The state of intelligent transportation systems: Use cases and vendors

As cities become increasingly crowded, the time drivers spend in traffic and the congestion associated with transit continue to grow. Beyond these issues, roadways are more often the site of injuries and death, as distracted driving puts both drivers and vulnerable road users (VRUs) at risk. Connected and autonomous vehicles (AVs) bring their own set of challenges and infrastructure needs to transit systems.

Intelligent transportation system (ITS) platforms use IoT and connectivity to enhance the existing transit ecosystem. ITS includes individual transit-focused IoT hardware, like intelligent signals, as well as connected modes of transit, like electric or autonomous buses.

The wider concept, however, also requires the cooperation of a full ITS ecosystem, encompassing connectivity providers, application specialists, connected vehicle manufacturers and city departments of transportation. The promise of intelligent transportation systems is to provide a living ecosystem of roadway infrastructure that can adapt to real-time demand, deliver insight on activities and trends, and put the safety of drivers and VRUs first, in line with safer streets and Vision Zero goals to reach zero traffic-related fatalities.

The Take

Solving transportation woes is a multifaceted issue that, if tackled correctly, could bring benefits in safety, sustainability, and the driver and pedestrian experience. For those reasons, transportation is routinely cited as a top area of focus in the smart city digital transformation journey. When implementing an intelligent transportation system, cities often deploy and partner on a case-by-case basis. Although a few vendors deliver full-stack ITS offerings, including hardware, software and connectivity, many players in the space are operating as point products. Ensuring the interoperability of these multiple products is a challenge many cities face when building an ITS that merges digital and physical infrastructure.

Context

In our Internet of Things, the OT Perspective 2023 survey, we asked government respondents about the status of their intelligent transportation systems, and which use cases they emphasized.

Cities have looked to “smarten” their transportation systems for decades — whether it means offering contactless payment cards for transit journeys or creating multimodal transit hubs where railways, cars and micro-mobility options are all centrally located. The challenge of intelligent transportation systems is the need for interoperability and close coordination of vendors across the IT stack, from network providers to application specialists.

Point products vary in their approach to hardware and software, although most are trending toward cloud-based, hardware-agnostic platforms. The federal government has eyed transportation’s transformative potential as well, allocating $5 billion toward the Safe Streets and Roads for All program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Cities can use the grants over the course of five years to repave roads, build out bikeways, and implement vehicle-to-infrastructure and other ITS technologies.

Broadly speaking, the “layers” of ITS are as follows, although it is worth noting many vendors are teetering between physical and digital as the industry develops.

Physical infrastructure (roadways, signals, cameras, sensors). Beyond the actual roads and bridges that facilitate the movement of transit networks, control cabinets, traffic management systems, traffic signals and other sensors make up the physical side of ITS. In this segment, Kapsch, Econolite, Yunex, NoTraffic and Bosch are some of the key players. Most vendors in the physical space also offer some digital component, often a cloud-based platform for analytics or simulation offerings.

Digital infrastructure (networks, connectivity, data management, controls, security). Digital infrastructure is the requisite layer of technology that physical roadways need to collect, transmit and analyze transportation and transit data, and transform it into roadway insight and intelligence. As the ITS market trends toward a digital focus, vendors like Rekor offer insight into the growing demand for automation and data analytics from multisourced ITS data for governments and transit officials. Some digital infrastructure includes traffic management software, wireless and cellular networks, traffic management centers (TMCs), data aggregators and analytics providers. Some vendors providing digital infrastructure for ITS include Cisco Systems Inc., Siemens AG, Yunex, Iteris, SWARCO, Cubic Transportation System, HERE Technologies and INRIX.

Engineering firms. Engineering firms play a critical role in ensuring the former two categories work together seamlessly to maximize the impact and efficacy of ITS. While individual applications can make an impact on transit efficiency, bringing together multiple hardware endpoints from different vendors creates challenges for cities facing tech talent shortages. Some engineering firms specializing in ITS and transportation engineering include Stantec Inc., WSP Inc. and Jacobs Inc.

