Improving Transportation = Better Quality of Life for City Dwellers

Solution Director, Xerox

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) refers to a wide range of services that use information and communications technology that can improve transportation and mobility.

What do you get when you harness the combined power of computer processing, data management and modern communications to provide new and improved transportation services? Ideally, a better quality of life in our cities.

In 1867, the nine year-old William P. Eno experienced a traffic jam in New York City caused by just a dozen or so horses and carriages. He recalled, “Nobody knew exactly what to do; neither the drivers nor the police knew anything about the control of traffic. This was my first experience with what disorder could do. We all sat there for half an hour until one driver decided to turn around and head the other way. Then gradually the mess began to unsnarl.” This incident inspired Eno and he came up with the concept of traffic management, where vehicles could be organized in platoons and take turns taking progress across intersections.

We have come a long way since these early days of disorganized traffic and today we use computers and communications technology to squeeze more capacity out of our transportation networks. But we should not forget our origins and the lessons we have learned. Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) have a long history of promising to improve our transportation and mobility.

Intelligent Transport Systems refers to a wide range of services using information and communications technology that already impact our daily lives. Think road tolling services such as E-ZPass, city-wide traffic signal synchronization, safety cameras, satellite navigation systems, smart ticketing systems for public transit, information services, incident detection and warning systems.

These tools have done a great deal to improve transportation and mobility. However, in order to respond to the safety, environmental and economic challenges that we face, we need to do much more than has been achieved thus far. There is much more that can be accomplished in terms of multimodality, information processing, network management, enforcement and compliance, demand management and freight consolidation and distribution.

We need smarter transportation in order to improve accessibility, efficiency and economic performance, and reduce accidents, waste and environmental damage. Smarter transportation means using all the available tools to provide the essential information and communications that balance the supply and demand of our networks better.

Success will mean that travellers will benefit from seamless services, while authorities and administrations will reduce waste as network reliability and equilibrium is improved with systems that are more integrated. As a result, industry will have a stable market to service.

We need to progress from individual systems and services to an integrated coordinated and more effective suite of services. The ultimate ITS service is one where data is collected once and used as many times and in as many applications as appropriate. This may be in a form of a system of systems (or a number of sub-systems) to ease understanding and control.

In 2014 this is even more urgent as we face the duel challenges of reduced economic performance and resilience and the environmental challenges of climate change. We need to get more from less. This applies not only to our infrastructures but also to our organizational and institutional governance. ITS must compete for funding along with other transport initiatives. Integration is the key to effective data collection, processing and information and management of transport infrastructure and network. This does not necessarily mean a single large system is needed so long as the data required is accessible, networked systems can provide the level of interoperability needed.

To help achieve this integrated, efficient and cost-effective approach, we need to both organize ourselves in a more joined up way and to use the technology tools that are now increasingly available.

Key to this step change in transportation will be transaction systems (integrated ticketing, road user fees, parking lot payments, electronic fee collection, etc.), and improved traffic management and information systems that are based on more and better quality data. Key enablers for accelerating deployment and securing the benefits promised by intelligent transport systems include:

  • Unlocking information using big data, data analytics and data visualization, and use the resources that we have already collected more effectively;
  • The game changing potential of connected vehicle (cars that communicate with other cars and with the infrastructure to prevent accidents and improve comfort and efficiency) technologies that will both improve safety, and the quality and availability of data;
  • Robust business cases that identify clear returns in terms of achieving objectives and investments needed for a breakthrough in deployment; and
  • Evidence-based implementation, stable standards, political stability, and commitment to system and service maintenance.

Deployment of these technologies nearly always leads to new organizational and administrative responsibilities and operations. Clearly new communications and information technology provides the opportunity for wider coverage (or shared services) than the traditional adherence to administrative boundaries, and this means even more political leadership will be needed.

Success will be measured in terms of mobility rather than traditional transportation statistics.

We live in a competitive world, but with transportation we all face similar problems. Major Chris Hadfield, the astronaut who spent six months orbiting the earth in the International Space Station said, “The more I looked at the Earth, the less I thought of it as them or us, our country or someone else’s, and I soon considered it as just us. It is our only home.”

Global cooperation is an important part of intelligent transport systems, and by working together—for instance on connected vehicles, where the United States, European Union and Japan collaborate—we are already helping to set the foundation for future services around the world.

When industry, academia, politicians, the authorities and administrations work together, we can realize the true potential of ITS and create a better future, and make history a thing of the past.


  1. John A Montgomery, 1988. Eno The Man and the Foundation: A Chronicle of Transportation, Eno Foundation for Transportation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eno Center for Transportation.

About the Author
Richard Harris is a Solutions Director, International Transportation and Government, Xerox Services, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands. He is internationally recognised as a leading expert in Intelligent Transport Systems. He is a member of the board of directors of the International Road Federation, chairman of the ERTICO Traffic and Transport Industry sector, the International Director of ITS UK and represents the UK in the World Road Association Technical Committee on Network Operations. He was awarded the prestigious ITS UK Rees Hill Award for outstanding contribution to ITS by a UK professional.

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