Oregon has become the second state Department of Transportation (DOT) to join the ‘Free the MIBS’ campaign that was launched last year by Norwegian tolling and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) supplier Q-Free to encourage open standards in traffic control systems.
In November, Q-Free challenged the traffic management industry to help fuel Smart City innovation by launching a campaign for publicly open management information bases (MIBs). Often kept proprietary by the manufacturer, MIBs are the common language protocols used to communicate between central traffic management systems and ITS devices including traffic signal controllers. By keeping MIBs proprietary these manufacturers can extend legacy contracts for years and keep them sole-sourced, locking out more cost-effective and innovative equipment because their products will not communicate with those from other companies.
“Oregon DOT’s commitment validates the cause as it gains traction among public and private organizations alike,” said Tom Stiles, executive vice president of urban solutions at Q-Free and #FREEtheMIBs founding partner. “We know our case is on the side of public good. Collaborating with our peers in the traffic signal control industry is essential to creating a safe, secure, and reliable transportation network for the smart cities of today and tomorrow. With Oregon following close on the heels of Utah DOT, we have two of the most forward-thinking and advanced transportation agencies in the nation on board and fully anticipate more joining soon. Open standards not only promote competition, they drive innovation and customer service. This is a collaborative campaign by the industry, for the industry, to help start a dialogue between agencies, the private sector, academia, and the public.”
Doug Spencer, ITS standards engineer at ODOT, commented, “Sharing MIBs is a critical step toward providing safe and secure mobility for the motoring public; that also has the potential to drastically reduce taxpayer costs in software integration. At ODOT, we have long required vendors to provide their MIBs as part of our contracting process. Having access to the manufacturer-specific MIBs prevents us from being held captive by a single vendor and promotes open competition.”
Describing one of the first traffic control projects in which Oregon DOT demanded open standards for its variable message signs, Spencer said the results were immediate and profound. “Requiring the National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol (NTCIP) and supplying vendor specific MIBs, we went from having a single bidder on our contract to five or six and saw costs drop by nearly 50%,” he explained. “The benefits didn’t stop there either; in addition to the price going down, the quality went up.”
Frequently contacted by other agencies looking to emulate Oregon’s integrated traffic operations, Spencer notes that some manufacturers are resisting the campaign, citing cybersecurity issues, but their arguments are not valid. “Security is not an inherent part of the National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol that regulates MIBs for traffic control devices. The NTCIP standards, which can be publicly downloaded, simply create an agreed upon language that traffic systems use to communicate. Having vendors openly share their data definitions for advanced functions does not do anything to put citizens more at risk. Traffic control devices need network security just like any other IT asset. It’s up to agencies to secure these communications. It is commonplace for network equipment manufacturers to provide MIBs for their equipment. It should be commonplace for the transportation industry too.”