Caught (up) in traffic

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Daily Archives: October 10, 2011

Intelligent Transport for the Philippines

The development of an App by the MMDA for use by travelers in Metro Manila is definitely a step in the right direction and represents a breathe of fresh air for the otherwise stale and irritating smog derived from the traffic. Such tools allow for travelers to be informed of the traffic conditions The app is in a sense actually quite crude considering that it is dependent on the observations of MMDA personnel from live feeds from cameras installed along roads throughout Metro Manila, as well as inputs from motorists including Tweets or Facebook messages. The results are often subjective because of the interpretation though quite accurate due to verification made via CCTV. Thus, it employs a more basic approach than what is already being used in other countries such as Japan, the UK and Germany, where traffic conditions are determined using probe cars or systems that are no longer subject to human observation or interpretation.

Vehicles equipped with GPS and communications systems much like the ones already used by the leading logistics companies to track their vehicles now routinely send information about location and such data can be used to construct real-time maps that, if compiled for 24 hours and all throughout the year, may provide a more automated and objective approach to providing travel information. Only incidents like road crashes would then require special treatment. A variation of this type of application of ITS would have been implemented for the MMDA’s bus dispatching for EDSA a couple of years ago using RFID technology to monitor the progression of bus travel along the highway. Unfortunately, after meeting opposition from the transport sector and experiencing some glitches, the project never went underway. Sayang!

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has been available for quite some time now with the 1st World Congress held in1994 in Paris, France. Since then, the developments in ICT have been quite rapid though costs seem to have only reduced significantly in the past 5 years. One reason why ITS has not been able to grab a foothold in many countries is the prohibitive costs of many systems that are supposed to have more significant impacts on transport and traffic in their cities. With more resources and tools becoming available, and with many people able to acquire or access some form of tech (e.g., cell phone, internet), ITS has become available to many people though it is not necessarily cheap (how much is an iPhone?). While Metro Manila could probably afford to make investments for ITS, other cities will not have the resources for such, opting instead to put their money where it is more needed (or so we hope and assume).

Wikipedia provides a pretty decent description of ITS as derived from several sources. Depending on the reference, ITS typically has four functional components:

• Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS)
• Advanced Public Transport Systems (APTS)
• Advanced Vehicle Control Systems (AVCS)
• Commercial Vehicle Operations Systems (CVO)

A fifth one, Advanced Traffic Information Systems (ATIS), is supposed to be embedded or integrated with the four. The MMDA app falls under ATIS and has applications for ATMS and potentially APTS. Leading logistics companies including local ones already employ ATIS for CVO.

I had an opportunity last year to talk about ITS when I was invited to present at the Smarter Cities Summit sponsored by IBM Philippines in December. A pdf of the presentation is found below:

SmarterCities – Transport and Traffic

ITS applications in the Philippines include the very basic ones like the parking management systems now used by shopping malls to inform about the availability of parking spaces to the more comprehensive ones like the electronic toll collection systems of NLEX and SLEX, and the SCATS traffic signal control system of Cebu City. Vehicle manufacturers now routinely use ITS in many vehicles including those sold in the Philippines. These include information on fuel consumption displayed on the dashboard, proximity alarms, and many already have navigation systems as options when purchasing the vehicle.

The 18th ITS World Congress will be held in Orlando, Florida, USA later this month. It promises to again provide participants with a taste of what has been deployed so far and how effective these systems are in addressing traffic problems. Companies participating in the congress would also be displaying products under development and perhaps postulate what can be done in the near future using technology for leverage in solving issues on transport and traffic. It should be noted, however, that ITS remains a tool that would be effective only if both authorities and stakeholders also address the roots of the transport and traffic problems in this country. Dependence on ITS alone will have very limited impacts compared to more comprehensive programs for managing transport demand and supply. Nevertheless, ITS presents a powerful tool that can tremendously enhance traditional solutions. In fact, the “full potential” for ITS combined with traditional TDM and TSM is regularly on display in Singapore with its Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme. But that’s another story.