As the volume and cost of traffic congestion grows in Australian cities, governments are increasingly turning towards smart traffic or Internet of Things technology to improve infrastructure capacity and transport management capabilities.
The cost of congestion in Australian capital cities, which was estimated at $13.7 billion in 2011, is forecasted to increase by 290 per cent to an estimated $53.3 billion in 2031 if current infrastructure and management conditions are maintained, according to Infrastructure Australia, the government’s independent body for infrastructure-related research and advice.
Demand for both urban road and rail corridors are “projected to significantly exceed current capacity by 2031”, states Infrastructure Australia’s April 2015 audit investigating infrastructure challenges.
While it also notes the unpredictability surrounding the speed and nature of “intelligent transport systems” that may be deployed to alleviate the growing pressure on transport infrastructure across Australian states and territories, it appears likely that these systems will be the foremost solutions to this issue.
This approach will be bolstered by the steady growth in internet-enabled vehicles and devices, with Gartner estimating that the number of such devices will increase from approximately 4.9 billion in 2015 to 25 billion by 2020.
A number of states have already begun leveraging Internet of Things technology through the implementation of smart roads systems, including a number that link directly to citizens’ mobile devices, and are reporting significant cost and capacity benefits.
The Victorian Government has become an early adopter of smart motorway technology, and the implementation of managed motorway capability across the Monash Freeway has allowed up to 19 per cent more people to utilise each lane.
“The benefit of the technology is equivalent to another 0.5-0.8 lanes on the four lane carriageway, achieved at a fraction of the cost of the fourth lane itself,” according to Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Australia, an organisation representing governments, ITS suppliers and citizens.
Victoria has also implemented Traffic Signal Linking and Monitoring (SCATS) technology across most of the state’s traffic lights, connecting them through an integrated monitoring and management system that has also led to the introduction of priority arrangements for public transport and emergency service vehicles.
The government’s suite of intelligent transport systems also includes Freeway Ramp Coordination Systems to aid the prevention of congestion, Freeway Detection Systems to gather real-time information on traffic flow and associated interruptions, Variable Speed Limit Systems to respond to changing traffic and weather conditions, and Traveller Information Systems providing travel time and congestion information to motorists through “dynamic message signing”, according to VicRoads.
The 2015-16 state budget included $90 million in funding for infrastructure and ITS projects to improve transport efficiency in metropolitan and regional Victoria.
The NSW government announced plans to introduce Sydney’s first smart motorway in the lead up to the 2015 state election, with technology deployed on a 36 kilometre section of the M4 motorway expected to cut travel times by 15 minutes during peak hour.
The upgrade will include traffic sensors to track traffic flow in real-time, coordinated entry ramp signals, responsive lane management technology, and variable electronic speed limit and message signage.
“Smart motorways will be the future of Sydney’s road network – the 100,000 motorists who use the M4 every day will be the first to benefit from this congestion-busting technology in NSW,” said Premier Mike Baird.
“Merging traffic slows down everyone, sometimes to a standstill. In a nutshell, this technology will make lane merging easier, keeping traffic moving and getting you home faster.
“Apart from slashing travel times by up to 15 minutes, this will save motorists money by reducing vehicle running costs.”
Other states and territories have begun trialling smart parking solutions in central areas. The ACT government has begun the process of implementing a smart parking trial that will include on-street and off-street sensors linking to a mobile phone app to guide motorists to nearest available spaces, automated parking payment options, improved enforcement mechanisms, and the generation of behavioural and infrastructure-use data.
The City of Perth has also implemented app-based parking assistance and smart infringement management technology, and some local councils in NSW have begun implementing dynamic parking signs and ticketless systems.
In addition to traffic management, intelligent transport systems could also be used to improve the management and upkeep of transport infrastructure, according to ITS Australia. For example, the deployment of “machine to machine” links on assets such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge could enable the use of big data and data analytics capability to monitor patterns of use and deterioration and inform decisions surrounding preventive asset maintenance and investment planning.
A project to establish sensors on the Bridge for this purpose has already begun, with National ICT Australia to monitor 2400 joints linked to a dashboard tracking their condition.
Internationally, Singapore, which is facing extreme transport infrastructure pressure due to population density has begun dedicating parts of roads to autonomous vehicles in a bid to increase the capacity of existing road infrastructure. An estimated 250 million cars are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, according to Gartner, paving the way for further vehicle automation.
New York City has implemented microwave sensors for active traffic management, which are believed to have improved traffic time by 10 per cent in midtown.
The City of Boston has introduced a “Street Bump” mobile app that is actively collecting data on the smoothness of commutes, and providing the government with GPS-enabled locations that require infrastructure work.
The range of innovative solutions for traffic management, roads infrastructure maintenance and user information purposes that are already in use in Australia and across the world indicate the broad scope of Internet of Things and intelligent transport technology to address long-standing and emerging issues.