Data and tech as smart transport enablers

May 26th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT


Transport engineers from across South Africa convened in Centurion on 24 May 2017 to discuss ways of using intelligent transportation system tools to better enable smart logistics. Big data and data sharing drew special attention.

Intelligent transportation systems, or ITS, take an integrated approach to transport and logistics networks and multimodal transport to coordinate and optimise logistics of people and goods. Besides making transport systems more efficient, ITS aims to make transport safer and improve law enforcement. It also helps cities reduce their carbon footprint.

ITS South Africa president Wim Ferreira and Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Dr Ismail Vadi.

According to ITS South Africa president Wim Ferreira, transport and logistics made up 11,8% of South Africa’s GDP in 2016. Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, forms a crucial part of this logistics network Dr Ismail Vadi, the Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport explained. The province’s growing network congestion however bears on its economic efficiency. While structural problems such as unnecessary infrastructure delays are mainly to blame, Dr. Vadi also looked at how data fragmentation hampers collaboration. Modifying bus routes to optimise them according to passenger demands could for example eliminate the need for additional busses, he explained.

Mapping the way

Mapping companies such TomTom have for a while already gathered traffic network data to coordinate GPS users to find optimal routes, said TomTom Africa’s Etienne Louw. Speaking about real-time data to optimise logistics, he looked at the insights that can be drawn from vehicle-specific data such as location, speed, direction of travel, and time indicators – all of which he said are gathered by some 2,6-million connected devices in South Africa (including data from third-parties). From this the company creates various data products, from traffic overviews and traffic jam alerts, to speed profiles, custom travel times and origin-destination datasets.

This provides continuous insight into the national traffic network, and over time this historic traffic data can also be used to inform other predictions and identify traveller habits and trends. However, these datasets take on even greater value when combined with other data, for example the national income data which can be used to determine supply and demand flows that could be useful to understand in coordinating an intelligent transport network.

Extracting detailed insights

Another system that generates large area, good quality data is the South African National Road Agency’s (SANRAL) toll network, as the parastatal’s Siveshni Pillay and Alan Robinson explained in their studies of freight movement nationally and specific to Gauteng.

Sanral’s data collection extends beyond it use of revenue collection, and includes vehicle classifications, number of accidents and types of incidents, and in some cases video footage of incidents with time stamp data. This data can be analysed to study delays, identify the most common incidents, how long they take to clear up, and in which lanes incidents typically occur, Pillay said. It’s also used in heavy vehicle profiling and enforcement, among other traffic monitoring applications. There’s also potential to study national freight movement and overload control.

Vehicle classifications are further helpful in studying origin-destination patterns, which produce insight into the distance of trips, average trip durations, and peak traffic patterns. Quality data also allow transport engineers to compare, validate and refine their traffic models and estimations.

Data deluge, coordination and collaboration economies

Such large data sets (several hundred million entries) can pose processing challenges, Robinson said, especially as the data is not usually structured for all the applications it could be used for. The data deluge is will probably continue with connected vehicles, automated freight and other technologies, said Techso’s Dr Johann Anderson, all of which indicate a greater need for coordination, both from government and the private sector. Prof. Alwyn Hoffman from North-West University stressed this, saying that systems cannot be optimised in isolation.

Collaborating and coordinating, as Cyber Logistics’s Andrew Diack showed, can be highly beneficial. Using software his company connects freight carriers and shippers to create a smart supply network that reduces empty truck trips.

Why not?

ITS initiatives already form part of the Gauteng 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan (ITMP25), according to Dr. Anderson, with key initiatives including a central transport portal for passengers on a provincial level, creating a single ticketing system, travel demand management, and increasing access to major freight hubs. Establishing a provincial transport management centre will have great value, he added, as it could also function as a provincial data warehouse and infrastructure backbone from which to establish provincial ITS integration, as well as dissemination of travel info.

With regional cross-border policy and legal initiatives such as the Operator Compliance Regulatory Accreditation Scheme falling in place, provincial government collaboration and private sector buy-in is now crucial, but remains a challenge. Dr. Vadi considers the transport industry to be blind to its own inefficiencies. Still, user expectations of safer travel along with the economic expense of traffic congestion and price competitiveness might just have the final say.