Those who know me are fully aware of my strong belief that traffic management is the mother to all solutions in transport. Sometimes we laugh with how this creeps up in all our discussions with the Innovation and Deployment team is ERTICO-ITS Europe or out of the office, when I attend meetings on Connected and Automated Driving or Urban mobility.
Co-Chairing with Klaas Rozema (Dynniq) and closely working with traffic management experts such as Gino Franco (Swarco), Jeroen Brower (TomTom), Martin Russ (Austriatech) and of course Pedro Barradas (Armis ITS) and Jop Spoelstra (Technolution) on the TM 2.0 ERTICO Innovation Platform for the past 6 years, I had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with like-minded colleagues from various stakeholder groups who also believe in the solutions power of Traffic Management.
Traffic management 2.0
Nonetheless, we (and I speak on behalf of all of them), do not refer to just any traffic management practice or scheme. When we refer to the mother of all solutions traffic, we have in mind the interactive cooperative traffic management as set and agreed in the TM 2.0 ERTICO Innovation Platform (www.tm20.org). The latter, now numbers 40 member organisations, including Ministries and Service providers and motorway operators who see value in cooperating and co-opetiting (cooperatively competing) with their peers and others coming from both the private and public sector, towards ensuring a more informed traffic management on both sides. A traffic management which does not only see the priorities of the public, as important to satisfy, but also those of the private stakeholders. One that aims at respecting the business case of time efficient routing while also respecting and adhering to the access limitations of the geo-fenced areas that the public authorities have unilaterally set.
If traffic management is all about planning and control of road traffic, through it’s 2.0 evolution (in TM 2.0), it now includes dialogue and cooperation of stakeholders, exchange of stakeholders information on priorities, mutual respect and understanding of private and public sector business plans and more. Co-opetition is nothing else than the cooperation of competitors for the common good. The latter is bound to be set by the public authorities, as the private sector will most certainly prioritise on revenue only if they do not cooperate towards the common good.
TM 2.0 has encultured the need of commitment in striving for a common goal, that of alleviating traffic. It is common knowledge that if service providers send their users towards direction A via the same main route that looks in their monitors (and FCD-fed calculations of their fusion engines) as free-flowing, without any concern towards the bigger picture, that street or highway will become clogged and congested very-very soon. On the contrary, if competing service providers and the public authority planning and regulating traffic sit around the table and plan together, they can share the commonly agreed plan for the various scenarios that may come up and they will be able to instruct their users towards following diverse routings that aim to balance the road network at all times. We are talking about the passenger traffic and freight traffic too. The TM 2.0 concept is being tested in the SOCRATES 2.0 project, a CEF (Cohesion European Facility) funded line project, led by the Dutch Ministry with the cooperation of Germany, Belgium and Denmark. The results are very promising (https://socrates2.org/).
Multimodality and traffic management
But let me come to the point. Is co-petition in Traffic management enough to solve all problems traffic? Yes. The cooperation of stakeholders and their action taken on the basis that there is a common goal that goes beyond the individual profit of the private stakeholders when need be (incidents, safety related information and geofencing), is key. However (and there is always a ‘however’ in the ‘yes’), traffic management is not only about road and vehicles. People and freight nowadays do not only move on road. People and freight move on water, air and rail. What about these mobility modes? What about micromobility (scooters, bicycles and electric skateboards and lightweight devices that move below 25K/h)? Is the concept of TM 2.0 applicable to them too?
Yes it is. Any vehicle that transfers people and goods within the mobility network is part of what we call traffic and can potentially cause congestion. It is believed that there are currently approximately 881,000 bikes in Amsterdam, for example. That means that there are more bicycles per capita than residents. The cars in the same Dutch city are 4 times less. If traffic management plans and coordinates only the cars within the mobility network, and does not regulate the traffic flow of bikes, it allows for unforeseen bottlenecks and congestion in the urban intersections of the city. These bottlenecks involve bicycle lanes as well as car lanes. Bicycles do not yet support planning by public authorities on traffic by emitting their GPS location, at least not the majority of them as such a GPS device is still a gadget that has to be purchased by the driver, and this makes the management of their flow difficult.
This is where the infrastructure providers come in the picture with their advanced monitoring systems and their inductive loops strategically placed under the tarmac, sensors, cameras and push buttons around the mobility network. The data collected through these traffic management tools along with those collected via the GPS gadgets that some bikers use, can provide valuable information to the traffic management control centres so as to feed in the regulation of traffic within the mobility network.
