Will data break down the traditional barriers of the fragmented ITS market?

Date: Thursday December 15, 2022

We consider ITS, Intelligent Transport Systems, as the technical ecosystem that manages vehicles’ transportation and movement in public areas. Intelligent Transportation Systems are generally operated by public entities, and their goal is to provide safe and hassle-free journey experience to the motorists, while setting up the infrastructure, process and organisation to enable fast response time to incidents.

Motorists being people moving in public spaces, it is also required for ITS managers to consider the multi-modality of transport, which forms part of the ITS market. One of the major components of ITS is the ATMS, Advanced Traffic Management System, which is the technical solution by which road transportation agencies are managing the flow of vehicles on a day-to-day basis.

Traditionally, there is a difference made between ATMS for the urban environment, which are focused on managing traffic flow inside cities, control traffic signals at intersections in particular, and inter-urban / freeway environment which are focused on managing infrastructures outside cities.

It is important to understand that the ITS market includes ATMS, but also adjacencies of systems used to further manage traffic, such as enforcement systems, but also low emission zones, parking/curb-side management and to a certain extent congestion charging.

To conclude on an ITS definition, our approach is to define the ITS market as the transportation system market, with in its core traffic management systems, and adjacencies such as enforcement, parking, energy management, etc.

The beauty of the ITS market, and what makes it an exciting environment, is precisely this multi-faceted aspect coming from the ‘adjacencies’, making it unique in its capability to change, adapt, shape and re-invent according to the period of the history, to major society transformations, and of course to political decisions, etc.

So it is totally natural that such ‘adjacencies’, as depicted earlier, do not appear stable in history, nor across geographies, nor even from each player point of view… This situation is precisely why there has not been an unanimous view on what ITS is or should be… because the best answer in fact, really is: ‘it depends’.

Having said that, and across PTOLEMUS’ experience to support government agencies, infrastructure owners, engineering firms or technology providers, this picture was found relevant and helpful when assessing market situation and designing future strategies.

As part of the situation assessment of each player, it is often the case to identify traditional barriers in this picture. Most traditionally barriers are set between core ATMS and adjacencies such as Public Transportation, but also Enforcement or even key agencies involved in the resolution of safety incidents such as Emergency Services or Police Patrols. The reality of such barriers and the reason we named them as traditional, is that they are set at various levels: at system level (eg. communication protocol, data formatting, etc), at process level (eg. alignment on coordination process for response to incidents) and at political level (eg. unaligned priorities between transportation agencies).

In parallel, an interesting illustration of the ability of the ITS market to rapidly adopt changes – and constant need for reinvention – is on the Low-Emission Zones adjacency that we have now incorporated in the picture.

Indeed, and following an important sense of urgency on climate action shared at European level, political decisions and opinion makers are transforming quickly the face of the ITS market in Europe. London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in April 2019, in an effort to improve air quality in central London by cutting the number of older, more polluting cars taking journeys through the capital. This was done via a journey charge of £12.50 for cars, motorcycles and vans exceeding polluting standards (Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses, and Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles).

The recent announcement by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan in December 2022 to expand its Ultra-Low Emission Zone across Greater London was, rather unexpectedly, supported in front of cameras and tabloid photographers by Hollywood legend Leonardo Di Caprio, thus facilitating public buy-in despite the initial perceived constraints it is generating to motorists… Who could ever have anticipated a Hollywood celebrity would become an influencer to a rusty ITS market?

So the reality of the ITS market is an evolving market with new adjacencies coming in, and traditional barriers across the ecosystem. In this context, data, which is driving all technologies used in the ITS market, is undertaking its own revolution across the industry; to a point that in all recent events such as the ITS World Congress, Intertraffic, IBTTA, etc, everyone could observe the ubiquity of ‘data’ or data-driven solutions leveraging Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, etc.

Is data an opportunity to break traditional barriers and engage a new dynamic across the ITS market’s major stakeholders?

