Intelligent Transport Systems: Not Driven By You

A conference last week in Bordeaux on so-called Intelligent Transport Systems brought together every possible public and private player – apart from the end users – as the industry is criticised for wasting tens of billions of dollars on applications consumers do not want.

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INTELLIGENT TRANSPORT SYSTEMS: NOT DRIVEN BY YOU

Tens of billions wasted on ‘Intelligent’ Transport Systems consumers don’t want.

TecDay Mercedes-Benz S500 Inteligent Drive/TecDay Autonomous Mobility Sunnyvale 2014

Photo @Mercedes-Benz

Policymakers, ministers, ambassadors, cities, NGOs, car makers, telecoms, infrastructure builders, road operators, academics and students gathered in Bordeaux last week for the latest Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) conference.

Now in its twenty second year – rotating between Europe, the US and Asia – the Congress brought players up to speed with the latest developments in an industry aiming to make transport safer, more efficient and cleaner using data.

Much less in evidence were consumers. Out of the 12,000 people who attended just 800 were members of the public.

Therein lies the perennial weakness of ITS according to a paper from Nokia’s map-making unit HERE.

A common cause of failure for ITS initiatives is the deployment of services that simply do not resonate with the needs of consumers,’ it says.

A disproportionate emphasis is placed on disparate academic studies and engineering-focused pilots, and insufficient time is spent on the last-mile effort to develop clear business and deployment models.’

In other words, ITS is not something consumers are clamouring for. The real drivers are national and international authorities keen to reduce congestion and improve road safety, and companies eager to make the most out of new possibilities thrown up by the internet.

The European Commission also highlights the carbon-saving inherent in more efficient transport, particularly ahead of the landmark COP21 climate conference in Paris next month.

Admittedly, some ITS will be useful. Particularly interesting is the ‘Amsterdam Group’ project on the succession of motorways between Rotterdam and Vienna via Frankfurt.

The idea is to share data between the vehicles on the road and the road operators.

This so-called Co-operative ITS (C-ITS), also known as V2X communication (vehicle to vehicle or vehicle to infrastructure communication), is the next step on from the oft-criticised roadside information systems already in use across Europe.

Using real-time, accurate data it will be possible to alert drivers to hazards – weather, accidents – and regulate speeds to overcome sheer-weight-of-traffic ‘ghost jams’ thereby making journeys more reliable and safer.

Meanwhile, autonomous ‘self-driving’ cars made a big show in Bordeaux.

However, despite news last week that Toyota will have autonomous cars on the market in 2020, Volvo declaring it would accept liability for its autonomous cars involved in crashes – a crucial legal hurdle – and a Citroen C4 Picasso driving to the Congress from Paris on its own, French transport minister Alain Vidalies told delegates such vehicles will not be on the road before 2030.

This leaves the formation of the first ‘Mobility as a Service’ Alliance as the really big news from the Congress .

Described as ‘the biggest paradigm change in transport since affordable cars came into the market’ this product of reductive industrial logic says the value of a car, for instance, is not its big shiny wheels and ability to get to sixty miles per hour in five seconds, but solely its ability to transport you from one place to another.

Therefore, if governments and companies can together offer comparable ‘mobility’ – by a theoretically seamless combination of bikes, cars, shared taxis and buses, powered by a mega-IT platform – then everyone will be happy.

Some may baulk at the projected price of ‘Mobility as a Service’ at €1200 per month for a family. Some may wonder how to pack all these fifteen minute response times into their already full schedules.

Others may be surprised that the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), have both signed up to this new alliance, the other members of which include the usual universities, telecoms and local and regional authorities (but no user groups).

Whether Mobility as a Service makes it, or adds to the $89 billion already wasted on ‘failed, delayed and unrealised’ ITS projects in the past five years (according to HERE), remains to be seen.

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