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Major ITS Congress pushes smarter transport

Putting new technologies to work to make transport safer, more efficient and greener was the focus of the 16th ITS World Congress in Stockholm from 21-25 September 2009. Delegates came from around the world to discuss the future of intelligent transport systems (ITS), especially the question of deployment.

ITS Congress Stockholm © Neil Maclean
ITS Congress Stockholm
© Neil Maclean

The term intelligent transportation system (ITS) refers to efforts to add information and communications technology to transport infrastructure and vehicles to manage factors that typically are at odds with each other, such as vehicles, loads, and routes to improve safety and reduce vehicle wear, transportation times, and fuel consumption.

One of the key concerns for ITS developers has been getting technologies already developed onto the market and into the daily life of people around the globe, to improve their well-being, solve environmental problems and boost economies.

Opening the ITS World Congress in Stockholm, Åsa Tostensson, the Swedish minister for communications said there needed to be a shift to eco-efficient economies where we use fewer resources whilst still creating wealth. “New technologies are necessary to create this shift and ITS is an important part of this,” she said.

Tackling big challenges

Tostensson pointed out some of the biggest problems with transport – 4,000 are killed in road accidents per day worldwide; every second train is empty; an inordinate amount of of cargo is transported on overcrowded roads; and thousands of people die from the effects of air pollution each year. “We have to make a different system. ITS offers new solutions in daily life and new possibilities – especially in two of the big challenges facing the world at the moment – the worst economic crisis for decades and the threat of climate change.

“ITS give us an opportunity to renew and refresh our economies to become more eco-efficient,” she added. “We need to change the way people and goods move.”

Several speakers pointed out the huge economic importance of the transport sector. Günther Zimmermeyer, the ERTICO Supervisory Board chairman, said that transport employed €16 million people in Europe alone. “Transport is a pre-requisite for the whole economy,” he said. “ITS can help to change everyone’s daily life and reduce costs. It’s not something that’s nice to have, it’s a must.”

The wider picture

Michael Huerta, chairman of ITS America, said ITS is the solution to many problems facing society and transport. “The benefits are far beyond reducing congestion and expanding capacity on the roads.” He pointed out that 40 000 people are killed each year on US roads (as on EU roads), and that safety remains the priority in US programmes to develop ITS technology, such as Intellidrive. He estimated that ITS applications had the potential to save thousands of lives per year, but that many ITS applications are yet to materialise.

“The technologies are available today to transform transport systems,” he continued, but added that that they were not getting deployed widely. “A total reorganisation of the US ground transport system is necessary. But there is a lack of standards and financing.”

Optimising transport

Johann Colsmann from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Transport and Energy said ITS was about “bringing infrastructure to life” using IT and communication technologies. ITS can give a great boost to mobility he said, especially in the current economic climate “It's less costly to optimise current transport systems than to invest in new infrastructure.”

However, he pointed out that the benefits only came when done at a large scale. The EU adopted an action plan in December 2008 to speed up the use of ITS technologies and their coordinated deployment across the EU. The plan aims to create an integrated approach to enable the large-scale deployment through legislation, standardisation and financing. The EU has allocated €300 million between 2007-2013, he said.