Keeping things simple and highlighting governing market trends, our analysis is that data is in fact providing the opportunity for ITS market players to exchange information together, engaging technology providers to establish interfaces and share information, in many different ways, and sometimes even in real time (eg. real-time information sharing on congestion and road level of service). Sometimes such data is also being provided for free.

For example in certain States in the US such as Oregon, ITS becomes a publicly available ‘data lake’ with open source APIs for any provider to come-in, access the data, use it and be given a chance to provide further value to the citizens onto their mobility journey. The same type of initiative is being promoted in many other cities, for eg. in Berlin, Paris and other large cities under the mobility data hub terminology.

The important trend around data resonates strongly with the vehicle side where connectivity now is a given. Indeed, as per PTOLEMUS’ forecast, 72% of new cars have built-in connectivity as of 2022, and this ubiquitous connectivity is invading our population of vehicles as by 2030, 43% of cars on the ground will be connected (for more information please refer to our Vehicle Data Market Study). Car connectivity means connected vehicle services are being developed both for individual or commercial vehicles.

Having said that, the reality of the trend we observe around data in the ITS is in fact about adding layers, new systems, new interfaces, coming with breathtaking innovation such as deep learning artificial intelligence, to revolutionise our day-to-day mobility by providing further efficiency while helping reduce safety risks.

But when considering ATMS, and what we have named the core of the ITS, which actuates systems running our day-to-day traffic lights, the reality on the ground is one of a slow moving market. Traffic engineers often smile when we say that the most common observation of maintenance people when opening traffic light cabinets in the streets is about the ‘web’… spider webs! Yes, these traffic controllers have been designed to stay, and it is not abnormal to have them untouched for 20 years or more.

So it is important to fully understand that the data revolution is in fact sitting ‘on top’ of this reality. The tricky part now comes when looking at the technical software interface necessary to establish connectivity with these traditional controllers, which requires high technical capabilities. Indeed, for historical reasons, the communication protocols of traffic controllers, if not proprietary, are extremely numerous and diverse across the globe: NTCIP, OCIT, DIASER, UNE, UTMC, … those acronyms refer to highly technical details, that are profoundly bound to traffic engineering techniques and include important regional specificities, making it necessary to involve traffic engineer design companies to establish full connectivity.

The openness of traffic communication protocols is not here yet, and it takes data solution players a lot of creativity and ingenuity to find ways to actually use traffic light information. Thanks to its CV2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) capabilities, car manufacturer Audi is successfully providing a Traffic Light Information service on its high-end cars in more than 20 metropoles in the USA including Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

In this perspective, the USA is probably among the leading countries in the world. A first reason is that we can observe a US market trend directly affecting ‘traditional’ barriers whereby traffic devices tend to be considered as commodities thanks to the convergence of traffic standards (NTCIP, NEMA, ATC, etc). A second reason is also linked to the support provided by the government through grants and other funding plans as the recent Biden plan, with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) signed mid-November 2021, allocating more than $570 billion to the transportation sector, fostering pilots and deployment of updated technologies.

Of course, the USA is not the only place in the world where data might help break traditional barriers of the ITS market and indeed other places such as Singapore where a strong collaboration can be observed between all traffic agencies and stakeholders, and where data driven approach already forms part of core traffic management techniques of ATMS systems with smart digital junctions in particular.

Today, many players, and especially new entrants into the ITS market, are advocating ITS to move into a full interconnected, IP-based, communication ecosystem. Once the clearing conditions from the regulator are set (as in Europe where the European Commission’s Data Act was formalised in March 2022), to a certain extend, we can see that this could indeed become a major trend towards the future ITS.

However, the conditions for such a revolution to happen are complex and require many different factors to align at the same time, such as political leadership, willingness of traditional players to set common objectives and effectively collaborate, as well as a combination of technical knowledge mixing traffic management with communication techniques and big data management.

Keeping our eyes opened across ITS initiatives around the globe, with exciting times ahead!