Recent experience makes me wonder about the state of the ITS that has been deployed and the impact that the economic climate is having. How many systems are actually working as expected and, perhaps more importantly, are the anticipated benefits being realized?
ITS is generally relatively low in capital cost, although associated civil engineering in the initial deployment can be substantial. ITS does have ongoing costs for maintenance, repair, tuning and upgrade and these are under a lot of pressure because of austerity and the pressures on revenue expenditure in the public sector. Proposed cutbacks in ITS operation, for example real-time bus information, increasingly feature in public sector spending plans.
Widespread deployment of automated transport is some way off, but ITS benefits are available here and now. Investment in new ITS is continuing but I would contend that many existing investments are no longer delivering benefits because the systems are not up to scratch. This drop-off in performance may not solely be down to lack of financial support. In deploying systems, particularly when the scale has increased after a pilot scheme, facilities and processes are rarely put in place to monitor the validity of the outputs. This is not the same as fault monitoring. The system may appear to be working but the data being output may be superficially plausible yet completely wrong. The plausibility may lead to the impression that all is well and that outcomes are being achieved, but that may not be the case.
The attention of the press and politicians is being grabbed by the excitement surrounding automated driving. There is still a debate about the extent to which connectivity between vehicles, and between vehicles and infrastructure, is necessary for mass deployment of automated cars, buses and commercial vehicles. Equally, what assumptions are the developers of automated transport making about the extent and effectiveness of existing ITS? If a new system or concept comes along that is based on assumptions about the performance of an existing ITS then major problems could ensue. For example, how will an automated driving systems interpret a single blank lane control signal in a gantry of four signals? Will it comprehend that there are faulty signs and interpret the situation based on the remaining signals, or will it change its driving behavior accordingly? In some circumstances, the behavior of other vehicles may limit any change, but there is no guarantee that will be the case.
The challenge here is to fully understand the interconnectivity between different systems, either passive as in the example above, or active, and dynamic communication between the vehicles and with the roadside could mitigate the situation I describe. However, if we are not fully aware of how our current ITS systems are working, and cannot afford to keep them up to scratch, how are we going to manage when we have to deal with a highly automated and connected transport system?