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Taking the long view of ITS

First publishedin ITS International
January February 2015
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Google Maps drivers personal devices
Authorities will have to deal with the loss of influence over vehicle routing as drivers use personal devices such as sat nav and service like Google Maps
Caroline Visser believes the ITS industry must present a coherent case for consideration of the technology to become part of transport policy and planning.

As ITS advisor and road finance director for the International Road Federation (IRF Geneva) in Geneva, Caroline Visser is well placed to evaluate quantifying the benefits of ITS implementation – a topic about which there is little agreement and even less consistency. She is pressing to get some consistency in the evaluation of ITS deployments through the use of key performance indicators (KPIs) which will enable authorities to consider and evaluate the technology in policy decisions.

When Visser joined the IRF from the Dutch Roads Authority in 2008, ITS was not yet on IRF’s radar. “The IRF had always been the federation for companies involved in the hardware, the infrastructure part of road transport. That was soon to change as ITS was quickly modernising road transport systems. As an industry body you have to keep abreast of trends and the latest developments so we felt it was important to include ITS in our perspective,” she said.

By late 2008 the IRF had formed an ITS Policy Committee which held its inaugural meeting at that year’s ITS World Congress in New York.

“Much of our work focussed on policy because of the little attention being paid to that area. We wanted to ensure that a framework for ITS roll-out is created and to be used as standard policy when long-term infrastructure investments are being designed,” she explains.

“Today in the developed world you cannot imagine a functioning road infrastructure without the deployment of ITS applications that harmonise traffic flows. That might be bus lane prioritisation in a city, variable message signs that give drivers on the highways and motorways up-to-date information or other services over a smartphone.

“Benefit over cost ratios can be very high despite people complaining about traffic jams, those jams would be much worse without ITS technology in place.”

While appreciating the benefits of ITS, Ms. Visser thinks that some inconsistencies in the evidence base undermine the case to persuade road authorities to systematically include ITS in planning new infrastructure.

“A better understanding of the benefits of ITS that is backed up by coherent evidence will help convince authorities to accommodate the technology’s needs when planning new infrastructure, even if ITS deployment is not part of the initial plan. Such an inexpensive strategic accommodation will drastically reduce the cost of future ITS installation and enable authorities to maximise the infrastructure’s capacity,” explains Visser.

By the time of the 2012 World Congress the IRF had compiled and published the ‘Vienna Manifesto on ITS’. The manifesto’s twin goals are first to provide road authorities with recommendations about creating a conducive policy environment for ITS take-up. “Secondly, we produced the manifesto to help illustrate the benefits of ITS to effectively support national initiatives to raise awareness of the value of ITS and support the dialogue on a national level about a conducive framework.”
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Walkonomics app smartphone pedestrian
In emerging economies the smartphone could be best way to deliver ITS services - like this Walkonomics app for pedestrians
The campaign has now moved into a second phase and trying to build on the Policy Committee. Visser said one area it is addressing is ITS education: “We are working to establish a collaboration agreement with the European Forum and universities offering courses on ITS and participating in ITS-EduNet. We also have a number of national associations as members and this all fits well with the IRF’s general mission of spreading knowledge and information sharing,” she said.

As a measure of the IRF’s success to date, the ITS Policy Committee is now represented at the EU’s ITS advisory group as well as the Commission’s new cooperative vehicle platform. The IRF is not only active in Europe but increasingly in Asia and the Middle East and has produced a version of the ITS Manifesto in Russian, and translation into Spanish is also underway.

Emerging Economies

When asked if this campaign was equally applicable to the many emerging economies (where the IRF is also active), she said the situations were not comparable. “I think any ITS roll-out in emerging economies will be based on a different paradigm. In Africa, the spectacular take-up of smartphones could mean that many ITS services will be traveller–orientated such as information and ticketing, rather than setting up traditional traffic management services as is customary in many developed countries.

“There are also many fast growing megacities coming up, especially in Asia, where there is a large young population and a need to strengthen capacities for urban planning. The dynamics are very different. An immediate goal is keeping these rapidly growing megacities as mobile as possible.”

While smartphones may be the only viable means to deliver ITS services in certain areas, elsewhere they are increasingly viewed as a source of driver distraction leading to accidents and even fatalities.

While acknowledging this fact, Visser said: “That does not disqualify smartphones from being the most appropriate and effective for many areas.  In emerging economies the take-up of mobile phones is outpacing access to basic services and using a smartphone while using public transport does not pose the same risks as when driving a car.”

When asked if the increasing use of personal devices means authorities are losing the ability to influence and control traffic and travel patterns, she replied: “One way or the other authorities will have to deal with that transition but we are not yet picking that up because we are more focussed on infrastructure. I am much more concerned with the impact on investment plans for items that have such a long life cycle as infrastructure. Decisions taken now have long-term impact and you cannot undo them easily.

“So as an authority I would want to know what alternatives I have out there and which development should I jump on, how do I deal with the changing trends, equipment replacement, and is this value for money for the taxpayer?”

