The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of life. One of them is transportation. In this regard, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) can help solve various traffic-related issues, especially in the post-pandemic era.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of life. One of them is transportation. In this regard, intelligent transportation systems (ITS)
can help solve various traffic-related issues, especially in the post-pandemic era.
COVID-19 has become a major pandemic unseen in decades. By the time of this article, it has infected nearly 114 million worldwide and killed 2.52 million. Casualties aside, COVID-19 has also created impacts on various sectors, from retail to transportation.
As far as the latter is concerned, work-from-home practices and lockdown orders have led to a decrease in vehicular traffic and congestion. But that is not to say this hasn’t created traffic-related problems.
“The initial data we collected, taken from a national sampling of connected vehicles, found a 20 percent drop in the average distance driven and several key shifts in driving behavior. Among the findings were: 17 percent increase in speeding, 10 percent increase in failures to stop at stop signs and 15 percent increase in harsh-cornering events,” said Kurt Wyman, GM and VP of Sales for North America at Teletrac Navman
. “Fewer vehicles on the road should translate to safer driving conditions; however, these insights reveal that might not be the case.”
Then, there is the trend of reduced public transportation ridership due to fears the disease is more easily transmissible on them. “Without a doubt, we have seen a decline in the use of public transport in favor of the private vehicle. A good example is the data for the city of Madrid: from the beginning of the confinement to the beginning of the second wave, we can observe clearly a decoupling with respect to what was usual before the pandemic, a significant increase in the use of private vehicles, around 20 percent above previous levels,” said Isa Cano Tarruella, Director of Strategic Development for Transportation Market at Indra
While a shift to private driving may not be a problem for now, as more people go back to work post-pandemic, this can lead to dire consequences. “Initially, smart working incentives made it possible to prevent the increase in private transport from having an excessive impact on road traffic. After a year now there is a need to come back to normal at least for the business activities, and therefore traffic is increasing again,” said Paola Clerici, Co-Founder and VP of Sales at Sprinx
“The pandemic keeps the number of regular trips well below the usual pre-pandemic, but this redistribution of transport modes could be very delicate by the time we recover the previous levels,” Tarruella said. “With cities collapsing at peak times already before this crisis, a transfer of 20 percent from public transport to private vehicles could be very serious and potentially unsustainable.”
ITS in the post-pandemic era
Indeed, with businesses reopening and life getting back to normal, vehicular traffic is expected to emerge again on roads and highways. This coincides with urbanization which leads to more traffic and congestion. In this regard, governments can turn to ITS to make roads safer and reduce logjams.
“Let us remember that in cities like Barcelona it is estimated that traffic jams cause economic losses of about 137 million euros a year and up to 52,000 hours ‘invested’ in traffic jams. For this reason, work must continue to implement intelligent traffic management systems, which may allow the authorities to anticipate incidents and traffic jams, a clear focus of greater contamination,” Tarruella said.
“Ultimately, pandemic or not, highway travel will increase as population increases and using technology to improve highway efficiency is critical. Smart cities are top of mind for transportation planning. As a part of this smart city infrastructure, intelligent transportation systems will play a key role in managing the traffic on the highways leading into and out of the city as well as within the city itself,” said Ray Keys, Senior Director at TrafficVision
In essence, ITS entails the use of infrastructure and onboard sensors – and the data they generate
– to solve traffic-related issues. Some major applications are as follows.
Reduce congestion and smoothen flow
Needless to say, congestion prevention and reduction is a main application. There are various tools
to achieve this, including video analytics, adaptive signal controlling and electronic road pricing. “Pedestrian and vehicular mobility analysis software can help both to warn the presence of traffic or gatherings promptly and to provide necessary statistical data for a smarter mobility planning. The presence of lots of cameras already installed for video surveillance purposes allows to transform them, thanks to video analysis algorithms based on deep learning, into real intelligent sensors for controlling vehicular and pedestrian mobility, exploiting the existing infrastructure,” Clerici said.
“Emergency responders could use technology to have control over traffic signals to enable them faster access to a critical incident, whether it’s a bad accident, fire or an active crime being committed. Teletrac Navman has won an award for our partnered platform with GTT; this latest signal priority control technology is coupled with full fleet management capabilities for first responders, transit managers, public works directors and traffic managers,” Wyman said.
Law enforcement and road safety
ITS can also help identify some of the aforementioned reckless driving behavior, as well as other abnormalities, to keep the roads safe. “An automated real-time video analytics system that monitors CCTV camera streams can help the traffic management teams be alerted to incidents such as stopped vehicles on the road, debris in the road, congestion on the highways, pedestrians on the highway and wrong way drivers,” Keys said. “This helps to relieve some of the heavy workload of the traffic management center (TMC) operators and helps to increase safety on the highways by reducing the response times to respond to highway anomalies.”