Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Impacts of Technology Advancements on Transportation Management Center Operations

Chapter 2 – Literature Review

The basis of knowledge and understanding of what ITS technologies are emerging and their associated influencers came from a review of published literature from ITS industry publications, association websites, governmental websites, technology journals and various reports.

Additional information gathering from external sources included brainstorming discussions with the subject matter experts on our consultant team, talking with TMC managers and input received from a project-related webinar with PFS members and at the TMC PFS Annual Meeting. Talking with the TMC managers was most helpful in getting their views and perspectives on current issues and technologies that could provide opportunities or that they are positioning themselves for implementation, along with any techniques they have used in the past for successful implementation.

The significant amount of related literature found during the review period led to identifying numerous issues and implications. Many of the concepts raised during the preparation of this report are interrelated.

Graphic - A cartoon graphic of a highway sign indicating you can stay connected with Federal Highway Administration using facebook, twitter, and You-Tube.
(Source: FHWA)

2.1 Big Picture Influencers

Many larger societal and technological trends have implications to TMC operations, oftentimes driving the ITS trends. At the most overarching level, the proliferation of mobile communications is revolutionizing many aspects of our lives. Mobile communications can generate large volumes of data used by TMCs, transmit that data almost instantaneously, allow travelers to access TMC-generated information almost continuously, and even provide more convenient platforms to monitor, test, and maintain field devices and other TMC equipment. The advances in mobile communication are based on the technology advances in mobile communications networks, advancing from third generation (3G/GSM) to fourth generation (4G) technologies in 2011. The bandwidth and speed enhancements of each new generation of the mobile network are significant. The next generation (5G) will provide another increase in capabilities, likely geared toward intelligent networks that can handle billions of connected devices and remain stable and reliable. A closely related influence is the rise of social media. The public is beginning to expect personalized two-way communication that they can interact with, not only from commercial enterprises, but from their governments as well. Overall, computing continues to advance, such as sophistication in analysis and prediction for decision support systems and automation tools, ability to process massive amounts of data from varied sources extremely quickly, and potential to function and store information in a distributed cloud environment.

Another general influence is changes to funding opportunities. As capital budgets shrink, there will be increasing emphasis on systems management and operations over traditional construction projects. While this generally favors operations, it may be increasingly difficult to fund ITS system expansion, especially in areas where ITS infrastructure construction has been integrated with major roadway work. Funding is also increasingly being tied to performance monitoring and management. While there are established measures for things such as pavement roughness, TMC systems may need to identify appropriate measures of effectiveness for such amorphous things as driver satisfaction over “tweeted” construction updates. Also, even when data is collected on output measures (such as number of service patrol stops) and outcomes (such as travel time reliability and incident duration), those performance measures are not always used to report system performance or to manage the operations of agencies.

New funding sources will also be necessary to replace shrinking gas tax revenues. Not only are vehicles becoming more efficient, but also alternatively fueled vehicles reduce the correlation between vehicle miles traveled and gas consumption. Raising gas taxes is also politically unpalatable in most locations. One potential method of generating revenue is pricing, which includes both traditional fixed rate tolling and other applications such as congestion pricing zones. TMC systems may be integrated with the payment systems and variable toll displays, increasing requirements for system reliability and security.

Vehicle-based systems are also on the horizon for influencing TMC operations. Car manufacturers, governments, and research institutions are collaborating on a range of connected vehicle technologies. The vehicle-to-infrastructure initiatives, such as Road Weather Management, are most likely to just begin to influence TMC operations within the next 10 years. Factory-installed vehicle sensors that continuously collect data on vehicle conditions such as headlights and windshield wipers, along with measurements on ambient temperature, pressure, and humidity, will provide accurate and real-time information to help TMCs reduce the number and severity of weather-related traffic incidents. The manner in which drivers and vehicles interact with the roadways could begin to change near the end of the 10 year window, as various levels of autonomous vehicle technologies begin to get introduced and “super cruise control systems” and other robotic technologies gain market penetration. Finally, the proliferation of technology resident and carried into the vehicle has set up a scenario where distracted driving will likely continue to be a concern.

