In the UK we are fortunate to have centralised integrated traffic management centres in nearly all our cities. These systems control all traffic signals and link to bus routes and car parks.
It is no exaggeration to say that without these systems our cities would not be able to handle the increase in traffic volume that took place in the last decades of the 20th century.
Until now, traffic management systems, including significant traffic monitoring systems, have largely been the preserve of the highway operators. This is set to change significantly in the next few years with the increase in the use of in-vehicle IT.
Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) can provide the driver with real-time information from service providers. This information can alert the driver to the nearest car park with a free space, can give the most effective route to a given destination, or give detailed information about the level of congestion on the roads or any problems with the transport network. GNSS is available in most, if not all, new vehicles.
Studies have shown that in some cities the level of congestion can drop by as much as 10% if drivers are given information about the nearest car park, rather than spending time driving around looking for a space. To remove that volume of traffic will make almost as much improvement to some cities as the congestion charge has in London.
As attitudes about the way we work change, many people are able to be much more flexible about the times they use public transport. Currently, there is only limited information available to the traveller to allow them to make rational choices about modes of transport, travel times or the ability to choose different routes to avoid overcrowding.
The traveller can use websites to gather some information about routes and modes of transport. This information can also be accessed using mobile devices, which is becoming increasingly common. We can look forward to a more detailed service that will provide information on the general state of the transport networks and more personal information about public transport services to people on the move.
This information could include detailed guidance on interchanges and links between different modes of transport, such as park-and-ride facilities. There are also plans to introduce smartcard ticketing to make buying tickets easier and faster. All these innovations make public transport much easier to use and offer a real alternative to the private car.
Those travellers that continue to use cars will be targeted on the road pricing front. The use of tolls for high-quality routes such as the Birmingham northern relief road or at the entrance of congested areas will have to be accepted by most drivers as an inevitable, if unwelcome, consequence of increased demand for private transport.
Existing systems will migrate to much more flexible electronic schemes, which will enable charging to be used as a traffic management tool and keep demand at peak periods under control.
The chancellor's budget speech in 2002 heralded distance-based charging for heavy goods vehicles and I expect similar tax-neutral schemes to be in place for all vehicles within the next 10 years. This would be coupled with in-vehicle GNSS to give drivers traffic information so that they can avoid congested areas and minimise road tolls.
These are only a small selection of the IT systems that will be available in the next 10 years which have the potential to make transport more efficient and less stressful for everyone.
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Steve Norris is president of Intelligent Transport Systems UK