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Project Success Stories - Easy riding in Central and Eastern Europe

An EU-funded project is harmonising and synchronising existing intelligent transport systems to improve cross-border road networks throughout eight Central and Eastern European countries. This not only reduces congestion and CO2 emissions, it also saves lives.
Project Success Stories - Easy riding in Central and Eastern Europe
Every year in the EU, the lives of 5 000 motorists could be saved through the use of harmonised intelligent transport systems (ITS). ITS manage traffic by reducing congestion, informing travellers and by providing other relevant travel services. This in turn helps keep the highways traffic free and is especially important given that roads account for 80 % of transport in Europe. And that is expected to increase. Already, congestion alone costs nearly 1 % of Europe's GDP.

Connect* is an EU-funded project which carried out extensive research and implementing programmes that make existing ITS systems in eight participating countries interoperable. The result is coordinated traffic management and control as well as high-quality traveller information services on some of the most important east-west road corridors. The countries involved include the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.

Connect ended in 2009 and was then absorbed into the on-going Easyway 'Linking Europe in a harmonised way' umbrella project. Easyway's overall aim is to make a positive impact on traffic flow, safety and the environment by 2020 throughout 22 participating European countries. Each European area in Easyway focuses on a different region of the EU. Though Connect may have ended as a singular project, its research and work continues to focus on Central and Eastern European countries under Easyway.

'The exchange of information on technologies is one key aspect of harmonised services for the European traveller. This ensures that deployments in Eastern Europe are… state-of-the-art, and the newest technology is used. Similar to the internet (where broadband deployment is done as starting technology by skipping elderly technologies) immediately modern concepts can be installed,' says Martin Böhm, Connect project secretariat.

The problem

Europe has numerous ITS services designed to implement specific tasks. These include providing real-time trip traffic and travel information to an individual via roadside information (e.g. via variable message signs) or broadcasted information in digital (e.g. as input for navigational devices) or audio (e.g. radio broadcast) format. This information can focus on guiding the driver to alternative routes, as well as informing her about accident and incidents (e.g. wrong-way driver warnings) and warnings on critical weather situations (e.g. slippery road surfaces caused by black ice). But these services are often isolated both regionally and nationally. In other words, one service provider does not provide traffic information about its neighbour. Yet millions of commuters or journeys cross into or through neighbouring countries every day.

For instance, the highways that link Slovenia and Italy are experiencing heavy congestion due in part to a lack of synchronised traffic information. Those coming from Slovenia may not be aware that major works are underway in the area of Trieste. Around Trieste the motorways are experiencing dense traffic flows. At peak times, this slows to a crawl and even a standstill. Connect partners in both countries have been working vigorously to mitigate the situation. They have since coordinated a comprehensive exchange of traffic information which enables travellers to assess routing opportunities.

The consequences of inaction are obvious. More time spent in cars, more fuel burned, and more traffic accidents. Such issues of cross-border traffic pose serious challenges to sustainable mobility as well as dangers to motorists. Making ITS interoperable and ensuring that they work where ever one may be is therefore imperative.

With the close cooperation of other Euro-regional projects, Connect was able to improve road safety in these countries. It also implemented traffic information and management services, installed advanced traffic and weather monitoring systems and promoted the use of new ICT and ITS technologies and applications.

Ultimately, this means working out decision guidelines and concepts as a basis for harmonised systems implementations. In Austria, that meant setting up the Austrian Road Weather Information System. In the Czech Republic, it meant setting up a new service, eCall, which is a pan-European in-vehicle emergency call system. And Germany established a system for the visual monitoring of accidents and traffic conditions throughout the country.

The solution

To harmonise ITS services across so many countries, Connect first had to identify four domains of activity: traveller information; traffic control and management; freight and logistics; and efficient ICT infrastructure. Each country had varying levels and degrees of ITS services but implemented differently.

For instance, many trips go beyond national borders but services in each country are limited because they provide only information on short- and medium-range trips. A driver coming from Germany and arriving in the Czech Republic needs to know traffic and road conditions in real time and in a language she can understand. As such, each domain required international and regional coordination so that partners could establish divergences and similarities among the services.

A management committee was then put together and charged to oversee the operational side of the project. They worked alongside expert groups who helped identify best practices and know-how between all partners. A European study domain was also set up to report on progress and problems.

Milestones

Austria, for instance, built on existing traffic-information services that it had installed from earlier projects. The primary mode of disseminating traffic information is by radio. However, the Austrian partners then came up with entirely new concepts for mobile traffic information and warning services. Visual interfaces were mounted via well-known and broadly used and accepted broadcasting media. So instead of only listening to a spoken radio announcement, a driver could also see the information. This includes providing info-screen services at shopping centres or other areas where large masses of people gather.

'The innovation behind Connect is the coordination of deployment activities between countries. This ensures the roll-out of cross-border services. One example ― which is valid not only for Connect but as well for the other European Regional projects ― is the roll-out of RDS-TMC (Traffic Message Channel). The TMC-tables and the coding of traffic messages was harmonised and a single traveller will receive with her TMC-ready navigational device real-time traffic information in Austria, Slovenia or Germany. All countries used the same technology and methodology which ensures interoperability and cross-border services,' adds Mr Böhm.

Until recently, the Czech Republic had no plans for a special public information service for long distance journeys. Nearly 20 % of car trips made in the country are over 100 km in distance. Now they are running a pilot test that will demonstrate the viability of a public information service internet application and database for cross-border trips at both the national and international levels. The system will make use of real-time information gathered from a tolling system and the unified system of traffic information services. People could then access this information via the internet or through terminals posted at borders, major service stations, or public transport hubs. The Czech partners also plan on providing and uploading a platform based on geographical information systems (GIS) with meta-information access to national and local public transport and road options. This should also allow for door-to-door long-distance trip planning.

Making in-roads

Real-time traffic information across borders allows for better route planning and reduces delays caused by heavy congestion. Most people who have ever driven can sympathise with efforts to reduce heavy traffic congestion. The noise, the idling engines, and CO2 emission are issues everyone can do without.

According to the European Commission, ITS can substantially reduce road-sector CO2 emissions and help recover the 1 % of Europe GDP lost to congestion. Granted, this figure concerns the whole of the EU-27. But taken on the whole with participating Easyway projects, Connect is making advances and in-roads for a better, safer, and more environment-friendly EU highway system.

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