This article is part of our special report Transport: Moving ahead.
SPECIAL REPORT / EU plans to digitise transport infrastructure to vehicle communication aim at a broad transformation of road, rail, air and maritime transit.
But disagreement over data sharing is keeping the commercial shipping industry from warming up to the European Commission’s ambitions for the emerging technology.
The European Commission wants to step up intelligent transport systems (ITS) around the EU, essentially adding digital communication between vehicles and public authorities, as well as from vehicle to vehicle, in order to improve information sharing on traffic and vehicle conditions.
According to the executive, technology that communicates parking availability, travel routes, electronic toll collection, and other aspects of transport can cut down on congestion by five to fifteen percent.
The EU executive also touts the safety benefits expected to emerge from intelligent transport, as an estimated five to fifteen percent drop in traffic-related fatalities and five to ten percent fewer injuries.
Commercial transport not ready
But industry groups say commercial transport isn’t ready to fully embrace ITS the way the Commission might hope.
“Companies with logistic interests want to have better transport management,” said Lina Konstantinopoulou, head of transport and logistics at ERTICO, an organisation made up of government officials and representatives from private firms working on intelligent mobility.
“The only hampering factor is: How do you share the information among stakeholders?” Konstantinopoulou added.
In its digital single market plans announced this May, the European Commission acknowledged that vehicle and cargo operators collect their own data and often don’t share it with other companies. That means operators of one leg of a cargo shipment may not have information about the rest of the transport.
“This lack of data sharing between transport sectors and modes leads to inefficiencies in the overall transport system, particularly in areas such as cargo transport,” the Commission strategy reads.
An executive-funded ERTICO pilot project set up ITS for commercial transport in Arad, Romania, Bilbao, Bordeaux, Frankfurt, Thessaloniki, Trieste and Vigo, Spain, where truck drivers receive real time information on space in parking and delivery areas, routes and truck stops, and estimated CO2 emissions for shipments.
Konstantinopoulou said if ITS is used for commercial transport, it could even reduce the number of trucks on the road — if companies are willing to share their data and combine their loads onto shared trucks. But many commercial transporters are large companies that operate their own trucks and want to shield their data from other companies, she said.
“In the end, you have so many empty trucks on the road and the load factor is very low.”
The European Commission’s ITS plans are a balancing act between officials’ professed commitment to efficiency and CO2 reduction and the gearing up of information sharing technologies to drive business.
EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said in a statement to EURACTIV that ITS “is necessary to reach essential objectives of the EU, for example for transport decarbonisation or the reduction of road fatalities. Intelligent Transport Systems will also provide plenty of opportunities to EU industry to export products and solutions at a time where transport is booming everywhere in the world”.
The Commission estimates ITS will cut CO2 emissions by 10-20%.
Environmental campaigners are skeptical of the hype about ITS’ potential to reduce CO2 emissions.
William Todts, manager of NGO Transport & Environment’s commercial vehicles campaign, said the car industry claims ITS technology brings down emissions rates to give itself a free pass on making cleaner vehicles.
“If you make that part of transport more efficient, that’s great. But that won’t replace cars becoming more efficient,” Todts said.
Easing up e-documents
Industry groups are wary of sharing too much commercial data with authorities or other vehicles. International Road Transport Union (IRU) spokesperson Stuart Colley said some commercial operators are sensitive to sharing transit routes. The IRU does not want shared electronic track and trace systems for cargo, he added.
“Let’s look at the efficiencies that can be gained for safety, for the transport industry and for every road user,” Colley said.
Colley also pointed out that only a few countries in the EU accept e-documents from commercial shipment operators. The European Commission has called that inefficient, since operators are otherwise forced to use several forms on paper that require the same data to be reentered in various places.
In July, the Commission set up its new Forum on Digital Transport and Logistics together with public authorities and industry groups who will advise on commercial transport policies to govern ITS. Recognition of e-documents is one of the forum’s focus areas.
Dutch MEP Wim van de Camp (EPP), rapporteur on the White Paper on Transit that was presented earlier this year, is also pushing for more widespread recognition of e-documents for freight as well as management of tolls through ITS. The new technology would push Europe to “move from mechanical to digital integration”, van de Camp said.
“That way our transport sector can become a truly multi-modal system which we need to deliver economic growth, jobs and a sustainable business model for the future,” van de Camp told EURACTIV.
The European Commission has a public consultation running until November on real time information services and ITS, though the inquiry doesn’t explicitly affect commercial vehicles. A number of industry groups are now contributing to the executive’s policy work on commercial transport policy: The IRU and other organisations, despite their reservations about data sharing, are members in the Commission’s new Forum on Digital Transport and Logistics.
“Intelligent transport systems are here to stay,” said Stuart Colley. “They’re going to become increasingly more important.”