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Research can unlock the potential of ITS applications

The ITS World Congress in Stockholm on 22-25 September 2009 focused on EU-level efforts to speed up the introduction of intelligent transport systems (ITS). The European Commission's Research Directorate-General is doing its part to make sure the process goes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

András Siegler in Stockholm © Neil Maclean
András Siegler in Stockholm
© Neil Maclean

András Siegler, the Director of transport at the European Commission’s DG Research said ITS could do much to make transport – particularly road transport – cleaner, safer and more sustainable, but the potential is untapped at the moment.

“ITS can bring a very valuable contribution to the challenges facing transport,” he said. Transport is responsible for 25% of the EU's CO 2 emissions, congestion accounts for economic losses of 1% of the EU's GDP – an annual bill of roughly €112 billion – while road accidents cause 40 000 deaths per year.

Mr Siegler estimated that the widespread introduction of ITS will mean reduced congestion by up to 15%, 20% less CO 2 and up to 15% fewer road fatalities. However, these would not be realised without innovation and co-ordinated actions. “We spend on research today to meet the demands of tomorrow,” he said. EU research efforts are not starting from scratch, he added. "We are developing new technologies, but also working to apply technologies that have already been developed under previous programmes."


The EU's ITS action plan outlines several modes of action to coordinate and accelerate ITS deployment. Particular areas where ITS can make improvements, said Mr Siegler, are ensuring the continuity of traffic, more efficient freight movement and combining of different modes, greater integration of vehicles with transport infrastructure and improving road safety.

The plan coordinates national and EU-wide initiatives. “It facilitates pan- European activities and a wider market,” he said. “We are always developing new technologies but it is important to combine efforts. In order to get wider deployment of ITS, we need to have integration needs to be built into systems. This is one benefit of EU wide efforts,” he said.

The ITS Congress exhibition © Neil Maclean
The ITS Congress exhibition
© Neil Maclean

Another area of importance for research is looking at how to use existing information systems – e.g. mobile telecommunications networks.

Siegler pointed out some of the main programmes providing financial support for research, especially the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). “It is vital to maintain a high level of research and development investment,” he said, “especially in clean cars and related technologies.”

“Many of our FP6 projects are dedicated to reducing emissions from road transport, the current grants will continue this work.” In July 2009, a new call for proposals under the FP7 'Transport' theme was launched, with a budget of around €100 allocated to 'Surface Transport'. The electrification of cars is a priority at the moment, he said. In 2011, the focus of grants would be logistics, with ITS important for this.

“We need to focus on developing an active transport system,” he added. “And we need to focus on developments that can introduce a step-change in technologies.”

And stimulus

ITS is also an important part of initiatives such as the 'Green Cars' initiative, part of the EU’s economic stimulus in response to the autumn 2008 global financial crisis. “It deals with more than cars,” said Mr Steigler. “It covers heavy duty vehicles, road, urban transport and logistics optimisation.” The initiative foresees €4 billion in EIB loans and €1 billion in direct research funding.

A concrete example of efforts to promote ITS in research was the 'CONDUIT' project started in May 2009, developing key performance indicators for ITS applications. “It will make it easier to compare different ITS systems. We need to be able to compare different initiatives and decide which practices are good.”