The current debate surrounding connected vehicles is a case in point – is there a business case to start implementing the necessary infrastructure on even the smallest roads?
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Caroline Visser road network intervention
“ITS is relatively cheap compared with any other intervention in road networks” Caroline Visser
“People are somehow romanticising connected vehicles but they forget that for a long time there will be a complete mixture of connected and non-connected vehicles. The transition will be incremental. The question for my members [70% of which are now from the private sector] is what are the implications for the hardware, for the equipment and how do they manage and accommodate this heterogonous flow of traffic?”

A current mantra is that smart cars need stupid roads – but Visser believes that is too simplistic.

“Road infrastructures need to evolve into smart highways and contribute their information to the reduction of congestion and accidents. So you need a smart road and a smart car but whether it needs to be everywhere, that’s an economic question and I don’t yet see it as a valid business case. It would be possible to go a long way using the mobile services already in place in most countries but we don’t have the answers at the moment.”

Driving force

So if not connected vehicles, what will be the big driver for ITS implementation? “ITS implementation has been most successful in areas with a strong road safety culture and the political commitment, and therefore the budget, to address road safety issues. In Europe we are now in a phase where authorities are saying ‘from a public authority point of view we have done our part and nomadic devices mean we don’t have much control anymore about what happens in the car’.”   

Statistics show that road safety remains a major issue in many parts of the world but ITS and other measures cost money. Money for road safety will not be readily available in developing regions where health and food security are top priorities.

“We see ITS as relatively cheap compared with any other intervention in road networks but the cost can still be seen as very high - especially in large countries with high populations. However, road deaths are a significant factor and eventually, even in large countries like India, I believe road safety will be the driving factor behind ITS roll-out,” she said.    

This brings the conversation back to the use of KPIs to enable authorities to reliably assess and compare the effect of various ITS technologies and installations. Visser believes reliable evidence of the costs and benefits is essential if there is to be any chance of including provisions for ITS in long-term infrastructure strategies.

However that is currently not the case as a European Commission study has found more than 200 KPIs currently being used to evaluate ITS systems (see panel) but these are not what Visser is seeking to achieve: “We are not focussing on the regular KPIs that are already out there for ITS services and applications as it is a very technological and methodological discussion – we want to go one level higher.

“We have made recommendations for a conducive policy framework and we want to support authorities in creating this framework and to see if there is a way to measure the implementation of these recommendations.
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EU study KPI
KPIs identified by EU study
“One of our recommendations is that ITS is integrated into national transport policy as a recognised tool to achieve the objectives. We have the example of Mexico where the authority wanted to improve road safety and reduce speeding – but the legislative framework prevented the use of technology to enforce the law. There must be substantial, consistent and verifiable data available to authorities wanting to change the law and these are the ‘open doors’ we try to identify.”

Evidence base

In many ways the IRF’s desired efforts are similar to the US DOT’s periodic review of all the ITS evaluations in its knowledge database (see page 20). This seeks to draw out the relative benefits or particular types of implementations rather than that of individual installations, but that facility is not currently available in Europe.

“There is a large body of ITS evaluation evidence in Europe but currently it is too fragmented. Many of the research projects are funded by the EU and the initiatives and learning stop when the sponsoring ends, so there is little evidence about the long-term effects.

“The exchange of knowledge about the evaluation of cost and benefits of ITS is much more sustained in the US where likes of the RITA [the US DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration] and the ITS knowledge base create a powerful source of knowledge.

“If a similar sustainable initiative was available for Europe bringing together the knowledge of costs and benefits evaluations of various systems in all the European countries, that would be an extremely useful facility for my members and other authorities,” she said.

From her work within IBEC’s (the International Benefits, Evaluation and Costs) ITS working group, Visser knows that the shortfall of ITS–related information is much wider than just within Europe and the EU.

“If appropriate KPIs were implemented and consistently applied, it would allow us to see which policies work and which don’t. But we don’t have the means to do original research, so we have to work with what is the current thinking and we need to keep it simple; for example are there recommendation for forms of collaboration between the public, private and finance sectors?

“Are there any official discussions about ITS, about ITS national architecture, about norms or standards and are these people talking to each other? It might sound simplistic but it is key to developing domestic policy and domestic markets for ITS. If you take Western Europe then this might not be so novel but in many of the countries where the IRF is involved, such as central Asia, ITS is a new area.”

The idea of analysing existing studies, in much the same way as happens in the US, rather than introducing a new set of KPIs has some appeal. “That would make sense and help the conversation but we would need to see if this fits our goals and with more than 200 KPIs currently being used, we are not there yet,” she said.

Clearly there is more work to be done.


A European Commission study found more than 200 KPIs being used to evaluate ITS systems with most being related to road safety, network efficiency, environmental impact or modal integration.

Of the 228 KPIs identified, 139 related to the benefits and 89 to deployment. There were 145 concerning road safety and security, 32 covered the optimal use of data and 22 involved linking the vehicle to the transport infrastructure.

These included some standard metrics (such as journey time, or accident level) which were not directly related to ITS while others were so project- or technology-specific that they did not enable adequate comparability. Barriers to measuring ITS performance cited by respondents to the initial survey included the lack of guidance, data and financing, as well as differences in ITS deployments across the EU.

A proposed list of around 15 ITS-specific KPIs is being drafted and they will be tested through EU and national projects and their adoption will be promoted across the EU.

Companies in this article

Research and Innovative Technology Administration
European Commission
IRF Geneva
ITS World Congress

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