Infrastructure investment in austere times

Transport InfrastructureNeal Skelton, head of professional services at ITS United Kingdom, discusses the role of intelligent transport systems during times of transport infrastructure spending cuts

During the latter months of 2010 the newly appointed coalition government announced spending cuts that were determined as essential to help redress the financial deficit. Substantial cuts were widely predicted for inclusion in the Comprehensive Spending Review however the severity of those cuts is only now becoming evident. In the run-up to the announcement, specific details were not available but there was sufficient speculation to suggest that transport related issues would be amongst the hardest hit.
This prediction was realised and subsequently highlighted by Steve Gooding, the then DfT director general, Motoring and Freight Services Group, at the ITS (UK) AGM in June 2010, when he emphasised that future transport funding would be severely limited adding that the lack of public funding for road related matters would have a ‘knock-on’ effect for a diversity of proposals, including road user charging. One apparent concession to this contentious topic was the necessity to address the large influx of foreign HGVs that are either un-roadworthy and/or fail to inject any financial return to the UK’s taxation for their use of the network. As a consequence the UK government announced a review of the options in relation to Lorry Road User Charging and ITS (UK) has contributed to the research to introduce a paper-based vignette scheme that foreign HGV operators/drivers will need prior to their vehicles to be driven on the UK’s roads.

Investment during austerity
Steven Glaister, Professor of Transport and Infrastructure at Imperial College, London, commented at a recent ITS (UK) Freight Interest Group conference that no government could completely disregard ongoing investment and maintenance in the UK’s strategic transport infrastructure, adding that the network routinely operates close to its maximum capacity. This was graphically illustrated recently by several highly-publicised major road incidents on the nation’s motorway and national trunk road networks that have either closed or created extensive residual congestion. Professor Glaister added that historic evidence of traffic patterns showed a large growth in road transportation once each recession had passed and if this situation were to be repeated across all modal options then there would be justification for a sizeable investment to upgrade transportation across the board.
However given the current funding restrictions the chances of this happening are highly unlikely. Therefore ITS has a potentially significant role to play through its ability to deliver informative and critically important traveller information across high-speed data interchanges using enhanced computing capabilities and increased internet speeds. In this age of austerity ITS is increasingly operating within a virtual or stand-alone infrastructure that requires little or no physical structures and is proving to be an enormous bonus whereby traveller benefits can be delivered at a fraction of costs hitherto experienced. Perhaps the true dawn of ITS as a mainstream option is arriving.
EU ITS Directive
Simultaneous to this there have been ongoing deliberations regarding the contents of the long-anticipated EU ITS Directive ratified in July 2010. Although the implications have yet to be fully documented there is increasing detail on what will be expected. It is now known that there are six Priority Areas including:

  • EU-wide multimodal travel information services
  • EU-wide real-time traffic information services
  • Data and procedures for the provision, where possible, of road safety related minimum universal traffic    information, free of charge to users
  • Harmonised provision for an interoperable EU-wide eCall
  • Information services for safe and secure parking places for trucks
  • Reservation services for safe and secure parking places for trucks

There is no doubt that these priority areas will have a major influence on the UK’s transportation network and effort is currently under way regarding its transposition. The EU Commission has established a European ITS Committee, with Member States constituting its representation, to monitor the Directive’s implementation; the Committee’s role being to oversee the adoption of work programme, reporting guidelines, standardising the mandates as well as other non-binding measures, consultation for specifications and information exchange.
More critically for ITS (UK) is how it can assist the DfT advise the Commission’s European ITS Advisory Group which has been set up to directly advise the Committee. The Advisory Group will advise through ‘high level representatives’ that includes a diverse range of bodies such as service providers, user associations, transport operators, industry, social partners, professional organisations, local authorities and other relevant forums. There is every expectation that the EU’s ITS Directive will have significant influence as pan-European travel becomes increasingly standardised. The maturity of the ITS industry within the UK places it in a strong and robust position which should enable it to adopt a lead position. In particular ITS (UK) has been an active contributor to the DfT’s effort and its role has been recognised; in due course when greater clarity emerges of what is entailed and required from the Priority Areas it is anticipated that this support will prove invaluable.

