles on roads in a haphazard manner and restricting the free movement of traffic by occupying almost 40% of the road space12.

a)    Smart Parking Meters
Smart meters allow more dynamic pricing, offer real-time reporting and efficient parking enforcement. It also provides commuters various options to pay parking charges either directly through cash and credit/debit card or through pay-by-phone apps of smart phones. Apart from parking meters installed at parking lots, there are in-car meters available which are installed in cars itself and are pre-loaded with funds allowing parking fee to get deducted based on the appropriate parking zone and the time the vehicle was parked14 .

b)    Smart Sensors 
Smart wireless sensors can be embedded in parking spots which are able to track if parking spot is occupied, empty or expired. Smart sensors consist of magnetic and optical sensors which detect metal masses and become active when the optical one detects a lack of light (Smart Cities are built on Internet of Things)13.

c)    Smart Apps for finding available parking spots
Smart sensors are usually complemented by mobile applications which notify drivers about the closest available parking spot. Parking applications integrated in smart phones can solve the problem of parking in urban centres. There are various companies operating all over the world providing solutions to parking problems. City specific apps such as VoicePark in San Fransico, Can I park here? in New york, PrimoSpot in NYC, Seattle and Boston and Chicago Parking help drivers to save time, fuel, money and parking fines, all of which make mobility in city a little more convenient .

The parking mobile applications not only help in locating the available parking spot but also perform various other functions like sorting parking spots as per price and location or combining pay –by- phone function. Using and analysing parking data also allows traffic planners to predict parking trends on an hourly or daily basis to provide current and future parking availability in the city. In several cities, parking applications also give them real-time alerts about the happenings in the vicinity of user’s parked vehicles. For instance, Madrid offers Wazypark app to commuters which sends and receives alerts about the activities around the parked vehicle such as police fining the car, car thefts etc . Further, applications like “Can I Park here? adds parking rules to the app to stay abreast of  parking regulations in various neighborhoods.convenient .

The parking mobile applications not only help in locating the available parking spot but also perform various other functions like sorting parking spots as per price and location or combining pay –by- phone function. Using and analysing parking data also allows traffic planners to predict parking trends on an hourly or daily basis to provide current and future parking availability in the city. In several cities, parking applications also give them real time alerts about the happenings in the vicinity of user’s parked vehicles. For instance, Madrid offers Wazypark app to commuters which sends and receives alerts about the activities around the parked vehicle such as police fining the car, car thefts etc . Further, applications like “Can I Park here? adds parking rules to the app to stay abreast of  parking regulations in various neighborhoods. 


Smart Incident management

Traffic incident management is a way to detect, to respond, to clear traffic incidents and to restore traffic flow as quickly as possible. Accidents on roads lead to congestion and further increase the risk of secondary incidents.

India has been witnessing road accidents at the rate of one in every four minutes. The share of fatal accidents has risen up from 18% in 2003 to 25% in 2012. It is expected that vehicle conflicts and accident risks will rise with the increasing number of cars and newly built infrastructure.

The scope of incident management should not be limited only to manage accidents but also to prevent traffic accidents to happen. Therefore, incident management performs two activities viz. averting the incident and reacting to incident with the focus on integrating technology into systems to help commuters avoid traffic incidents.

Technology that sends advance warnings to drivers can be of great help to avert incidents. ITS technologies creating communication between vehicles and infrastructure, vehicles and pedestrians or amongst vehicles can make driving safe, and easy.

Besides connected cars, there are technologies which detect cars moving on wrong side, jumping traffic signals, exceeding speed limits and also warn drivers about queuing traffic or breaking vehicle ahead to help to gain real-time information reducing chances of secondary incidents .

After averting incident techniques, the focus should move on to the reaction to incidents. Commuters equipped with smart phone applications can get alerts related to incidents in real-time, allowing them to find alternate routes around accidents and traffic jams. Near real-time analysis and early warning about every road event or gridlock on the road helps commuters to get personalized forecasts that help them to avoid getting into traffic congestion.


From the above examples, it can be concluded that while ITS ccan provide a great solution for many of the traffic problems in India, the success of the process lies under policies enforcing ITS. Hence, it is imperative that apart from integrating technology; stringent and contemporary policies should be designed and implemented so as to encourage people to adapt technology more holistically.

Guest Article by Aakanksha Sharma, Emergent Ventures India

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Endnotes:

Image: Flickr

  1. Alam.M.A., & Ahmed.F. (2013). Urban Transporation systems and congestion: A case study of Indian cities. Transport communications Bulletin for Asia and the Pacific .
  2. IBM 2011 Global Commuter Pain Survey. IBM.
  3. http://www.rac.co.uk/travel/mobile-apps/
  4. http://www.theconnectivist.com/2013/07/how-google-tracks-traffic/
  5. http://www.moneycontrol.com/smementor/mentorade/innovation/traffline-you...
  6. http://globaldensoproducts.com/information-communications/electronic-tol...
  7. http://www.vics.or.jp/english/vics/beacon.html
  8. http://japaninfoswap.com/electronic-toll-collection-system-how-to-get-et...
  9. http://www.itemltd.com/inventories
  10. Smarter Traffic. (n.d.). Retrieved Decemeber 2014, from IBM: http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/in/en/traffic_congestion/nextsteps/solu...
  11. http://www.joneslanglasalleblog.com/realestatecompass/real-estate/2014/0...
  12. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/parking-probl...
  13. Smart Cities are built on Internet of Things. Lopez Research.
  14. http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop12026/sec_3.htm