Hi-tech systems for 21st century commuters

Computers and satellites will soon be used by transport authorities in USA and Europe to provide commuters a reprieve from traffic congestion

Published: Saturday 31 July 1993

TRANSPORT authorities in USA and Europe, where the motor car culture first spawned, are now developing sophisticated technology to monitor and direct traffic in order to reduce congestion on their roads.

Several US firms are developing what are called intelligent vehicle highway systems (IVHS) to regulate traffic more efficiently than is being done at present. Under an IVHS project in Los Angeles, sensors, which will turn traffic lights red when the flow of traffic dwindles in a certain direction, will be installed at 4,000 intersections. This will save "wasted green time" -- the period of time a traffic light stays green without any vehicle passing through.

USA's Motorola Co is developing computerised navigational systems, which will enable cars to avoid traffic jams. They plan to fit all vehicles in an area with computers, signals from which will be collected at a central location. Information about traffic patterns will then be relayed back to the drivers, enabling them to avoid densely crowded routes. This system is due to be tested in a project involving 5,000 cars in Chicago's suburbs.

Several European countries are evaluating electronic toll systems to regulate road use. This system helps individuals avoid the long queues that usually form at toll stations. Each car is fitted with an electronic tag, infrared signals from which are detected by overhead sensors installed at toll sites on highways. Each time a car passes under the sensor, a fixed amount is debited from the motorist's bank account.

The technology, developed by the Swedish Transport Research Institute, is to be introduced in Stockholm and Gothenburg by 1996. The British government is also considering introducing it in the UK by 1998.

Cambridge has been selected as the test site for a new form of congestion metering in the UK, under which all cars running within 32 km of the city will be fitted with electronic meters. Any vehicle stopping four or more times within a half-kilometre stretch or taking more than three minutes to cover that half-kilometre will incur a charge for contributing to congestion.

The advances in traffic technology are not limited to cars and private vehicles. Under the L1.2 million project taken up by the West Midlands traffic authority in the UK, public buses in such areas as Birmingham and Coventry are to be fitted with electronic instruments, which, through satellites, will enable checking of their position every 30 seconds. This information will be transmitted to a central database, which will then estimate the arrival time of the bus at each station by comparing the bus's progress with its usual traffic pattern and allowing for traffic jams and other delays. A screen at each bus-stop will display the arrival time of the next bus so that passengers know exactly how long they have to wait.

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