Satellites called in to help prevent virus traffic jams

An artist's impression of the Galileo satellite constellation, which will be called in to help Europe's drivers avoid traffic jams where possible. [Photo: ESA]

The EU’s satellite agency is trialling a new system channelling GPS data into a traffic app that it hopes will keep the bloc’s internal borders free of traffic jams and help freight companies move goods from country to country unhindered.

Mobile apps are primarily touted as a powerful tool to help trace and curb the spread of the coronavirus but a new EU-led scheme hopes to leverage them to reduce the length of queues at border crossings.

Coronavirus lockdown measures caused chaos on Europe’s motorways at the beginning of the outbreak, as border closures and restrictions caused tailbacks of nearly 100km in places. As governments think about deconfinement plans, there is a risk of a return to the disruption.

The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) is trialling a new project that takes real-time data provided by the Galileo GPS system and combines it with an app and website, which will be usable by border officials and drivers alike.

Regular updates provided by the satellites and border officials will give drivers an accurate picture of where traffic is moving and where it is at a standstill, so they can rethink their route and avoid it.

COVID-19 apps could help abolish virus restrictions, EU ministers say

EU interior ministers have hailed the potential of contact tracing technologies to curb internal border checks and travel restrictions related to the current public health pandemic. But a dispute between member states over the finer details could limit their effectiveness.

The European Commission’s space and transport directorates are collaborating on the scheme, while the Joint Research Centre (JRC) is working on the app’s finer details.

“By supporting a solution that eases the transport of critical goods across borders, Galileo is making its contribution to help reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the EU’s economy and its citizens,” said GSA’s acting boss, Pascal Claudel.

Border authorities in France, Romania, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic have shown an interest in using the technology, while the International Road Transport Union (IRU) is involved with trialling the app.

“The initiative of the EU to get its space agency acting on concrete solutions is a good step in tackling issues with the continuity of logistics flow in the EU,” the IRU’s Raluca Marian told EURACTIV.

A demo period is set to last about two weeks and if the results are positive then the plan is to scale it up and make it available to anyone who wants to use it.

In March, the Commission called on national governments to set up priority channels for freight transport, known as green lanes, in order to help keep goods flowing during the virus crisis.

The initiative was mostly welcomed but the EU executive’s insistence that the green lanes be open to all freight, rather than essential supplies and goods, was criticised by some. The Commission’s lack of power to force governments to follow its guidance was also exposed.

At an e-meeting of EU interior ministers on Tuesday (28 April), further improvements to transit corridors were on the agenda, while their transport counterparts will also discuss the issue during their own virtual meeting tomorrow.

Keep on trucking: EU deploys ‘green lanes’ to unclog freight

The European Commission issued instructions on how to unclog bottleneck border crossings on Monday (23 March), with new ‘green lanes’ aiming to keep freight moving during the coronavirus outbreak. Hauliers were initially sceptical though.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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