How a European project is helping facilitate autonomous vehicles

26th February 2017

By Hans Westerheim, Senior Adviser, Intelligent Transport SystemsSINTEF Digital

Urbanisation in Europe presents regional and local authorities with a broad range of challenges within areas such as provision of infrastructure, schools, social services, as well as development of liveable cities, transport and mobility services. Alongside this process, technology development and availability, promise potential to support, and even overtake, many of the new and needed services, with or without the influence or approval of cities. One example is Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS), which have the potential to support the management of urban transport systems, as well as improving traffic safety, efficiency and reducing the environmental impact by providing relevant and ‘tailor made’ information to the various groups of urban road users.

How do European cities look at their own needs, capabilities and constraints when it comes to deploying technology for a better transport system? These changes pose a set of questions related to urban transport: What are cities’ transport related challenges? Do European cities have strategies and plans for how technology might support local authorities in achieving better transport and traffic management? How can technology possibly support cities in this? What must the cities do to be able to understand and adopt new technology?

The H2020 European project CIMEC (C-ITS for Mobility in European Cities) is addressing these issues through exploring experiences, reflections and ideas from European cities, provided via on-line surveys and a set of eight local and regional workshops. The project ambition is to enable the voice of the cities, not having the technology as a starting point, but rather the concerns and the needs of the cities. The surveys and workshops targeted a broad range of stakeholders, including representatives from emergency services, the public transport sector, freight operators as well as the city transport planners and managers.

The outcome of this process includes the cities’ view on transport related challenges, potential for improvement supported by new technology and solutions, and possible barriers against deployment of these technologies in the city context. This process also led to the identification of a set of use cases where the cities see that use of technology can support their needs.

The CIMEC project focuses on cooperative intelligent transport systems, C-ITS, as enabling technology. The C-ITS technology is information and communication technology applied for transport, enabling the transport infrastructure, vehicles and individual (road) users to communicate. It is a facilitator for automated vehicles and automated driving.

In an online survey, cities identified road congestion, air pollution, traffic safety and the quality of public transport as main challenges in urban transport. The workshops gave a good opportunity to explore these challenges further; the participants discussed in more detail what issues in their own city are linked to, like congestion, and the associated challenges and negative effects for the different actors in the city. Congestion causes problems for emergency vehicles, especially in crossings. It also causes problems for public transport. For some cities, problems caused by congestion could lead to even more use of private cars, as confidence in public transport services is weakened.

Discussions identified a range of relevant issues and potential areas for application of technology. From this process, at total of 18 use cases have been derived, each describing a situation in urban transport that can be improved by means of deployment of C-ITS technology. All the use cases describe a near future ICT service including the use of C-ITS. None of the use cases have explicitly been addressed with C-ITS as the only possible solution for improvement of the situation.

The set of uses case gives an overview on how C-ITS can possibly be implemented to address transport related challenges faced by cities. However, cities saw some barriers against deployment of C-ITS.

The deployment of C-ITS in cities has not kept pace with the technological development, implying that deployment is being restrained by non-technical factors. Cities in particular are wary about the costs and benefits. In addition to economic concerns, a wide range of issues, spanning from technical to political, organisational and legal issues constitute barriers towards deployment of C-ITS in cities. Several of the barriers are considered to be beyond the influence of the cities to change or improvement.

The technical issues are partly related to insecurity regarding which technology the cities should invest in, reflecting that the technology is being developed at a rapid pace, and without the cities themselves having any influence on the development. Lack of evidence that the equipment and services will prove able to deliver the expected benefits when applied in a city environment adds to this insecurity about choice of technology, as well as to the economic considerations. The cities have to prioritise all areas for which they have responsibility within limited budgets, and convincing cost benefit relations are therefore required in order for an investment to be given priority.

The political and legal issues relate to the fact that national regulations in most countries do not keep up with development in technology. Very few European cities are in the position to make their own regulations where national ones are missing.

Cities can have the biggest impact on reducing organisational barriers. These barriers are related to having too many actors in the city addressing transport, infrastructure those responsible for planning and development of the city, and a lack of good communication and coordination between the actors.

The CIMEC project also addresses the C-ITS deployment in cities from the suppliers’ perspective. The findings indicate that there is a need for further activities to bring the suppliers and the cities closer together.

Stakeholders from cities in Spain, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia participated in the workshops. The CIMEC project is funded by the H2020 research programme of the European Commission.

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