Intelligent Mobility
In association with other organisations, ITS (UK) has been a contributor to the Automotive Council’s ‘Intelligent Mobility’ publication that seeks to realise the effects and influences that ITS have on the UK’s automotive industry. This report, due for imminent publication, has ministerial support and documents the knowledge and understanding of ITS capabilities to enable the UK’s automotive industry to position itself more competitively.        

Current research indicates that there is a convergence between vehicular systems and associated services and there is no doubt that ITS technologies can significantly facilitate that convergence. This assertion can be reinforced by the predictions that mobile technology will become increasingly embedded in vehicles themselves and this presents the ITS industry with a range of commercial opportunities. The ‘Intelligent Mobility’ report highlights how Intelligent Transport Systems can alleviate congestion and accentuate traveller mobility through modal shifts – either by changing modes or amending travel patterns. Reference is included to the implications that ITS can have on the uptake and acceptance of low carbon, hybrid and electric vehicles and it is useful to make a specific acknowledgment of the continued research into the ‘low carbon’ agenda by ITS (UK)’s Low Carbon Working Group.
The Group’s strategy document has proved an influential document in the continuity of efforts in this area. In close association with this the establishment of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Working Group has been reviewing how ITS interacts with roadside infrastructure installed as part of the ‘Plugged-In Places’ programmes in a number of the UK’s cities. ITS (UK) appreciates the importance of how these vehicles are integrated into the existing localised and national infrastructures and vehicle fleets; in addition uniform, consistent and accurate information needs to be relayed to/from electric vehicles when they are being recharged, irrespective of their location, in a way that does not adversely affect individual travellers’ privacy issues.
Interest in this Group has been considerable and the Group has followed-up the activities that came from the road-mapping workshop and is investigating a number of important recommendations that will have a significant impact on how electric vehicles are introduced to the national vehicle fleet. The IET, in conjunction with ITS (UK), has contributed to a major report on the implications of ITS on the requisite standards for the safe installation and operation of electric vehicles and the related infrastructure. The recommendations from this report have global implications and ITS (UK)’s comments on users’ perceptions and ITS benefits will aid widespread acceptance of electric vehicles. 

Sharing expertise
ITS (UK) routinely contributes to parliamentary and government departmental consultations where it considers its expertise and knowledge on a diversity of issues may have a particular value. The most important of the recent contributions resulted in an invitation to give verbal evidence to the Transport Select Committee in support of its written submission on the ‘Effective Road and Traffic Management’ consultation. ITS (UK)’s evidence provided expert opinion and comment on a range of interventions and initiatives that were subsequently supported by a supplementary memorandum that included additional detailed explanations and examples. Much of what was documented was incorporated into the Committee’s report ‘Out of the Jam: reducing congestion on our roads’ that sets out how future transport infrastructures should be developed with a significant focus on the inclusion of ITS. 
Most recently the Chancellor, George Osborne, updated MPs on the state of the economy and the government’s future plans during his Autumn Statement in response to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions on growth and borrowing forecasts over the next five year period. Osborne outlined details of government proposals to bring forward infrastructure spending to try to boost the UK economy’s growth rate. These included £5bn new spending over three years on thirty five road and rail projects across England, including £1bn for the rail network. The list of projects includes an extension to London Underground’s Northern Line, a new Thames crossing, a major road scheme in Bristol, upgrades to the M1, M4, M6, A14 and A45, upgrading the Tyne and Wear Metro and electrifying the TransPennine rail line from Manchester to Yorkshire.
However it will be very revealing, in due course, to see how much recognition had been taken into incorporating the recommendations made in the ‘Out of the Jam: reducing congestion on our roads’ publication into those infrastructure projects.
Despite the above initiatives it is evident that many transport initiatives will be severely curtailed as a consequence of the budget deficit reduction measures, a situation further exacerbated by the continuing economic turmoil in the Eurozone as well as the burgeoning predominance of the surging economies of the ‘BRIC’ nations – i.e. Brazil, Russia, India and China.
This combined effect has imposed a far stricter regime than first considered – irrespective of commercial and domestic orientation. Notwithstanding those conditions there are strong indications that the value of ITS (UK)’s involvement in issues means that it is highly regarded and, as a result, membership remains robust. ITS (UK)’s capability in providing mature, measured  and influential contributions to issues and discussions relating to the management and dissemination of transportation information has further fostered its reputation and augments the organisation’s ongoing effectiveness for in the uncertain years that lie ahead.

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