What about the air, rail and water? Can data from these sectors be integrated into the traffic management so that all the people arriving with the 8 am train at the Amsterdam central station, can know how congested the transport network is? According to statistics, form the NS (Dutch railways) 250.000 people pass through the Amsterdam central station every day and at least half arrive in the morning for work from other Dutch cities. Then, it is safe to say that at least 100.000 of them will change mode from rail to bicycle or metro or bus or simply another train in order to reach work. Not having the full grasp of numbers in this case is maybe not problematic but a health crisis, such as the pandemic of COVID-19 that hit Europe in the first months of 2020, put mobility in the microscope. Analysis and assessment of these data are of paramount importance.
Multimodality is not a new concept. We have been changing modes in order to go from A to B in our mobility patterns for decades, even centuries. Nonetheless, the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) where there is one point of entry for the user for the planning, booking, ticketing and use has gained importance and support by both authorities and the public in the last five years. The promotion of multimodality as an alternative to private vehicle use has also been very much linked to the greening of transport and the push for healthier life styles in urban areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought shared multimodality (in public transport modes such as trains, buses and taxis in some cases) to a complete halt. Can Traffic Management 2.0 offer a solution?
Health crisis and traffic management
The COVID-19 pandemic made clear to both the public traffic professionals and the individual users that having the information on how many vehicles are at any point in time active within the mobility network is key to understanding how to distribute users in it in an optimal way. On the one hand, social distancing, which is a safety measure taken against the pandemic, has prompted the re-definition of ‘capacity’ and ‘maximum passengers’ in the mobility network by the public authorities and decision-makers alike. On the other hand, the various mobility modes, road, air, water and rail included, currently operate within different (and separate to each other) systems and networks, although admittedly all of them form integral parts of the mobility network in both urban and rural areas.
As stated above, managing the mobility network should be including all mobility modes. Their capacity status, their complementarity to each other and the needs of users, as well as their accessibility and business viability are important information to have for any decision or planning-making authority at local, regional, national level.
Barriers turn into opportunities for those who can seek them and this is the case for start-ups such as SPARELabs and also organisations such as ANWB. Social distancing is not just a short-term need stemming from our measures to fight against the pandemic. It is here to stay, as a front-line measure to deal with future pandemics, the same way security measures were put in place ever since 9/11.
SPARELabs, based in Barcelona and Vancouver, has worked its way through mobility COVID-19 related mobility restrictions in two continents (Europe and the US) and has provided an integrated solution to the public transport by combining mobility on demand with the need for mobility for essential workers. In Palma de Majorca, the start-up works with the public transport sector in order to help maintaining a low number of passenger numbers while controlling the number of users and their contacts. The mobility solution they provide, aids the public authorities in their continuous support to mobility, even in times when one is not allowed to move for anything but urgency, by providing mobility time-tables on demand and tailor made for those who need to use them. Their software works also with local taxis and vehicles that have agreed with this business model. They are deploying a similar scheme in Dallas, where they have 800 taxis connected and cooperating with the network already (https://sparelabs.com/en/).
Another stakeholder that seized the opportunity to enhance the validity of their mobility solution was (and is) ANWB, the Royal Dutch Touring Club, and its Medical Air Assistance unit (ANWB MAA). They are supporting all modes of travel with travel services and road-side assistance. ANWB-MAA is the (not-for-profit) operator of all the medical helicopters in the Netherland https://www.anwb.nl/maa and they also are authorised to operate BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drones. Their Medical Drone Service https://medicaldroneservice.nl/ is an initiative of ANWB and PostNL that contributes to keeping healthcare accessible and available throughout the Netherlands by deploying innovative mobility solutions.
Operating drone flights in the Frisian islands in the north of the Netherlands, they are connecting the city of Leeuwarden and the Frisian Islands. The main regional hospital of the city of Leeuwarden and the central laboratory are, in this way, made accessible to the inhabitants of the Frisian islands who can benefit from the services in health care, otherwise inaccessible in such a short time. Due to a COVID-19 related decrease in ferries, the transport of medicines and other medically related goods by sea (a 2 hour trip normally) has been made safer and easier with the flight of BVLOS drones. Contributing to the minimization of contagion, the BVLOS drones flying to the islands enhanced the control of COVID-19 expansion in that area of the Netherlands.
