Just before Christmas, when most of the press and the rest of the world had their minds on other things, the European Commission released a momentous set of documents detailing their strategy for Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s a great shame that it got ignored, as it provides the clarion call that the industry so desperately needs.
The Action Plan identifies the shortcomings of previous initiatives, where ITS has been deployed in a fragmented way, leading to a patchwork of solutions with no cohesion or integrity. Its intent is to put in place a framework that will lead to Europe wide systems, using legislation if necessary to speed up the process.
With a variety of national ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) deadlines looming, it’s instructive to see how far the industry has travelled in meeting the technical requirements to support widespread deployment. The sad answer is “not far”. In fact in most cases Daddy has very convincingly lost the map.
For once, Governments aren’t necessarily to blame. They’ve stated timescales in which they would like to see progress, but most of the grand ideas of ITS have been subverted by technology. Not necessarily bad technology, but instead of working on solving problems, its proponents have concentrated on bending the requirements of ITS to fit the business models and self-interest of commercial suppliers and prestige national technology programs.
As we enter 2009, with the realisation that the car industry is more fragile than it has ever been before, it is doubly important to understand the fact that commercial pressures will act even more strongly to delay innovation and introduction.
If we’re going to get there, we need to start thinking out of the box and asking what’s really needed to deliver the benefits of ITS? The telematics industry today is fragmented, but adept at selling expensive, proprietary solutions. It’s no good putting a sticker on an expensive telematics solution and claiming we’re getting close.
If ITS is to happen any time soon, the industry needs to wake up and work out how to design $5 solutions that deliver. And Governments need to get intelligent enough to cut through the dubious models they’re being sold and realise that the most important aspect to getting there is through setting realistic targets and moving to rapid deployment. Otherwise all that will happen is that we’ll see the acronym coming to mean “Inappropriate Telematics Systems” as we watch our transport systems head towards gridlock.