‘Intelligent’ technologies open new avenues for European transport

The transport sector is in need of innovation, [Seth Anderson/Flickr]

Connected vehicles filled with communication technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity to achieve the European Union’s dream of an integrated multi-modal transport system, according to EU policymakers and industry experts.

MEPs and interest groups took stock of the Union’s transport policy at a European Parliament public hearing on Tuesday (17 March).

Wim van de Camp, a Dutch legislator from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), presented a report reviewing the implementation of a transport white paper and policy roadmap, adopted by the European Commission in 2011.

The roadmap contained 40 initiatives for the next decade that are expected to dramatically reduce Europe’s dependence on imported oil and cut carbon emissions in transport by 60% by 2050.

“The objective for the next decade is to create a genuine single European transport area […], easing the process of integration and the emergence of multinational and multimodal operators,” van de Camp said in his report.

The MEP hailed the progress made so far but stressed that a lot remained to be achieved.

The decarbonisation of transport, including legislation on charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, was still pending, he said. The same goes for the harmonisation of social conditions for workers in the road haulage sector.

Technology “game changer”

Major changes are expected with the further opening of the European transport market, the Dutch MEP said. With ongoing investments in greener cars, better roads and infrastructure, the challenge is to “adapt to innovation and new market needs”, he claimed.

According to the International Road Transport Union’s Michael Nielsen, lawmakers and industry should put in place forward-thinking policies, “as it is not sure if we will drive the same vehicles in 2030”. 

Using technologies to find a parking space or choosing an optimal route will make the industry much more efficient and safer, Nielsen predicted.

Hermann Meyer from ERTICO-ITS Europe, a public-private organisation involved in the production of intelligent transport systems (ITS), said that implementing information and communication technologies to transport will be “a game changer”.

“ITS will help integrate different modes of transport so that we have one common transport system, which serves the traveler and logistics operations,” said Meyer.

According to Meyer, the European Commission estimated that with ITS in place, fatalities will be reduced by 30% and road congestion by 15% by 2020. The same research predicts that ITS will turn into a business worth €28 billion in five years.

What are Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)?

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) aim to provide services related to different modes of transport and traffic management. It supports the industry in collecting, exchanging, and processing data, said Meyer.

For example, ITS could offer timely information about where to catch a bus, facilitate the booking of a ticket, or use the necessary information to computerise the driving of a car.

“Such services can make transport safer, more efficient and comfortable,” said Mayer.

A lot of data is available out there, but not exchanged, according to Meyer. If used correctly and in accordance with data protection rules, it “will empower the traffic management to provide better services for drivers”.

In order to make the most out of these innovations, Meyer said the Commission should propose a common European strategy. Adequate policy initiatives, a good infrastructure and member states’ political will are crucial for the success of ITS deployment, he said.

A right framework

Any new rules, however, should be clear, simple, and uniformly interpreted, according to Nielsen. The EU should also ensure adequate enforcement of such rules, allowing a level playing field.

“If these market conditions are not fixed in the future, no matter how innovative we are, we will not be efficient. We need to fix how we are operating today in order to ensure we operate more effectively in the future,” Nielsen said.

Van de Camp’s report echoes the same ideas, but doubted if the EU could achieve an integrated transport policy. 

“Mutually complementary action will be needed at national, regional and local levels of government as well as by citizens and industry themselves,” van de Camp said. 

“[The Commission’s White Paper] demonstrates that the work has only started, and the major efforts needed to transform the EU transport system lie ahead of us,” he said.

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) involve applying information and communication technologies to all modes of transport (road, rail, air and water), both passenger and freight.

This includes technologies such as computers, satellites, electronic tags and sensors.

Examples of such services include GPS navigation systems, traffic information and journey-time estimations received from car radios while on motorways, as well as real-time arrival information at bus stations. 

A new legal framework (Directive 2010/40/EU ) was adopted in 2010 to deploy faster these innovative transport technologies across Europe. 

Under this law, the European Commission had to adopt specifications to address the compatibility, interoperability and continuity of ITS solutions across the EU.

The first priorities are traffic and travel information, the eCall emergency system and intelligent truck parking.

  • 24 April 2015: European Commission ITS Conference 2015 on "A Digital Strategy for Mobility: from capacity to connectivity"
  • 11 June 2015: EU Transport ministers meeting

European Parliament

European Commission

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