Traffic Signal Priority pilot an invitation for more

Giving traffic signal priority to emergency services, public transport and freight traffic at five intelligent traffic control systems: it mainly creates consent and several points for improvement. That is the conclusion from the traffic signal priority pilot with iTLC, which was held in and around the town of Deventer in the eastern part of the Netherlands in the first half of 2019.

During this pilot, emergency services on their way to an accident were automatically given the green light at junctions with an iTLC. Other participants in the pilot, regional public transport companies and a transport and logistics company, were given priority over other road users where possible. During the three-month pilot period, 200 to 400 experienced drivers drove around with the Talking Traffic priority app (TT app) in their vehicles once or several times.

The parties involved are largely positive about the pilot, interviews show. Drivers of participating public transport buses are already familiar with priority facilitation based on short-range radio and say that being given priority at iTLCs is very similar. The police, however, have so far not had a service that gives them the green light. For them, the Talking Traffic service seems to be adding noticeably great value.

Several findings from the evaluation:

  • Talking Traffic opens up a new world for the parties involved and, thanks to data exchange with vehicles, it offers more possibilities than we realised so far.
  • Initially, absolute priority was given only to ambulances and not to the fire brigade but from a software point of view, that was resolved in minutes.
  • For the vehicles of the emergency services, the increased safety of having a 'green light’ instead of a 'red light’ undoubtedly is the biggest gain. After all, other road users are ‘stopped’ at the junction, which means there is a strongly reduced chance of collisions with emergency vehicles that need to get their destination fast.
  • To the transport and logistics company, the potential of Talking Traffic is evident, although it was not always clear during the pilot if and when their trucks could have priority.
  • Cloud service providers would like to be able to upload the entire route of emergency services beforehand so that all relevant junctions ‘can be put on green’ for them in time and other road users on that entire route can be warned in time, thus preventing any panic situations.

Tips for a next pilot:

  • Be clear in advance about the expectations: drivers do not always consider a reduction of the waiting time a priority.
  • Offering insight into data that is exchanged is preferred.
  • The combination of short-distance radio and Talking Traffic may lead to confusion during priority facilitation; consider switching off short-distance radio.

Opinion about the Talking Traffic service:

  • Emergency services were given top priority at junctions with iTLCs. Other traffic is halted. This appears to strongly contribute to safety.
  • The logistical service provider used an additional smartphone on its dashboard which had the Talking Traffic app installed. The extra feedback drivers received was not considered annoying or distracting but rather as positive as it enables them to anticipate better.

Assessment of statements

The respondents are very positive about the statements ‘The service contributes to my safety’, ‘Thanks to the service/app, I was given the green light faster’ and ‘The service contributes to the safety of fellow road users’. The statements ‘I’m satisfied with this new service/technology’ and ‘I would recommend the service to others’ were also widely supported. Within the pilot, the collaboration, mutual data exchange and the degree of feedback are also praised.

Points for attention

The data in the app about Signal Phase and Timing at traffic lights gives an alternating picture before it stabilizes in line with the road situation. This is caused by the great dynamics of the controls in iTLCs in the Netherlands; a special expert group has already been set up at a national level to look into this.

Participants would like to know about the follow-up to the pilot. They would also like to be able to ‘look ahead’ a bit further and use the data on a route level. At the request of the managers, the equipment on participating public transport buses and emergency vehicles had been hidden from view and was not visible to the drivers. The reason for this was to avoid any additional distractions. Some participants wonder if it would not be better to do show drivers the information, also because there is a need for information about the approach speed to hit the green wave.

According to Vincent Habers, senior advisor of ITS on behalf of Talking Traffic, the pilot in Deventer has been of major importance. ‘The great amount of enthusiasm of the relevant Deventer road manager and managers and drivers of ambulances, the fire brigade, police, transport company and public transport companies has yielded a lot of valuable learning points for the continued roll-out of iTLCs and priority facilitation. Talking Traffic has already been able to ‘redeem’ it in other priority pilots that have started in various places in the Netherlands since. And thanks to Deventer, Habers stresses, prioritising with iTLCs has entered a new phase. Habers: ‘The best indicator of the pilot’s success in Deventer and all subsequent locations is the lack of an end: Talking Traffic and prioritising with iTLCs is the new normal!’