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Intelligent transport systems

Technology group:

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) apply information and communication technologies to vehicles and to transport infrastructure. This may increase the reliability, safety, efficiency and quality of transport systems. An increase in the efficiency of the transport system usually also leads to a reduction in associated GHG emissions. Some ITS applications are already being used in traveller information systems and electronic road pricing. More advanced systems for traffic management, eco-driver assistance, intermodal freight management, and public transportation are being developed and demonstrated around the globe. Barriers for implementation include technological complexity, capital costs and privacy protection.


Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) apply information and communication technologies to vehicles and to transport infrastructure. This may increase the reliability, safety, efficiency and quality of transport systems. ITS has a supporting role for the successful implementation of transport emission reduction strategies such as low-carbon fuels, energy efficient vehicles, public and non-motorised transport, mostly by supporting a more efficient organization of the transport system. ITS can be applied to both passenger and freight transport and all modes. Examples of ITS include electronic road pricing, online travel information, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, computerised traffic signalling and automatic and eco-driver assistance. Automatic driver assistance could for example inform the driver about the ideal speed to pass the next green traffic light, whilst eco-driving systems inform the driver whether he is driving in the most fuel-efficient manner and how he can improve his driving style.

The UK Department for Transport strategy includes the following objectives for ITS (DfT, 2005):

  • Improving road network management, including road pricing.
  • Improving road safety, by reducing collisions, casualties and deaths.
  • Better travel and traveller information, helping to match supply and demand by providing better information so that travellers can make informed choices on when and how to travel.
  • Better public transport on the roads, supporting more reliable, more accessible, safer and more efficient services.
  • Supporting the efficiency of the road freight industry.
  • Reducing negative environmental impacts.
  • Supporting security, crime reduction and emergency planning measures.

Feasibility of technology and operational necessities

ITS are often technologically complex which requires careful planning and public consultation and monitoring. Barriers to implementation include:

  • High initial investments and chicken-and-egg problem, i.e. decision makers only recognize the need for investments once they experience the benefits of a fully functional ITS system.
  • Complex implementation process due to roll-out to large numbers of end-users
  • Technological complexity
  • Uncertainty regarding costs, benefits and public acceptance
  • Protection of privacy, security and legal issues
  • High data requirement for ITS operations

Status of the technology and its future market potential

Research and development of ITS has been carried out since several decades. As ITS cover a large range of technologies and systems, it is not possible to make an overall statement on market status; instead market status differs per technology. In addition, continuous technological improvement is taking place.

Electronic road pricing for congestion management is a market-ready technology which has been demonstrated in several cities; electronic tolling is being implemented in South Africa, Brazil and India (IRF, 2008), and detailed online information services for public transport are being used in many countries around the globe. More advanced and complex technologies such as cooperative systems for electronic communication between vehicles and infrastructure and among vehicles are in R&D and demonstration stage (Stevens, 2010).

As of February 2011, there is one CDM project in the pipeline that could be considered employing ITS. This project consists of implementing electronic communications-based train control in one metro line in Santiago de Chile, which allows for determining the exact position and speed of the metro trains, thereby increasing the efficiency of operation, resulting in 16 ktCO2-eq/yr emission reductions (UNFCCC, 2011).

IRF (2010) provide an overview of policy documents and actions plans on ITS.

How the technology could contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection

A recent study has shown that several in-vehicle or infrastructure ICT applications can lead to significant reductions in CO2 emissions (Klunder et al., 2009), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Potential impact of ICT applications on total road-transport CO2 emission in the EU. (PAYD: pay as you drive; (A)CC: (adaptive) cruise control) (source: Klunder et al., 2009) Climate change mitigation is however only one of the policy goals of ITS utilisation. Other important objectives are (EC, 2009):

  • Road safety improvement
  • Congestion relief
  • Increasing transport efficiency (just-in-time delivery, optimal use of roads)

Financial requirements and costs

Costs for the various ITS applications may include:

  • Investments in infrastructure, e.g. toll gantries, traffic detectors, road-side information displays and communication systems
  • Investments in vehicles, such as on-board electronic meters, GPS systems
  • Investments in travel time information systems
  • Policy implementation, including awareness campaigns
  • Operation and maintenance of the systems

The US Department of Transport (2003) has carried out a detailed analysis of cost and benefits of 16 ITS applications, including transit management systems, freeway management, arterial management and driver assistance programmes. For detailed and up to date information on costs see the ITS Knowledge centre of the US Department of Transport. IRF (2008) noted that active traffic management can be an alternative to road widening schemes at a fraction of the cost and implementation time.

The more advanced and complex technologies such as infrastructure-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-vehicle communication are costly and suffer from the chicken-and-egg problem: the first users have high costs but little benefit. The required infrastructure investments have to be planned and paid for by governments which may be reluctant to do so in an early stage of the technology.


  • IRF (International Road Federation, 2008). Intelligent Transport Systems. IRF Special Bulletin.
  • IRF (International Road Federation, 2010). Intelligent Transport Systems resources: Policy documents and action plans on ITS. Available at [[1]]
  • Klunder, G., K. Malone, J. Mak, I. Wilmink, A. Schirokoff, N, Sihvola, C. Holmén, A. Berger, R. de Lange, W. Roeterdink, E. Kosmatopoulos (2009). Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Energy Efficiency in Road Transport - Final Report. TNO report for the European Commission. [[2]]
  • EC (2009). Action Plan for the Deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in Europe. Communication from the European Commission, COM(2008) 886 final.
  • DfT (UK Department for Transport, 2005). Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). The policy framework for the roads sector. [[3]]
  • Stevens. A. (2010). Editorial. Special Issue – selected papers from the 15th World Congress on ITS. In IET Intelligent Transport Systems (4) 1, pp. 1–2.
  • UNFCCC (2011). Implementation of Communications Based Train Control system (CBTC) in Line 1, Metro of Santiago. CDM Project Design Document,
  • US Department of Transportation (2003). Intelligent Transportation Systems. Benefits and Costs. 2003 Update. [[4]]

Author affiliation:

Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), Policy Studies