Primary groupings of the technology trends (in no particular order) are as follows:

  • Data and Communications;
  • Connected Vehicle;
  • Agency Processes;
  • Control Technologies; and
  • Traveler Information.

Highlights of each category are described in the sections below.

2.2 Data and Communications Category

Within the data category, a major trend is the rise of third-party involvement in ITS data. Third parties not only provide a wide and varied stream of data to TMC operators, they also consume data provided by TMCs for their own applications and distribution channels. This requires defining institutional responsibilities for the public and private sectors, such as requirements for quality control of data. In the longer term, the involvement of third parties in the traditional TMC roles of collecting and distributing data may lead to a shift in focus of TMC operations to a more exclusive traffic management role. However, TMCs will need to continue collecting data that is not of commercial interest, such as vehicle volume and weight data used in pavement and bridge management. A common theme in ITS data is the need to process, manage, analyze, validate, display, share, and store the increasing diversity, content, and coverage of data streams, including those representing the driver perspective. As multi-sourced data is made available and shared across agencies, the need arises for increased data storage and archiving capability. A potential solution is to rely on cloud servers for data management. Eventually, high-capacity, low latency, mesh or wide-area networks will provide virtually ubiquitous coverage that could be leveraged by TMC operators and others to collect and distribute data. With the development of next- generation wireless networks comes the opportunity for efficient data transfer and increased geographic coverage of rural freeways and arterials.

2.2.1 Key Development: Increasing involvement of private third-parties in ITS data

As third-party vendors continue to provide traffic data and distribute more traveler information, the TMC role may be focusing more on traffic management and less on travel information distribution directly to the public. More consideration of the relationship between the public and private sectors will be necessary, such as if the public sector has responsibility to review or vouch for data provided to third parties.

2.2.2 Key Development: Increasing diversity of sources, coverage, types, and quantity of data (including from third-party sources)

Implications include the need to process, manage, analyze, validate, display, share, and store data. Developments in communications, both ubiquitous private sector low-latency mesh coverage and connected vehicle, should lead to virtually inexhaustible data supplies. Advances in solar power and battery technology coupled with wireless communication enable much less expensive installation of roadside devices; Power over Ethernet (PoE) also simplifies wiring. Many of the new data sources will be from the traveler perspective. TMCs will need to manage the incoming raw data to provide operators with enough, but not too much, useful intelligence to complete tasks.

2.2.3 Key Development: Developments in next-generation wireless communications

Leased wireless service, including 4G/LTE and beyond to 5G, will provide increasing data rates, geographic coverage, and network control features. 5G networks will likely focus on intelligent networks, which will make communicating with a large number of field devices and mobile devices more stable and reliable. TMCs should be aware of spectrum allocation and increasing interference in some bands.

2.2.4 Key Development: Increasing coverage of rural freeways and arterials

Implications to TMC operations include opportunities for additional operations coverage with additional operator responsibilities, including traffic signal system management and more interfaces with local agencies. This could also provide an opportunity for TMCs to access private sector data on rural corridors. There is not a need for information as precise as in the urban areas for urban applications. However, there is a need to know any major slowdowns or impacts, or be able to align congestion/queues on rural corridors with incident information will help organizations react appropriately.