Local government and community. Local officials, often within a Department of Transportation, are responsible for crafting the policy around their cities’ adoption of ITS. Beyond a DOT, IT and public works officials are often involved in implementation and planning around ITS. While some states, including Minnesota, have outlined ITS policies on the state level, cities make their own decisions on priorities and implementation strategies. Collecting community feedback through digital tools or surveys can enhance deployments by solving citizen pain points around sites of interest.

Intelligent transportation systems

Our data shows that 8 in 10 government respondents have adopted at least one ITS application. Of technologies that were currently in place, public transit optimization (35%), transit signal priority (24%) and actuated/intelligent signals (21%) had the highest rate of adoption.

Public transit optimization. This can be done using onboard software, provided by a vendor like Optibus or Via Transportation. Dynamically routing buses or shuttles to match real-time demand for riders, and acting as a point-to-point service rather than fixed route, can enhance rider satisfaction and reduce deadheading (operating a transit vehicle with no riders). Ecolane, Remix, Tripspark and Moovit provide software for public transit routing.

Transit signal priority. TSP most often refers to granting certain vehicles — emergency response or public transit — the right-of-way at intersections. TSP vendors like LYT provide emergency vehicle preemption at traffic lights. Traditionally, TSP worked either manually or through the use of infrared sensors, which would trigger a light at a certain distance. Now vendors take a cloud-based and hardware-agnostic approach, using software to collect real-time data on where emergency and transit vehicles can connect with a gateway at a traffic management center. In integrating vehicle GPS data with networked traffic signals, vendors are looking to maximize preemption and reduce collateral disruption. Emtrac and Opticom are other players in TSP.

Intelligent signals. These had the third-highest rate of adoption, likely for their ability to respond to real-time conditions. Adaptive/intelligent signals are networked and connected to the internet, most often at a roadside unit located next to an intersection. These signalized intersections can be adaptive to real-time roadway conditions, which are collected and relayed from vehicle detection sensors (cameras, in-road loop detectors, radar, LiDAR), traffic management centers and connected vehicles. Derq, Lumin8 and Tapco are notable providers of smart traffic signals and intelligent intersection infrastructure.

Smart parking/loading. Smart parking/loading zones, public transportation optimization and autonomous buses/shuttles had the highest rate of planned adoption. Although neither parking nor autonomous transit vehicles have high rates of current adoption, growing interest indicates an opportunity for vendors in both areas.

These zones are enabled by computer vision and parking software, and look to enhance the parking experience by relaying real-time spot availability, as well as dynamically pricing and managing the curb, as cities look to manage and integrate rideshare pickup/dropoff zones on previously unused curb real estate. Creating curb management practices and enabling smart parking can allocate space to each use case, including rideshare and delivery. Computer vision is becoming increasingly valuable in enabling smart loading zones by collecting and sharing real-time data with drivers on spot availability and enforcing infractions. Passport, Flowbird, Automotus and Vade provide offerings in these areas.

Autonomous buses and shuttles. Automation can be applied to solve driver shortages and deadhead woes. Although just 6% of government respondents had adopted the technology, 22% plan to do so in the coming years. Most autonomous operations are delivered through shuttles, which can run on fixed routes or point to point. A handful of cities have deployed autonomous buses/shuttles, working with Beep or May Mobility. These vehicles rely on autonomous driving software, vehicle-to-everything communications, and sensor data to ensure rider safety and optimized routing. Other players in the space, including Optimus Ride, Coast Autonomous, EasyMile and TransDev, offer similar capabilities across the US and Europe.

Implications

As intelligent transportation systems mature, the data generated by ITS applications will continue to grow. While all ITS is based on underlying connectivity (4G, Wi-Fi or LTE networks, for example), the edge will become an increasingly important site of compute due to the low-latency processing demands of ITS use cases, namely autonomous shuttles and buses, and signalized intersections. As cities set their priorities for “Vision Zero” and safer streets, vendors that can offer interoperable point offerings, or hardware-agnostic cloud platforms, may have an advantage.

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