By adopting an approach used in cloud-based software, cities can improve the safety and efficiency of their transportation networks, believes Ramin Massoumi, Iteris.
With advances in intelligent transportation systems technology and the proliferation of internet-of-things devices, there is a perfect storm happening whereby cities around the world – which are increasingly populous and ’smart’ – have access to more data than ever before.
This, combined with the resulting growth in the third-party data industry, means there is an overwhelming increase in the accessibility and volume of data available, as well as endless possibilities for the analysis and application of that data. Moreover, within the past five years or so, these new realities have engendered an evolution in the data business model and the question of data ownership.
Execution and outcomes
For transportation agencies, this offers many opportunities, from being able to continuously monitor the health of a city or county’s transportation network to completely optimising the operations of toll plazas statewide – and many more. But harnessing the data and turning it into information is only the first step. The challenge is how to execute on the insights and produce outcomes that can be identified.
There is a solution to this challenge. The cloud-based software market created a new mindset, whereby the expectation of a tangible product that is owned and operated by the purchaser is superseded by a seamless, continuously updated experience – for example, updates and enhancements that are constantly sent to your smartphone.
By embracing this mindset in the context of managed services, and allowing other entities to operate and manage roadside infrastructure, agency resources can be liberated so they can focus on addressing increasing citizen demands. The result of this is safer, more timely and more efficient mobility throughout transportation networks, toll plazas and intersections, to name a few.
As a service
A solution delivery system that has been tried and tested in other industries for many years is the managed services model. Whether it be software-as-a-service, mobility-as-a-service, data- as-a-service, intersection-as-a-service, or even tolling-as-a-service, the potential for improving efficiencies and outcomes for agencies is significant if this change in mindset is embraced.
Transportation agencies have seen a major business model transformation in how solutions are delivered, including the recent revolution in how data is acquired. Instead of relying solely on agency-owned sensors, third-party providers are increasingly providing valuable data sets that agencies can use to make improvements to their transportation networks.
By adapting to this shift, transportation agencies are already seeing results – for example, the rise of cloud-based performance measurement platforms that reduce congestion at intersections – but further adoption will prove to be transformative.
Using intersection monitoring as an example, whereas traffic engineers once used fairly simple electromagnetic controllers, each intersection is now essentially its own integrated IT system. For example, if one push-button goes bad, the associated signal timing can be thrown out of sync, impacting the operation of an entire intersection.
With a managed services model, however, agencies no longer have to operate and maintain the equipment or ensure the accuracy of the data.
And because equipment problems are nipped at the bud, agencies save money in the long run – after all, it costs less to maintain a part than it does to replace it.
One of the best (but little known) examples of agencies handing over operations and maintenance to a trusted third party involves toll authorities across the United States. Most toll systems are now designed, built, operated and maintained by third parties, with financing from banking consortiums and other investors. They then recoup their investment with toll charges, meaning agencies have the reassurance that the day-to-day maintenance, repair, and operations of any tolling station within a region or state are now taken care of, and both the financial and administrative burden have been taken on by a private third party.
In another example, agencies can call on trusted providers to design, operate and manage the core services required to run their traveller information systems. Many state transportation agencies across the country offer a 511 (or similar) system, which provides road users with real-time travel advice for arterial roads, highways, and public transit routes.
By entrusting this service to a third party, agencies can instead focus on taking the necessary action to make their roads more efficient.
But whether you’re adopting this model for a toll station, intersection or the wider transportation network, using service providers to operate and manage roadside infrastructure is proving to be a practical strategy to improve mobility and efficiency.
The bottom line
Traffic engineers are already stretched thin, but by embracing a managed services model, smart cities can empower agency staff to move their focus elsewhere and complete more work than they otherwise would have, while securing safer, more efficient mobility, and seeing cost savings over the medium and long-term.