Is unified ITS possible in India?
The third seminar emphasised the need for a unified ITS policy for India in order to achieve unified solutions
Our approach towards ITS is very slow: Sanjeev Kumar Lohia
Today all of us are adversely affected by the chaos we find on the roads every day. The solutions which have been tried many times are creating more and more space and helping with the widening of national highways which pass through the habited areas. The challenges facing all the agencies today are: how to optimise, how to make the systems more efficient and safe, how to tackle the issues of congestion and how to make the solutions environmentally sustainable.
ITS can broadly be broken into five categories:
- Advanced Traveller Information System (ATIS) by which the route’s schedules, navigation, directions, information about delays due to congestion, accidents, weather, etc., can be made available.
- Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS) by which issues like traffic control devices, signals, signal coordination, ram meters, variable message signs, traffic operation centres, enforcement systems, etc., can be categorised.
- ITS enabled transportation pricing systems like electronic toll collection (ETC) for highways, and congestion pricing in some cities like fee based express lanes and usage based free systems.
- Advanced Public Transport Systems (APTS) wherein the passenger information system (PIS) on board and off board on real-time basis about the arrival-departure of trains, time status, next stop announcements, etc., and automatic fare collection can be discussed.
- A fully integrated intelligent transportation system wherein you can communicate between vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to vehicle, etc.
So, what are the needs and advantages of ITS? Briefly, the needs and advantages are significant improvements in transportation system performance that reduce congestion. For pre-safety and traveller convenience, various factors in the transportation systems like the commuters, highway and transit operators and actual devices like signals & traffic lights are empowered through ITS. It helps in intermodal integration across institutions and across agencies. But despite all these needs, advantages and the technology being available, such benefits are not received. One reason is that we have a very slow approach at present. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Each agency is working on its own. There is no set of common guidelines or specifications. There is this huge issue of awareness – there is still confusion on what ITS can do, how it can do, what is the technology, etc. Hence, there is a need for capacity building. The institutional barriers exist on the ways of bringing the ITS systems on board. Accordingly, the approach normally followed is ‘builders of pieces rather than managers of network’. Since it is more of an abstract thinking, it also suffers from lack of funding. We are able to find money for building roads and repairing the roads, etc., but when it comes to ITS, even though the investment required is not very huge, it is very difficult to find.
Technology can be very good but it has to serve better: Vivek Phansalkar
The first and foremost thing is that whatever technologies and intelligent systems we introduce or plan to introduce, unless they finally result in better service delivery to the citizens, the commuters and the motorists of the city, they really don’t mean much to them. Technology can be very good but technology has to serve better.
The vehicle congestion ratio in Mumbai has crossed almost 0.8 in most of the places, especially on the Western Express Highway during the evening and morning time. Many experts wonder how does the city manage to run.
The area traffic control (ATC) system implemented by Mumbai roughly handles about 20 lakh vehicles and a distance of 1039 per/km. We have about 1250 junctions out of which 550 are signalised. We have put centrally controlled automatic signal systems for 253 of these 550 signalised junctions and they can be operated from a centralised control room. Video detectors are fitted over there which give us the traffic count. The signal timing is dynamic – it picks up the volume of the traffic moving in a particular direction at a particular junction and accordingly, estimates the oncoming traffic. Thereafter, it gives the signal timing. However, traffic is choc-a-bloc at most of the junctions in each direction. So, the signal counter hits the upper bench mark very often. Hence, the dynamism of the signal timing mostly does not exist, especially during peak hours. That is something which keeps bothering us.
The old fixed time signalling was operated locally on the pole itself by the traffic constable. We have now graduated to ATCs which take care of the limitations of number of vehicle entering no-entry areas, on street parking, no parking locations, prolonged stopping, etc. We have put CCTV cameras mostly in pan-tilt-zoom on 100 major junctions. Mumbai is a very linear city leaving virtually no space for more roads. Since, the central business district (CBD) of Mumbai is in distant south, during the peak hours, people keep moving in the morning to the south and in the evening from the south to the north.
Now-a-days this unidirectional movement has become largely bidirectional though the pattern and intensity remain as before. Therefore, we have an increased need of infusing more technology – both in regulation of the traffic and enforcement. We haven’t introduced any technology as far as enforcement is concerned. That is, we haven’t imposed all the traffic laws with the help of technology like cameras, number plates, etc., nor do we get the challans made or delivered. Now people want more cameras to be put in place.
The other 250 signals in the city are partly coordinated by master-slave configuration and the current controllers are capable of 32 signal cycle plans. So, again there is a limitation because in Mumbai there are a large number of roundabouts where about five to eight roads meet at one point. The question is: Why did we need Mumbai ATC and why do we want to advance our technology in traffic management? The reason is simple: It increases efficiency, puts away a lot of redundancy and takes away a lot of load from the manpower that is being utilised for traffic management.
Less and less manual interference always helps in better traffic management. It has also helped us in managing our corridors during the movement of VVIPs, especially the Prime Minister or President of India or of any other country. Last year we moved 37 heads of state in Mumbai – in one year alone. We also hosted the World Cup final last year and the only fear facing the organisers – both of the government and the non-government side – was about managing the traffic. In such moments we desperately need technology which can assist us to move people.
ATC system is basically about collecting vehicle data from street, transmitting it through controller to the central server located in the Central Control Room at Traffic Police Headquarters. Based on the real-time vehicle counts, the server then generates the optimum signal plan and retransmits it to the junction controllers. The operators in the Central Control Room monitor the traffic situation and make changes if required. We had our staff trained for successful operation of the control room.
When we realised that large scale digging takes place in monsoon, we replaced the underground detection loops with video detectors. The function of ATC is collection of data and dispatch of control orders, calibration, fault management, etc. Most of it is operational but we have difficulties in some aspects. We are working on the system hardware to rectify that. This was a huge project, had a lot of impediments – lot of infrastructure work continuously takes place in Mumbai which had to be managed, daily traffic had to be managed and yet this had to be made functional.
How it works: In short, it sends signals from vehicle detectors to signal controller, and signal controller to central processing system or the central computer which generates vehicle activated signal light output. This works on real-time information which forms the input to the signal controller and implements signal timings but since volumes affect these signal timings, we are working on it with the experts who had helped us implement this system.
We had to work a lot on changing the mindset of our people who manage traffic. Whenever anything new comes in, especially technology, it faces a lot of resistance from those who have to use it primarily because they look at it as something additional to their daily work load.
We have backup plans and external controls as well. All can be enforced from the main control room. The six metre high poles give a lot of uniformity to the signals unlike before. And because of the height, visibility is better. The cantilever poles are better and the jumping of signals has reduced drastically. Also, signal cycle times have reduced to a large extent because of better coordination and better working. We hope to enforce this system in the rest of the areas.