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Intelligent Transport Systems for Smarter Cities

Getting caught in a traffic jam often brings out the worst in most of us. We blame bad drivers, poor roads, burgeoning traffic, absence of a mass rapid transport system and unbridled urbanization for the troubles we face while navigating a city road. While all these may have contributed to the urban road chaos, seldom do we stop to consider why things aren’t changing despite the vast amounts of money being invested in transport infrastructure.

For example, take the large Indian metros like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata that have made huge investments in developing metro rail networks. Initiatives have been taken to modernise road infrastructure, improve the quality of public transport and introduce a variety of innovative features such as e-toll, emergency response system, bus rapid transport (BRT) corridors and metro networks.

According to a World Bank report, the density of India’s highway network (0.66) is similar to that of the United States (0.65) and much greater than that of China (0.16) or Brazil (0.20). Therefore, it seems that building new roads and adding infrastructure has not helped significantly.

Besides increasing traffic congestion, the urban areas are also faced with several other transport-related problems such as increasing emission of pollutants and depleting fuel resources that adversely impact the overall wellbeing of any major city. Studies have shown that an effective transport system is important for a city’s economic competitiveness and severe congestion is known to have a negative impact on GDP.

To make transport management more effective, several cities across the world are trying to build intelligence into existing systems. Transport management systems and software tools have been effective to curtail traffic woes around some mega cities of the world. A smart traffic system helped Stockholm cut gridlock by 20 per cent, reduce emissions by 12 per cent and increase public transportation use dramatically. In London, a congestion management system lowered traffic volume to the mid-1980s levels. The system in Singapore can predict traffic speeds with nearly 90 per cent accuracy. With future enhancements, the system will help predict—rather than merely monitor—other traffic conditions as well.

Although Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) have been around for a long time, the new generation of solutions offer features like traffic prediction, analytics and decision support, traveller information, advisory services, ticketing and fare collection. Innovative tools such as roadside sensors, radio frequency tags and global positioning systems also help monitor and manage transport more effectively.

For example, traffic prediction helps multi-modal planning whereby transport services can be integrated to provide seamless and efficient movement of people. Analytics and decision support helps in continuous, system-wide performance measurement that helps provide optimal solutions to a city’s dynamic transport needs. Providing integrated ticketing and fare collection enhances commuter comfort by integrating rail, bus and parking fares.

Sustained research across cities has revealed that an intelligent transport system is much more than just discrete software solutions. It is about adopting customer-centric approaches that create a shift in their attitudes to cost, value and use of transport systems. That is why leading cities worldwide are using these technologies to implement transport strategies and create holistic transport solutions that address three key strategies: governance, transport network optimization and integrated transport services.

This is where transport maturity models come in handy as they can assess a city’s programs. Each city has a different implementation path based on its unique starting position and the priorities it sets out thereafter. Cities can benchmark their ITS strategies to the transport maturity model adopted by IBM to ascertain current progress and compare it with global leading practices. It can also be used to validate their strategies and develop an ITS implementation roadmap.

As technologies mature and local administrations become more experienced in optimizing their value, one can expect more and more cities to adopt these global practices. Of course, cities can learn from others’ experiences and accelerate their own programs for smart transportation.

Traffic management has been a challenge in India and continues to become more difficult with every passing day. It cannot be addressed only by constructing new roads, bridges and underpasses. The solution lies in taking an integrated approach to traffic management and leveraging advanced technologies and intelligent solutions.

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