2.3 Connected Vehicle Category

Trends in connected vehicle technologies that specifically affect TMC operations are more likely to be seen in Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication (and not as much with vehicle-to-vehicle communication). With the rapidly increasing ability of next-generation wireless networks, satellite radio, and Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), the way in which drivers, vehicles, and the roadway each interact is changing rapidly. During the next 10 years an increasing number of vehicles will be able to serve as moving data probes that provide real-time information on instrument diagnostics, traffic conditions, and changing weather patterns. This more robust collected data will be valuable to TMCs for managing roadway incidents as well as in providing more accurate travel-time information. As automakers become increasingly aware of drivers desires to stay continuously connected to the world and their social environment, they are designing flexible built-in interfaces that will support a variety of external mobile devices that are brought into the vehicle. The ability for seamless integration between the vehicle and personal mobile communication devices will open the door for third-party application developers to create new innovative traffic applications that will communicate important traffic safety information and traveler updates directly to the interior vehicle display.

In late 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to make a “recommendation” on the future of connected vehicle technologies, which could result in federal regulations imposing a timeline for automakers to install connected vehicle communications technology in vehicles. However, until such a decision takes place, the future of connected vehicle technology implementation rests largely on market forces and whether or not a significant “pull” emerges from consumers. During the next 10 years, there is anticipation that something will change from what we have today, and most likely it will begin with applications being developed that consumers perceive as beneficial either from a safety, information, convenience, or entertainment perspective. Those applications could come from automakers, mobile device providers, and/or third-party vendors. However, the rapid advancement of the “App” isn’t going to end with the current state-of-the-practice, which leads to deducing that additional applications will become available.

While the uncertainty surrounding vehicle-to-vehicle communication and hand-held device communications continues to percolate, so too does uncertainty surrounding vehicle-to-infrastructure communication with no current regulatory or legislative demands on the horizon. Left to their own schedule, will road management agencies (state, county, municipal) perceive enough benefit to warrant the installation and operations/maintenance of road side communication devices compatible with in-vehicle communication devices? Will the roll-out confine itself to urban applications predominantly? Will the many questions surrounding data ownership, consumer privacy, and legal/liability be answered during the next 10 years?

For the purposes of this project, assume that during the next 10 years agencies will begin to see implementation of connected vehicle communications and applications, but not on a widespread or nationwide basis during the 10-year window.

2.3.1 Key Development: Seamless integration between vehicle and personal Smartphone and other mobile communication devices

Although widespread adoption is expected to be at least 10 years in the future, implications to TMC operations from seamless integration between vehicle and personal communication devices include a change in operations dealing with the resulting new and expanded data sources. TMCs will need to incorporate capabilities that allow them to utilize new concepts for third-party traffic-related application development that relays information through in-vehicle displays or through in-vehicle or mobile device applications. As mobile communication devices shift mode to mode with the traveler, the amount of data collected and aggregated will lead to an increased focus on integrated multi-modal operations.

2.4 Agency Processes Category

Good agency processes will facilitate the ability to leverage opportunities, whereas shortsighted or shackling processes will allow external influences to hamper the ability for agencies to operate effectively. Funding, and the ability to get funding, is a key way to allow agencies to leverage opportunities. Performance measurement is an important process that allows TMC managers to know how they are performing so they can improve their performance. It also sheds light on the beneficial things TMC managers do so they can more effectively position themselves for funding. The proliferation of data described above is a resource for measuring many aspects of operations performance.

In general, governmental budgets are expected to be stable or shrink over the next decade. As new decision makers, such as investors, bonding agencies, and private sector operators and providers, are added to the picture, TMC managers will need to understand and manage occasional competing priorities, which may include revenue versus traffic management. TMC managers may also be directed to implement innovative funding mechanisms such as tolling and pricing as well as public-private partnerships. Public-private partnerships can include outsourcing TMC operations for operators and maintenance staff as a way to reduce cost and enhance existing services like remote-access capabilities. Private partners can be responsible for the technical and organizational issues that go with inter-agency data sharing while TMCs can assist with the quality assurance aspect.

Another way to potentially increase effectiveness while reducing costs is joint operations of TMCs. This trend is an approach to resolving technical challenges including developing and integrating systems to implementing industry standard products, services, and processes.

