An intelligent transportation system (ITS) is an integration of communication systems and information technologies designed primarily for improving safety, security and efficiency of urban transit systems such as metro and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. With the development of various urban transit projects and higher ridership, ITSs such as automatic fare collection (AFC) systems, e-wallets and digital payment options and modernised train controls, among others, will eventually dominate traditional technologies as these ensure ease to commuters and improved operations of mass transit projects. Over the past few years, the preference for ITSs has gained prominence as they are passenger friendly and help in streamlining operations.
Key technologies in use
Today, the majority of operational mass transit systems including the Delhi metro, the Bengaluru metro and the Surat BRT system use AFC systems. By creating the primary interface between customers and the operator, it is the most important type of ITS. With this smart technology, fare collection mechanisms in various modes of transport have evolved from coins, paper tickets and token-based systems to digital payment card-based systems. Thus, AFC offers greater convenience to customers for everyday payments, seamless travel and value-added services. Besides, it also enables high fare revenue collection, reduces operations cost and provides reliable ridership and system data to the operator.
Another ITS which features in metro and BRT systems is the electronic information and passenger information system. These smart telecommunication systems involve the installation of LED display screens which provide information related to arrivals/departures, delays and traffic status on a real-time basis through a centralised control room. Recently, in April 2017, Australia-based XTD Limited conducted a trial run of its cross-track media system at the Delhi metro’s Kashmere Gate station. This system consists of large LED screens and high-fidelity sound capabilities that engage commuters with long- and short-form content including general news, sports, entertainment, business and weather updates.
As safety is of the utmost importance, modern signalling technologies have been deployed in major metro projects such as the Kochi metro, the Delhi metro and Bangalore Metro, Phase I. These include electronic interlocking with centralised operation of points and signals, multicoloured LED signals, complete track circuiting of the station, digital axle counters, automatic signalling, etc. Further, the introduction of different grades of automatic train control systems like automatic train protection, automatic train operation and automatic train supervision helps in controlling and supervising train operations, thus eliminating the chance of human error.
In urban bus transport projects, ITS is used in areas such as operations and vehicle management. Technologies like scheduling and dispatch management systems, automatic vehicle identification, automatic passenger counter and precision docking find vast applicability in the area of operations management. These technologies enable proper coordination through data collection, data processing and information dissemination, thereby leading to optimum planning and management of the public bus network. Meanwhile, for vehicle management, location information systems such as automatic vehicle location, global positioning system, and geographic information system are among the main information tools utilised. These technologies allow pre-planning of routes for dispatches, thus reducing delivery time and operational costs.
ITS penetration is still at a nascent stage with significant potential for enhancement in the coming years. Going forward, efforts should be directed towards developing innovative technologies which can integrate automatic fare systems across different modes of public transport. This will eliminate the need for purchasing different tickets for different modes of transport by creating a common fare card. Further, the option of providing value-added services such as shopping and discounted fares through smart cards will help in developing a strong preference for public transport as a means of travel.
As far as ITS deployment in the country’s bus transport segment is concerned, the uptake has been slow. At present, only a few city bus service providers and BRT operators have deployed ITS. This is mainly due to delays in project execution and a lack of awareness about the system. Measures like skill development of the staff, training passengers and changing the mindset of the people through awareness programmes can be taken. It is also pertinent to note that in order to secure the benefits of ITS, its proper maintenance and security needs to be ensured.