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Oiling the Wheels: ICT makes transportation safer and smarter

August 25, 2017
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Information and communication technology (ICT) is playing a key role in the development of next-generation transportation systems, systematically connecting the key modes of transport to enable real-time information exchange amongst them. This information is being turned into actionable insights to optimise the movement of people and goods, improve cost economics, ensure public safety and minimise the impact on the environment. For instance, many airports have deployed intelligent sensors, thus automating the entire process chain, including check-ins, and airport baggage handling and loading in the aircraft. Similarly, ports are leveraging big data analytics to carry out predictive maintenance and optimise the use of port equipment in order to boost overall operations.

Traditionally, IT solutions have been used in the transportation industry to meet signalling requirements, maintaining passenger records and relaying information related to the location of vehicles. In recent years, the most transformational use of technology has been the online reservation facility for all modes of travel, which has made ticket booking very convenient. Many companies have launched mobile applications that allow users to manage their reservations and check train, metro and bus schedules using their phones. Enterprises have also experimented with solutions such as common cards that can be used across various modes of transport such as metro trains and buses, as well as outside the transportation system.

The transportation industry has also transformed significantly in recent years with the introduction of various car service hailing applications that have made it possible for people to book cars through smartphones. These applications operate on a centralised server system with GPS functionality that enables real-time searching and locating of cars.

The industry is now looking to further enhance the efficiency of its services using the latest communication technologies.

Cloud computing

The transportation industry has traditionally relied on local networks to exchange information, such as passenger counts and vehicle diagnostics, obtained through GPS devices, passenger counters, fare collection systems and other devices. The data is downloaded at specified intervals and is either never used, or analysed once a month to make service changes. By storing data in the cloud, both public and private transportation agencies can access data in near-real time and turn it into valuable and actionable information. The cloud is also scalable, secure and more cost-effective than traditional IT infrastructure.

With a cloud computing infrastructure, information can be extracted from all the databases and collated on a simple and secure dashboard that can be used to generate real-time reports on fare collection, passenger count, etc. For example, in case of a major snowstorm or landslide, apart from using the GPS data to identify vehicle locations, the transport agency can get accurate data on the passenger count through the data stored on the cloud.

Big data

Transport authorities can leverage big data to gain an accurate understanding of customer demand on different routes. Besides determining the frequency and size of vehicles on existing routes, they can use this data to efficiently plan future routes. This will help reduce customer wait time, thus leading to increased ridership. Further, using big data, the authorities can map customer journeys across multiple modes of transportation and plan additional services. For instance, food outlets can be opened at locations that are frequented by a large number of people at breakfast, lunch and dinner time.

Big data can also play a significant role in predictive maintenance by enabling the authorities to forecast optimal maintenance requirements of vehicles. Information from sensors installed on vehicles can be analysed at a much faster rate and at a more granular level using big data. This can be used to predict faults at the individual component levels such as brakes and a stretch of rails. With this, the authorities can schedule maintenance operations of the equipment at the right time.

By gaining insights into travel patterns, authorities can tailor communication for each rider through the rider’s preferred communication channel (email, text, phone, etc.). This includes communicating information about changes in any service on a route(s) that a customer frequents, weather-related events that might impact service, upcoming events such as political rallies and alternative routes in such cases. This level of personalisation can help improve customer satisfaction and increase ridership while creating new revenue streams, such as targeted advertising, for the authorities.


The internet of things (IoT) has the potential to enable enterprises in the transportation industry to optimise costs, increase fleet productivity and improve customer satisfaction. The key segments where IoT can play a significant role are fleet telematics and management solutions, transport logistics applications, guidance and control systems, inventory and supply chain management solutions, passenger entertainment and commerce applications, smart vehicle applications, reservation, toll and ticketing systems, peer-to-peer services such as car sharing, and security and surveillance systems. Fleet telematics involves the collection and analysis of data from on-board instrumentation and GPS sensors to track vehicle status and location, manage routes, and monitor driver and equipment performance and productivity. This helps accelerate the delivery and dispatch rates of consignments; reduce fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance costs; ensure compliance with government and industry regulations; and improve fleet productivity, uptime and safety.

Intelligent transport logistics solutions can be used for tracking the condition and location of cargo in real time; automating scheduling, placement and delivery; and proactively managing vehicle capacity. This can reduce product spoilage, damage, delay and theft; improve customer satisfaction and profitability; and eliminate human intervention and manual processes.

Smart toll collection systems can help governments automate toll metering and revenue collection, introduce demand-based or time-of-day-based pricing and monitor vehicle counts and traffic flows. In-vehicle transponders and roadside beacons can automatically track vehicle movements and securely relay toll data to upstream financial transaction and billing systems, enabling accurate and instantaneous remuneration, and reducing traffic congestion, accidents, idle fuel consumption, environmental impact, cash handling expenses and security risks. Meanwhile, intelligent control and collision avoidance systems can help rail operators ensure safety, control speed, predict failures and reduce costs.

Key challenges in ICT adoption

A key challenge that enterprises in the transportation industry face with regard to managing their IT and telecom infrastructure is the high costs associated with running and maintaining a vast IT set-up. Since IT is not their core strength, these enterprises need a dedicated team to oversee their IT infrastructure. According to Praveen Goyal, director, systems, Kochi Metro Rail Corporation, the functionality requirements are constantly increasing, and thus, there is a need to modify the existing infrastructure from time to time. “Obsolescence is another big challenge faced by metros. The speed at which IT systems are evolving is a key concern for enterprises in this industry. This is because manufacturers move to next-generation technologies and do not give enough attention to the existing equipment,” adds Goyal. As technologies evolve, vendors tend to shift their focus from making spare parts to manufacturing new equipment. Therefore, enterprises may find it difficult to address any breakdowns in their existing set-up.

Further, ensuring the security of its ICT infrastructure has emerged as a key challenge for the industry as it collects large volumes of data from diverse sources on a daily basis. Therefore, enterprises need to implement effective security measures to prevent the misuse of data.

The way forward

The emergence of low-cost open-source mapping tools, widespread cellular network coverage, declining smartphone costs, and increasing internet usage by public agencies is influencing transport planning and management across the world. The deployment of advanced technologies is transforming passenger experience and reshaping the way cargo and merchandise are tracked and delivered, creating numerous business opportunities for system integrators, independent software vendors, service providers and other solution providers. The role of ICT is expected to increase considerably as the transportation industry moves further towards automation. Future transport services need to be safer, smarter and greener, and ICT can play a critical role in achieving these objectives.

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