2.4.1 Key Development: Toll and other Pricing operations in TMCs

Implications to TMC operations because of pricing programs include increased demands on travel time forecasting to support congestion-based pricing and the need for higher communications reliability to support fee collection. The philosophy on setting and managing toll rates is more proactive-predictive than with fixed or static rates. If rates are set or managed at the TMC, operators will need special training in the philosophy behind rate setting and in using the software.

2.4.2 Key Development: Accelerating ITS system design and implementation cycles

Design and implementation should aim to be service-oriented, quick, and nimble. Strategies for avoiding installation of obsolete equipment under traditional design-bid-build contracts include a “best value” procurement method, ITS-specific contracts, open and flexible specifications, use of interoperability standards, flexible ITS architectures, and adaptable software. It would be beneficial for TMCs to establish a system to define data for exchange and have a method for compensating for differences in data coding.

2.4.3 Key Development: TMC Operator and Manager Responsibilities Not Being Aligned with Civil Service Classifications

While there may be only so much influence that the TMC manager can have on agency job classifications and descriptions, the difference between the skills needed in TMC personnel and traditional agency positions is becoming a serious issue in many agencies. Part of the challenge is aligning pay scales with the actual skills and technical qualifications. There is a need to repeatedly involve agency human resources departments that are usually disconnected from TMCs and operations.

2.5 Control Technologies Category

The heart of trends in control technologies is expanding the capabilities of the TMC (operator and automated) to manage traffic. The term Active Transportation and Demand Management (ATDM) covers a mindset of being responsive to demands and conditions as much as possible, using all the tools available. As the type and coverage of data expands into unprecedented realms, equally innovative analysis and resulting control strategies will revolutionize the scope and effectiveness of TMC operations. New holistic algorithms will drive those applications.

One more emerging tool already being used in some areas is Integrated Corridor Management (ICM); multiple agencies collaborate across modes and facilities in a related network, such as parallel freeways and arterials or a major freeway across state lines. The collaboration can take many forms including joint operations of TMCs. As communications costs fall and the range of data coverage increases, arterial management is expected to be a growth area for TMC operations. The number of Adaptive Signal Control Technology (ASCT) systems in the United States has grown exponentially in the past few years. Additional emerging trends in control technologies include Active Traffic Management (ATM) and Weather Related Transportation Management (WRTM). WRTM has recently proven useful not just in northern states subject to snow, but extreme weather such as hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes that unfortunately are expected to become more common as the climate changes.

Decision support systems and increased automation of TMC functions can increase the efficiency of TMC operations staff in analyzing and responding appropriately. Advanced algorithms, decision-support systems, advanced computing, and secure, high-bandwidth networking, cloud computing, and voice communications allow for the increased development of remote operator interfaces and virtual TMCs. As pressure mounts to reduce costs, technology may allow operators to be located anywhere – in a TMC, in an agency office, or at home – and still be a fully functional operator of the agency’s transportation management system.

2.5.1 Key Development: Active Transportation and Demand Management (ATDM) – a mindset using a set of tools to be responsive to demands and conditions

ATDM is a philosophy of proactively managing the transportation network in real-time. A key feature is that it includes managing both the transportation infrastructure functions and the demand created by travelers. It uses real-time and archived data, with the help of predictive tools, to achieve or maintain system performance as illustrated in Figure 2. As envisioned by FHWA, it entails a cycle of implementing dynamic actions, monitoring the system, assessing the system performance, and evaluating and recommending dynamic actions.

The ATDM tools that can be integrated into this process include traditional TMC capabilities as well as emerging programs such as managed lane use, speed harmonization, and dynamic parking pricing. The ATDM mindset and its associated tools work together to advance agency goals such as efficiency and safety.

Until in-vehicle messaging is ubiquitous, which is beyond the 10-year horizon of this project, agencies will need to build, operate, and maintain significant amounts of field infrastructure to implement many of the ATDM tools.

