Could Traffic Incident Response Services Help Reduce Traffic Congestion?

Public sector road traffic agencies have limited opportunities for a direct relationship with their customers, the users. As the move towards road user charging continues, then providing quality customer service, and building the relationship with their customers will require a significant change in focus.

Two of the major challenges currently facing traffic agencies are increasing traffic congestion, and securing funding – hence the growing interest in road user charging.

Is congestion getting worse

Congestion used to mean that it took longer to get to and from work in the ‘peak hour’. Now congestion affects more and more trips, in more hours of the day, extending across more of the transport network and results in reduced travel time reliability.

Congestion has real costs for road users, including impacts on personal car travel (commuting, recreation, education, shopping, etc.), trucks (long-haul and local freight delivery), commercial travel (household and business services), emergency services, and buses (public transport).

The primary source of congestion is too much traffic for the available capacity, a ‘tipping point’ is reached once the traffic flow breaks down to stop-and-go conditions, and the capacity is reduced even further.

Traffic incidents can have major impacts; such as large areas experiencing gridlock for hours. Traffic incidents result in unexpected delays, which have real, and perceived, costs for users – especially the ‘high value’ users such as trucks (both long-haul freight and pickup and delivery) and buses (mass people movements).

Unexpected delays are perceived by users to be valued up to five times expected delays. Unexpected delays should therefore be a major focal point in improving customer service.

Congestion is not only growing; it is becoming much more volatile, and causing more angst.

Congestion mitigation measures

The solution involves a combination of managing existing transport infrastructure more efficiently, through active traffic management, adding more capacity and moderating demand through price and non-price measures.

In Australia, direct road user charging is currently only used for toll roads in the three eastern seaboard capital cities, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Toll charges only apply on specific links and for the primary purpose of paying for the infrastructure.

Congestion charging is increasingly being discussed and raised in the media as congestion mitigation measure, however no definite programs are expected in the next few years.

Market forces already determine a number of the services we consume, such as telecommunications, energy and water supply. Extending user charging to road use is inevitable.

The challenge when a ‘user’ pays for a service though, they expect a higher level and quality of customer service.

Private toll road operators understand the importance of providing higher levels of service to their customers, to ensure patronage growth and revenue. Public sector traffic agencies need to seriously address this issue.

Traffic incident response services

A step in the direction of developing the relationship between the road operator and road users is providing rapid and efficient traffic incident response services and accurate, real-time traffic information.

Providing response services is an ideal start for the journey by public sector traffic agencies to build a very positive image of helping stranded motorists caught up in traffic queues – a win-win situation all round. And reduce the unexpectedness of the delay by providing traffic updates.

Using traffic incident response services to build positive customer relationships with road users, increases the level and quality of service, and provides a pathway for the introduction of road user charging.

Must be worth considering in the search for congestion mitigation measures?

Would you like traffic incident response services with that?

Do you believe that traffic agencies should build their customer service capabilities, by improving incident response and information services before introducing road user charging? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How to Ensure the Success of Smart Mobility

Measuring smart mobility initiatives is critical to success. Transportation agencies and companies are accountable for the return on investment funds and it is in their interest to demonstrate the success of past investment in moving towards desired transport outcomes, when seeking funding for future programs. However, post-evaluation of transport projects is rarely conducted.

The logic of connecting the investment in a smart mobility program to desired outcomes needs to be carefully thought through. Transport programs can be developed either as a response to transport problems or issues (bottom up approach), or to move towards future strategic objectives (top down approach). The best approach is a combination of both.

Role of program logic in smart mobility

Logic program development has been in use since the 1960’s, so it is not a new concept. Logical Framework Analysis aims to make investment more effective and accountable, by providing greater rigor in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating programs. Logic Mapping is a similar approach.

The basic concept of program logic is that delivery of projects is a systematic, sequential process: plan – manage – review; based on assumptions from past experience, delivery of a transport project or service will result from responding to problems, using resourcing provided, with infrastructure and service outputs expected from these planned actions, and desired transport outcomes, such as reduced congestion or improved safety, predicted based on those outputs.

Each step along the sequence should be monitored to ensure an initiative is tracking towards desired objectives, rather than waiting for everything to be finished and some years down the track before being able to measure outcomes.

Measure outcomes: Designing program logic for smart mobility

Sir Winston Churchill quoted “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Designing program logic for smart mobility initiatives and identifying performance indicators for each stage of the sequence of events, ensures there is a clear focus on what is important. If we know that what we are doing is going to be measured and reported, we will ensure they are closely monitored.

It is worth remembering the adage “what gets measured gets done”.

Program logic can help establish success criteria, and also identify data and information needed to assess progress, as well as help communicate the benefits to key stakeholders. The bonus of using this approach is it makes it easier to get projects funded.

Decision-makers can readily understand what a project or program is about, what it will deliver and how it contributes to desired objectives, as the logic process enables a clear, concise summary to be presented. If well done, the program logic approach also gives decision-makers confidence that assumptions and risks have been adequately considered and that a performance monitoring framework is available.

As transport professionals, let us commit to measure and report the success of smart mobility initiatives.

How should we monitor and report the success of smart mobility? What are measures of success? Should there be independent verifiers and reporters? Share your thoughts in the comment section

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

The Next Generation Public Transport Moving Forward

Public transport is a key component of addressing the wicked problem of traffic congestion. The question is, how to encourage and sustain patronage by next generation users. Recent research is providing suggested directions, moving forward.

A major policy problem facing transport professionals is how to reduce traffic congestion and improve transport productivity – a wicked problem. They also need to improve accessibility, mobility and safety; get better air quality, use less energy and reduce the transport footprint.

Public transport has to be part of the solution package, but to be successful, transportation planners must better understand what users want.

In many jurisdictions, governments provide significant subsidies for public transport (in Australian major urban areas subsidies are in the order of 70 percent of operating costs). The public sector, however is usually slow to embrace innovation and disruptive technologies, and is not proactive in considering the implications of emerging trends.

In a UK study, it was found that 75 percent of all journeys involve negative experiences or pain-points for transport users (multi-modal journeys are especially painful) and 57 percent of travelers are always looking for ways to optimise their journeys. A growing segment of users are ‘Progressive Metropolites” typified by technology-savvy young professionals, who want to reduce their transport footprint.

Public Transportation and the Millennial Generation

There is an increased use of public transport among Generation Y, a New Zealand study found, there is a high latent demand, and they respond to well-known convenience factors like consistent frequency and coverage of services. More specific factors to encourage further Generation Y patronage include smarter pricing mechanisms and improved real-time information (through onboard or at station Wi-Fi access).

Key life stage changes, like moving home or starting a family, are opportunities for maintaining or further public transport uptake. What works for Generation Y also has a positive flow-on effect for ‘older’ patrons.

Making use of currently available technology is the first step – such as social media sentiment mapping, and sharing real-time service advisories. Providing increased opportunities for innovative concepts, technologies and approaches should then follow.

What do you consider public transport agencies and operators should be doing to encourage greater patronage by next generation users? Share your opinion in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.