Europe split over best way forward for traffic systems

A plan to introduce intelligent transport systems (ITS) across Europe has stalled as countries debate the best way to co-ordinate adoption. To date, different countries have introduced ITS in different ways, and no effort has been made to harmonise activity.

The UK is among the leaders in ITS. The Department for Transport (DfT) has worked with 60 local authorities to help them introduce urban traffic management and control systems that use GPS technology and cameras to evaluate flows of traffic. In the case of an accident or a traffic jam, they can help traffic controllers re-route traffic more effectively ­ using hard shoulders, alternative routes, or lanes on the other side of the road.

While developing new infrastructure is essential in the long run, many countries are starting to recognise that more efficient use of existing transport networks could be hugely beneficial.

Evaluating traffic flows and providing real-time information to travellers on the most efficient routes to take is recognised by all member states as a vital step towards solving the problem.

But progress has been stalled because of differences in approach. The EC introduced a framework directive that it hoped to use to mandate member states to co-ordinate systems. The EC wants, by 2015, to pilot a system that sees devices in commercial vehicles that are linked to central ITS ­ meaning that an in-car GPS could constantly update the recommended route.

But the UK ­ alongside others such as Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands ­ feel that such a forced approach will have unintended consequences. Many countries have sophisticated systems in place already and retro-fitting a common standard where those approaches have already been successful would be a mistake.

Instead, the UK wants a more market-based approach, with interoperability standards provided centrally.

The EC has put the framework directive on hold because amendments made in the European Parliament mean it no longer represents the original intentions. But everyone agrees that some degree of co-ordination is vital.

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