Figure 2: ATDM Approach

Graphic - A circular graphic with Active Transportation and Demand Management in the center, and four different actions surrounding it: “Monitor System” leads to “Assess System Performance” which lead to “Evaluate and Recommend Dynamic Actions”, which leads to “Implement Dynamic Actions”, which leads back to “Monitor System”.
(Source: FHWA-HOP, 2012)

2.5.2 Key Development: Launch of Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) initiatives

ICM strategies coordinate and integrate a range of independent traffic management systems for improved monitoring and optimization of all corridor operations within a network, across regions, and state lines.

2.5.3 Key Development: Arterial management, including adaptive signal control

As software and communication costs have come down, many smaller agencies have been able to implement central software with capabilities once reserved for cities and state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) mostly on freeways. Arterial management systems rely heavily on properly trained operators. Increased coverage areas will give TMCs increased responsibilities with a greater potential for positive impact. Along with this comes an increased responsibility for managing driver expectations on arterial travel time estimates.

2.5.4 Key Development: Emergence of decision-support systems

TMCs are beginning to integrate traffic conditions, weather, and emergency information into decision support tools that aid TMC operators in determining the most effective traffic management plan. This includes an increased efficiency and accuracy when managing traffic conditions and traveler delays.

2.5.5 Automation of TMC functions

Implications to TMC operations include the possibility of a reduced need for low-skilled operator staff and improved efficiency of automated weather systems that can facilitate traveler safety when responding to special weather events.

2.6 Traveler Information Category

The single most profound technological trend in traveler information may be the explosion of social media. The individualized two-way communication presents a greatly enhanced user experience, but requires changes in the way that agencies and other information providers have traditionally operated. For example, some agencies have strict procedures involving public information officers and communications staff that would apply to social media, but not to dynamic message signs.

Another fundamental consideration for TMC operators over the next decade is their evolving role in providing traveler information. As third parties produce and distribute information, TMC operators may shift focus to areas that are not commercially viable, but still demonstrate the value provided by their agencies. TMCs will need to focus on providing information that can’t be collected directly by third parties such as construction, emergency response, special event, and disaster recovery information. TMC operators will be central in providing this information to third parties for broad distribution or continuing to provide it through agency sponsored channels, such as Smartphone applications, where the information is not commercially viable or commercial interests do not distribute the information to enough populations.

TMCs will need to focus on providing information that can’t be collected directly by third parties such as construction, emergency response, special event, and disaster recovery information.

TMCs will also have the opportunity to receive and integrate new user-generated data types, made available from crowd-sourced mobile data, to provide enhanced traveler information. TMC operators can also leverage technologies being developed for traveler information, such as predictive analysis and forecasting, to enable higher quality proactive management. A critically important trend is integration between handheld devices and vehicles. This integration allows rapidly changing handheld device technology to become the core communications and application platform for the vehicle. TMCs, with or without third-party collaboration, could potentially obtain vehicle probe data (not only location, but environmental conditions output from the vehicle’s own computer). TMCs could also communicate more directly with vehicles, from providing dynamic route guidance to active traffic management lane controls and speed recommendations or limits.

2.6.1 Key Development: In the future, in-vehicle applications will be provided through handheld devices that interface with the car rather than built-in systems that become outdated over the lifespan of the vehicle.

A wide variety of constantly changing third party and agency apps have the potential to reach drivers in a convenient and safe manor not constrained by the lifespan of the average vehicle. The new interfaces could include screens larger than Smartphones, heads-up displays projected on the windshield, and voice integration.

Eventually, active traffic management currently conveyed through expensive roadway infrastructure could be distributed directly to drivers, thus increasing coverage and reducing costs.

2.6.2 Key Development: Predictive analysis and forecasting

This includes the ability for TMC operations to become less reactive and more proactive and increasing the overall performance of the traffic network. Using an Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) allows motorists to make better travel decisions in the pre-trip or en-route stage through real-time and predictive information. This is especially useful for weather-related traveler forecasts.