Both of the above opportunities stepped up to help public authorities to confront a health crisis that may sooner or later be alleviated by a vaccine or other measure. Does this mean that these business cases will be eliminated as the solution to the crisis is found? No, and it is not because we do not trust that we can ‘be back to normal’ again, but because we should not. Both the above-mentioned examples enhance the ability of cities and regions in optimising their mobility systems.
The combination of fixed public transport routes and on demand transit that SPARELabs offers as a service to cities in Europe and the US enhances the resilience of the mobility system as a whole in a sustainable way as it provides the win-win-win so much needed for the mobility stakeholders. The private mobility services sector, the public sector and the user can count their wins in business profits and in building trust in a mobility system that is well accessible and informed on how to bridge gaps when this is needed. Traffic management becomes mobility management when the mobility system is seen and managed in its entirety. Servicing the last mile of mobility, accessing remote areas and incorporating solutions into the public transport such as mobility on demand for essential workers, provides users with trust in understanding the capacity and limitations of the mobility system as a whole.
When Traffic control centres have the information and the ability to manage how the mobility modes behave within the system, their capacity, their interaction and accessibility in a holistic way, traffic can be better managed in all modes. Managing the railway network, for example, necessitates that the control centre is fully aware of which train passes from which intersection and when. In the same way, the knowledge and ability to service the community of transport users according to their needs, while maintaining the safety, security and balance in the system, necessitates the deployment of mobility schemes that complement and enhance the system capacity.
The use of drones for emergency services, a closer collaboration, coordination and interoperability between city mobility providers/operators and Traffic Management is essential. When optimising and balancing the entire mobility system and building each component (road or urban air based), the principle to be followed is the win-win-win and the dialogue among all actors involved. This is the principle of co-petition set by TM 2.0.
Towards resilient Mobility systems
It is widely acknowledged that there still remain several issues to be clarified in relation to the data exchange, the optimal integration of all mobility modes in the mobility system, who will be the ‘orchestrator’ of the mobility system and who will play the ‘first violin’ in the mobility system orchestra. At a meeting a couple of days ago, I heard a colleague talking about the necessity to first find the tune and step by step build the orchestra. He proposed that we first write the symphony, then we train the organs to synch and then we practice. He is right.
The coordination among mobility stakeholders in order to achieve a win-win-win (private sector/public authority/consumer) pre-conditions that they are all benefiting from the scheme and interested to listen and work together towards building it. The TM 2.0 ERTICO Innovation Platform of TM 2.0 has firmly established that principle and the actors who fully support it are multiplying. The mobility system should become holistic, we should be thinking in terms of mobility management and we should be inclusive of all modes and sectors. The fact that the air-traffic controllers and the airline companies have always been working in silos to the rest of the mobility sector does not mean that this should be left as is. The railway sector is already cooperating with road traffic controllers in routing and ticketing schemes in some European countries within MaaS or outside such platforms.
Disruption in mobility, such as drones in traffic management monitoring, transfer of medical products and even logistics in ports or city centres is changing the mobility reality as we know it. The innovative concept of mixed public transport and on-demand mobility is also a catalyst towards creating the ‘new normal. There, of course, needs to be a trade-off between what we give away with what we gain in mobility (co-opetition) for the holistic mobility system management to work. Managing mobility is a difficult but not an impossible task. We have the technology, we have the data and the sharing and management of it continues to be a key focus area of discussion. The need to promote interoperability of services among sectors and fields, while trying to reduce specific gaps in the overlapping of data acquisition and management remains an important puzzle to solve as well.
The need of a centralised mobility management system vs a coordination of various sectoral management systems is gaining track in debates among mobility experts too. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the need for the significant analysis of the business cases from the perspective of all stakeholders is essential as we, more and more realise that the management of mobility is a matter pertaining to all stakeholders, private and public who are called to cooperate and co-opetite in providing viable solutions at the times that come after COVID-19.
If we manage to have a seamlessly running mobility system that performs during non crisis periods as effectively as during crisis and temporary lockdowns, then we will have achieved the successful coexistence of private and public stakeholders in Mobility while the system will be managed as one integrated environment for the benefit of all.
Author: Dr. Johanna Tzanidaki