July 2010

Say Yes To ITS

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Say Yes To ITSThe impact

Intelligent Transportation System has lead to decongestion of traffic, safety and security on roads,  inculcating traffic discipline among citizens, saving of time and fuel and cleaner environment

Say Yes To ITS

Smart traffic management systems will not just help decongest Indian roads but will also bring down spiralling social costs

By Pratap Vikram Singh
Photo Sujith Sujan

Earlier, information and communication technologies (ICT) had broad applications in business and consumer segments. Recent innovations and developments have brought about ICT applications that help government agencies improve lives of citizen in a more meaningful manner.

Transportation is an area that has tremendous scope for ICT implementation. In transportation, ICT applications have resulted in better management of traffic, ensuring safety and security on roads and prevention of road accidents, with the monitoring and regulation of vehicle speed and cleaner environment due to less carbon emissions.

An integrated or intelligent transportation system can help in multiple ways—it equips citizens with information about the road and traffic conditions before they start for their destinations.

It gives authorities critical data about traffic pattern and density, which could be further analsmart ysed and used for better and quicker decision making. It also improves law enforcement. Authorities in the US and Europe and even in some emerging economies in the East have been upbeat about using ITS.

Global adoption

The US and Europe forayed into deploying ITS much earlier, notably with the development of ITS policy in the US that dates back to early 1990s. Also, almost 14 European countries have signed for the deployment of eCall system (emergency call system), a European Commission scheme to equip all new vehicles with GSM and GPS capability so they can automatically alert the emergency services following an accident.

“In case of a crash in EU, an eCall-equipped car automatically calls the nearest emergency centre. Even if no passenger is able to speak, due to injuries, a minimum set of data is transmitted,which informs about the exact location of the crash site. India can definitely adopt a similar system with customisation to suit local conditions,” RK Vij, Inspector General of Police, Chattisgarh explains.

European countries are also mooting a project called Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) system, which aims to assist drivers in keeping the speed within limits.

In Asia, Singapore was one of the first countries to feel the need for smart transportation systems and went for its implementation in early 1990s. China, in 2002, developed a vision and framework for ITS in the wake of the Beijing Olympics 2008.

It’s needed in india

Despite huge strides made in IT and ITES, ITS in India is still at a nascent stage and functional only in bits and pieces. Unlike in other mature countries, India has been laying more stress on traffic management and electronic toll collection.

However, it’s a common set of problem that each city faces while dealing with increasing traffic– road accidents and subsequent fatalities have gone up, clamouring the governments to adopt a more integrated approach that would interconnect various affected departments like transport, planning, police, health emergency and local authorities.

Commenting on the need for adopting ITS in the country, Vij, who is also over-seeing the deployment of pilot project on ITS in Raipur, says: “Road transport has a major impact on the quality of life, environment and economy
in our country. The states can no longer depend solely on the traditional system of transport with worsening congestion, insufficient transport infrastructure, cost constraints, increasing emissions and growing needs of
citizens.”

Puneet Gupta, Vice-President, Public Sector, IBM India and South Asia says, “Like their colleagues in city administration and government, transport officials are starting to implement smart solutions to address these challenges and provide improved mobility in their cities, better services for citizens and a more cost-effective transport network. Every minute during the next 20 years, 30 Indians will leave rural India for urban areas and thereby India will need some 500 new cities. The sooner the cities are smarter, the better.”

Selecting the modules

In broad categorisation, ITS modules include integrated transportation system, intelligent traffic management, emergency vehicle notification, automated enforcement, advanced traveller information, electronic toll collection, pedestrian information, and camera surveillance and monitoring system.

While the stress in the West has been on having an integrated approach to ITS, in developing countries like India it is yet to be seen in a more holistic manner.

The deployment of ITS here is being done in bits and pieces. Cities like Bangalore and Pune have taken the lead and have deployed an integrated ITS solution for easing the flow of traffic and increasing the safety-and-security standards on roads.

For Chattisgarh, where ITS is still in a conceptual stage, Vij explains, “The pilot project, Intelligent Traffic Management System, includes modules like traffic signal management including green channel system for VVIP movement and dynamic traffic management. Parking management module includes parking guidance and reservation. Then there are features like information system for road users, driver assistance system including navigation and electronic stability control.”

He further adds, “It will also include an automated control room and e-call system for emergency call handling and grievance redressing. After its successful testing in Raipur, replication is planned for other major cities of Chhattisgarh State.”

As of now, for ITS deployment, the Government of India does not have a national level policy, program or even a common technology standard.

On practical grounds, things are not happening. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has long been working on highway traffic management system which would include setting up closed circuit TVs (CCTV) at important locations, emergency call boxes at every kilometre and ambulances for 24 hours. However, HTMS has now been made a part of PPP for NHAI highway constructions project.

Informing about the CDAC’s research on ITS, Ravi Kumar, Joint Director, CDAC Thiruvananthpuram (the nodal centre for research on ITS) says, “CDAC is helping the local authorities in Pune and Kolkata for integrated solution in relation to ITS. The ITS project, in collaboration with the leading academic institutes, is aiming at an integrated ITS solution, tuned to Indian traffic conditions.”

