Project: Intelligent Transport Systems ( ITS ) and the Role of the DfT

Reference: SRT 7/5/16

Last update: 18/06/2009 15:23:21


- To review current and likely future ITS development with a 15 year horizon.

- To suggest the roles that are appropriate for DfT from a strategic perspective and to identify any specific near-term actions.


Intelligent Transport Systems comprise a diverse range of technologies and services that potentially offer a range of economic and efficiency gains and support a range of DfT objectives.

Some ITS services are commercially supplied and are in deployment; others are in the research and development phase and their commercial viability is unproven and sometimes questionable.

ITS potentially affects and needs the involvement of a wide range of Stakeholders, which includes the DfT. In one of its role, the DfT and its Agents are consumers of ITS services but DfT is also widely seen by the ITS community as having a wider role facilitating and promoting ITS development and deployment, particularly, for example, in the area of interoperability and standards.

There is no simple solution to the question of what DfT's role should be in ITS, but there is some dissatisfaction in the ITS community concerning lack of understanding and support from the Government. Therefore, it is timely to review current and future ITS developments and the role of DfT.


TRL Limited
Crowthorne House, Nine Mile Ride, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG40 3GA
+44 (0)1344 773131

Faber Maunsell Ltd
Marlborough House, Upper Marlborough Rd, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 3UT
020 8784 5784

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £11,875.00

Actual start date: 12 February 2008

Actual completion date: 10 March 2008


The ITS Contribution to Sustainable Transport
Author: Alan Stevens, Bill Gillan (TRL)
Publication date: 20/02/2008

Making Transport Smarter: Transport Systems and the role of DfT
Author: Andy Graham (White Willow)
Publication date: 07/04/2008

Summary of results

  1. Faber Maunsell Report:

    Delivering effective transport is a complex, multi dimensional balance, as identified by Eddington, of safety and security, climate change, competitiveness, quality of life and equality of opportunity.

    Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) can help this balance. They can help make the best use of existing networks and make the most from future investment. They can inform people about how best to travel (provided they see a real benefit from being informed). ITS can also help transport operators manage and control demand and capacity better and reduce impacts "when things go wrong". ITS can also help people simplify otherwise complex decisions about how to travel, how to move the goods their business needs and how to squeeze the most from a transport asset.

    The traditional tools of road safety (engineering, enforcement and education) now have diminishing returns. ITS offers a further gain by technology improving road safety without driver intervention. This opportunity can expand to link together vehicles and roads to co-operate. This could improve safety and give step changes in capacity of existing roads, locking in infrastructure improvements or reducing the scale of road user charges. Such "intelligent infrastructure" for all vehicles is perhaps 20 years away but there are quicker wins for freight, so the path to UK deployment should begin now.

    ITS can change people's behaviour to deliver transport policy. To do this, ITS must be totally integrated with transport, not be a separate "bolt-on" as now. We see a new group of seamless services that fuse current ITS building blocks to provide "smarter transport" that people find far easier to use and of a higher utility than current ITS - put simply involving less "faffing about". As the real cost of travel increases, with congestion, disruptions and potentially road pricing, such smarter transport should have a clearer benefit to users. Moreover, as the world becomes increasingly connected, customer expectations will increase. The pace of change means technology will not be a challenge. We should piggyback on new services and products developed outside of transport, just as ecommerce has exploited the Internet to change the retail industry.

    So we see that the future maturity of ITS depends on a change in attitude by people to its use, not the technology. Currently there is an institutional and public resistance towards using ITS. To overcome this, ITS needs to become widely accepted in life, just like the Internet. The key is to join up fragments of current ITS activities. This is best led by DfT, as no one else can drive the big picture.

    To achieve this, DfT could support areas no one else will see a business case for (notably integration across borders and modes and linking information and payment for travel). Local Authorities need to see smarter transport as a necessity, not a bonus. A major transport player needs to actively promote benefits from smarter transport, to stimulate the market. Two key targets are those young people yet to drive cars and for companies gaining cash savings as well as limiting climate change. Given the extremely wide range of stakeholders and key challenges, this promotion can only be delivered by DfT through a well led "push", rather than waiting for user "pull" to develop.

    Delivering smarter transport that delivers people and their goods more efficiently is a "big ticket" project but with a small price. It would make a noticeable long-term change to travel and climate across the UK. But as we can only really make an impact on future travel by changing people's overall behaviour, we need to use this smarter travel as a first step. If we cannot make smarter transport work and give benefit, driving more extensive changes will become a real problem.

    TRL Report:

    In this broad look at ITS the real barriers to its introduction seem to be more to do with policy and economic mechanism than technology; technology does not exist in isolation but in society.

    The scope of relevant ITS: The main systems which could make a significant contribution to the Government's sustainability objectives on a 15 year horizon are: ACC and related developments, Speed Control, Dynamic Route Guidance (particularly using community optimised routeing), ATM and demand management.

    The Stakeholders: The European Commission has a significant and growing role both as a regulator and research sponsor. The DfT has a similar national role and, almost certainly, has also to be involved, as a funder and sponsor of system integration. Industry will have to be involved, as a technology provider but the market mechanisms suggest strongly that only Government can take a lead. Research organisations have a role, to evaluate benefits and suggest how they might be optimised. Interfaces with standards bodies are also essential.

    Commercial Maturity: Availability of technology is not the general problem with the ITS systems which can produce big wins. However, the equipment would have to be designed around the current technology options, including modern sensors and communications. So there is a specification and certification need. It would also be essential for interoperability and de-risking to link developments into the current architecture frameworks, such as CALM.

    The Role of Government: Implementing the systems which produce big wins is more about overcoming policy and market barriers than technology development. DfT, and its predecessors, realised that in the period up to about 1980 but then adopted a market led approach. In reality the big win systems are unlikely to happen without sponsorship, in some form, by national and European governments so, as unfashionable as it may be, intervention may be the policy of necessity if ITS is to make a significant contribution to sustainable transport.