The transformation is afoot: How the DfT is helping roads go digital

Dominic Browne

Work is progressing in central and local government to standardise highways and transport digital systems and build national guidance, as well as pan-European frameworks.

Among the key bodies spearheading this drive are the Department for Transport (DfT), the Transport Systems Catapult (now part of the Connected Places Catapult) and the Transport Technology Forum, as well as a host of local pilot schemes around the country.

More than 30 local pilot projects under five workstreams are taking place, which will help provide the practical research and raw experience the DfT will use to formulate frameworks and guidance on connected, automated, ITS and data systems.

In a speech to the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) in Blackpool this month, Darren Capes, the seconded ITS policy lead at the DfT, outlined some of this key work, designed to help the UK stay at the forefront of digital and connected transport and highways.

Discussing the importance of the pilot projects, Mr Capes said: ‘Fundamentally for DfT this is about creating guidance; some of these projects are quite small – we give £100,000 here and £80,000 there. We are interested in the guidance that comes out of the projects, problems that people overcame and the way they get around the issues of delivering innovation.

‘We are trying to de-risk this as a policy and investment strategy. Fundamentally this is about data how we harvest it, how we share it, how we provide it to users.

‘These groups are starting to provide a centre around the key areas, so others can join. The Transport Technology Forum, which has existed in various guises for a number of years, is ultimately going to be the main conduit between ourselves in DfT and the community, to talk about the difficulties in delivering technology.’

Local authority Connected ITS (C-ITS) – the pilot projects

• Signal phase and timing – completing

• Smart parking – completing

• Connected information and technologies – completing

• Asset management – in delivery phase

• Opening data – just starting

A number of national projects are also being developed by the DfT and the Connected Places Catapult to help drive progress.

Among the most important is the Local Authority Mobility Platform (LAMP); an initiative ‘to promote a single platform to allow data sharing across all the different systems you have in your authorities, including areas such as urban traffic management control, parking data and asset management,' Mr Capes said.

‘It is starting to build common systems because that is how we will develop more effective data sharing. The mobility platform is about developing a framework about how to do that. At the moment it happens in a very ad hoc way because there are no standards or guidance, the mobility platform will set those standards.’

Another key project is the National Access Point. Mr Capes said every nation in the EU is developing a National Access Point to help create a ‘single repository for transport data’, which will drive vehicle to infrastructure deployments and services.

He argued that in the future the engineering of roads and vehicles will be much more closely aligned as cars will need to be able to ‘read’ the road.

As part of this, the issue of network access was central and the DfT is working on a system to allow the digitisation of Traffic Regulation Orders (TRO). Mr Capes said this was ‘crucial for the operation of connected and autonomous vehicles and advanced guidance, route finding and parking systems'.

The DfT is working with the standards bodies such as BSI and other EU nations on this agenda, and already has an XML scheme available in draft form. Government will be looking for volunteer local authorities to trial the system soon, Mr Capes said.

Mr Capes revealed that his area of the DfT was also writing a state of the nation report for its sector, which would be available soon and would focus on the learning from the C-ITS pilot projects.

‘This report will examine the highlights from a wide range of C-ITS projects funded in the UK involving local authorities.

'The focus is about infrastructure and primarily DfT-led projects, including C-ITS and A2/M2 [a connected trial on the strategic road network] and the end report recipients and interested stakeholders will include local authority managers and senor officers, OEMS, other government departments, suppliers especially new entrants, with the aim of building UK supply chain capacity.’

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