Commenting on the need for adopting an integrated approach while implementing ITS, Gupta said, “Indeed, intelligent transport is about more than implementing discrete technologies. Leading cities across the world are using these technologies to evolve their transport systems from single modes to integrated ones, improve transport services and provide an improved value proposition to citizens. Their strategies address three main areas: governance, transport network optimisation and integrated transport services.”

Measuring the impact

ITS adoption influences a number of areas which primarily include safety and security, traffic decongestion, cleaner environment,increased law enforcement and disciplined travellers. A Planning Commission estimate shows that the social cost of road accidents in India stands at about 3 percent of GDP annually. And a WHO study says India has crossed the mark of 130,000 fatalities in road accidents. A similar Europe-wide study puts the cost of road accidents at around 1 percent of GDP. In the United Kingdom alone, 2,946 people were  killed and 245,000 injured in road accidents in 2007.

According to Vij, “A  coordinated effort is required to foster ITS deployment in our country on a  wider scale with specific regional requirement. Indeed, once driver assistance system and emergency call system are in place and enforcement of transport  laws is improved, ITS systems can save thousands of lives and utilise the social  costs thus saved,” he further elaborates.

Putting forth his views on ways of ITS playing a role in curbing the traffic menace, Kumar says “Application of  technology in right perspective can influence the behaviour of road users  including drivers, pedestrians and passengers.

A UK Parliament report of  January 2009  on ITS brings to light the significance it has regarding its  application for enhancing road safety. The report mentions that systems like e-call could save up to 2,500 lives each year in Europe.

Apprising about a similar system developed by CDAC, Kumar said, “We have developed a distress alert system for automobiles that will be launched towards the end of this year. It will be possible to mobilise rescue teams to the distress point in no time by the alert system.Drastic reduction in fatality rate is expected by introduction of the system.”

ITS has proved to be a promising tool for addressing the traffic decongestion needs of cities. Enabling free flow of traffic, it not only saves working man hours for the overall economy, it also saves the environment from carbon emissions. Expressing his concern over the issues related with traffic congestion, Gupta pose the question, “In the cities of emerging markets such as India, car ownership rates are skyrocketing. What if they reach the 75-90 per cent which we see in OECD countries? Think of the strain on transport infrastructures?”

Besides, as Vij pointed out, the enforcement acts as a deterrent for travellers against violating traffic norms. Wherever ITS is deployed, law enforcement has increased considerably. Hence, revenue from violation-fee collection has gone up and the government has easily met the cost of the whole ITS deployment. Additionally, it has inculcated a sense of discipline among travellers. ITS deployments in cities like Bangalore and Pune have resulted in a remarkable change in the attitude of travellers.

Taking stock of the leakages in the toll collection system in the country, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India has constituted a committee under UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani to work out an electronic toll collection system for plugging leakages that could be as high as 20 percent. The committee will select the software for integrating all the toll plazas onto a central server.

Coordination is critical

Several stakeholders of ITS include traffic, transport, police, urban development, planning, health and local authorities. For an integrated transportation system, a close coordination among these departments is a must.

Articulating the urgency, Vij remarks, “The enforcement of law is largely with the state government—through its police and transport departments. So the local bodies play an important role in ensuring flow of smooth traffic, and traffic decongestion. The town and country planning departments also need to be receptive of it and address the growing needs of traffic infrastructure and provision of civic amenities. Therefore, the need of the hour is to strive for a more focused and coordinated approach among all stakeholders.”

Kumar supports the view, “ITS should be part of the overall urban development plan and there should be good participation from the user agencies such as police, transport, local authorities and planners.”

Praveen Sood, IG and Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) says, “The partnering departments have to be efficient. The preparedness should also be there in the participating departments. Besides, for fixing the loopholes into the system, an integrated and holistic approach is a must. In the long term, I don’t see ITS as a part of the traffic department. Eventually, the ownership has to go to an umbrella organisation like urban development.”

Overcoming challenges

Preparedness of the participating departments is an issue. Besides ICT orientation of the nodal department, other departments must also have a minimum level of automated operation. Until the stakeholder departments
have digitised data, data sharing for the backend integration will remain a distant dream.

Besides, for a nationwide ITS, there is a need for a national transport database, which hitherto does not exist.

The law enforcement will be limited to some states and not across the country until such a database is in place. “A country-wide ITS network can help in law enforcement and public safety in a better manner. For example, currently it is difficult to execute a red light violation ticket for a vehicle registered in another state because there is no common database,” Kumar opined.

Pinpointing the need for physical infrastructure as a major limitation, Vij says, “Integrated and intelligent transport system also needs physical infrastructure to work in tandem. Availability of such infrastructure including hospital and ambulance services, power supply and network availability is scarce.”

For a vast country like India, a national policy on standards for ITS is an imperative so that the interoperability is not compromised.

According to Kumar “Since ITS is a new area in India, most of the implementation agencies are in gray about the specifications and even the requirements. Having standards can ease the situation and of course will help in future expansion and maintenance of the system. Standards also help in interoperability of systems from various vendors.”

ITS, like in other counties, should be part of the urban development and planning, which will enable integration of transport planning with land use planning. It must be an integral part of the connected and smart cities.

ITS can be a Mission Mode Project in the on -going National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of the Department of IT, Government of India, which can play the role of a nodal agency in coordinating with all stakeholder departments at the central and state levels for a more holistic approach.

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