The ITS World Congress 2021 finally closed its doors on Friday, 15 October, in Hamburg after a record 15,000 registrations. During the week, participants experienced future mobility now in the high level programme and the technical sessions, demonstrations and through the riveting exhibition. There was an impressive list of high-level speakers who discussed the six key themes highlighted throughout the Congress: Automated & Connected driving, Mobility as a Service, Intelligent Infrastructure, Goods journey from ports to customers, New Services from new technologies and Solutions from Cities and Citizens. 

Automation and connectivity

The first topic on Automation and connectivity had the most significant presence, emphasising the actual deployment and take-up of services. In general, Automation receives much attention. The higher levels of automated driving and its support systems addressed the dynamic distance assistance and infrastructure supported Adaptive Cruise Control throughout the week. Aspects of safety and security were prominent, such as safety assurance, risk estimation, cybersecurity, and pedestrian safety. Additionally to the special interest sessions, several papers explored the differences in legal approaches to CAV technology within different countries and examined the future role of laws.

Today, cooperative ITS has definitely moved forward. The ongoing discussions address integrating day-to-day business, stakeholders, lessons learned in deployment, and the impacts on a smart transport system. Elements including digital twins and roadside and cloud architectures were also recognised as important building blocks of smart transport. By the end of the week, Cooperative ITS had moved from large-scale testing to widespread use, so the importance to road authorities and operators for improved safety and efficiency is also increasing.

By contrast, highly automated public transport seems stuck. Successful pilots of automated shuttle buses, primarily on dedicated infrastructure, have not been adopted. Municipalities and transport companies seem reluctant to operate regular services. Why is establishing an operational system so much more than running a pilot?. The road to commercial automated vehicles is not just technology, and it will gain lots of attention in the coming years.

Mobility on Demand, Mobility as a Service

The second popular topic on MaaS has been discussed at the World Congresses since 2014, and this year, it proved to be a trendy one with several sessions focused on:

  • Impact on travel behaviour
  • Equity and inclusivity
  • Standardisation
  • Business models
  • Impacts on the environment

We heard about several new ideas, including a framework for MaaS scheme indicators; user-centred trusts – a novel data governance framework; and last but not least, an improved algorithm to solve the dial-a-ride problem of integrating autonomous vehicles into conventional public transport.

Sessions and papers, and a vigorous discussion at the ITS National Associations meeting showed that overall progress has been steady, but many non-technology challenges inhabit it:

  • The complexity of bringing together many different stakeholders in many organisations
  • A lack of trust and willingness to share data between and among the sector actors
  • Managing public subsidies/revenues is not easy when the value chain includes both public and commercial actors
  • Incumbent transport service suppliers trying to block the launch of new ventures
  • Public bodies taking too long to update ‒ or remove ‒ regulations to respond to technology developments

Looking ahead, there are signs that public authorities and industry partners accept the need to develop the overall organisation, adapt the product development to include greater collaboration on regulations, and encourage a more agile leadership.

Goods journey from ports to customers.

The third topic on freight and port has often been the smallest topic at Congresses, partly because the subject matter is so broad and partly due to the supply side, which has many smaller organisations. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting all daily lives across the planet, this topic has taken centre stage. Think about it, transporting the masks you are wearing today, or supplies of vaccines, or the food delivered to grocery stores or your local take-away, freight and logistics and ITS cannot work without each other.

During the Congress, freight and port saw the best response to the Call for Proposals and the lively sessions, including the first-ever Global Forum, which revealed how the sector is steadily becoming digitalised and connected. However, it remains a fragile system overall: the parts, loading from origin to ship, ship management, port internal management, port hinterland, delivery fleet management, ‘last mile’ delivery – all of which do not always connect well. The preparation of these connections and speeding up the development of open platforms will continue to focus on collaborative work.

Intelligent infrastructure

The fifth topic on intelligent infrastructure is a relatively recent concept reflecting significant advances in ITS technologies. There was much interest in artificial intelligence, machine learning, new types of sensors and algorithms to generate the intelligence to support network operation. Connected vehicles and communications were big again, with connections to road vehicles and water traffic, rail, and UAS. During the week, vulnerable road users became a topic of much interest, especially the potential for C-ITS use cases for pedestrians and cyclists:

There were relatively few papers and sessions on Electric vehicle charging infrastructure, digital twins, cyber security, and more papers on trials than technical innovations. There were some exciting innovations, for example:

  • Greenlight optimal speed advice for buses to incorporate waiting at bus stops
  • Directional speakers to provide voice alerts to drivers
  • Simulation of routing strategies at an industrial park using A M devices

Overall, different countries are at different stages using the intelligent infrastructure. Some countries are cautiously trialling use cases that they think will benefit them. In contrast, other countries are past trials and showcasing the wider world’s impacts, such as improved user interaction. However, there is still a chicken-egg situation ‒ operators are not investing in smart systems as too few vehicles are ready to use them, and drivers are not being made aware of the benefits, so they are not buying them.

New services from new technologies.

There has been an intriguing shift of the fifth topic on new services from new technologies. As one of the smallest topics, it reflected the current trends of using technology to improve existing services and applications rather than the creation of new services.

There were numerous Business Presentations with the most popular theme (also for papers and sessions), developments in Urban Air Mobility. In general, the emphasis was concepts and business models for mobility in the third dimension and integrating ground and air traffic management. New approaches to Traffic Management and Tolling using AI and Deep Learning focused on managing signals adaptively while modelling, simulation, monitoring and incident detection were all presented with innovative solutions.

Furthermore, data use was seen as an enabler rather than new technology or service with several discussions on approaches to sharing and managing data and the need for a collaborative business environment for sharing sector data. The newest presentations stressed the need to link to behavioural and social impacts and explore how to incorporate future mobility needs and MaaS thinking into town and city planning, perhaps using new planning approaches and tools.

Cities and citizens solutions

The last topic on cities and citizens solutions saw some new thinking on designing policies. Most research and technical papers focused on hardware and software solutions to reduce vehicular congestion but, in general, not by diverting motorists to other travel modes. A number also addressed technology innovation to gather and analyse air quality and vehicle emissions data in order to support decisions on air quality-related goals. Road user charging has been a familiar topic for years. Still, the discussion featured real-time distance pricing, and time-based charging is being seriously studied in Hong Kong to address their circulation and parking problems.

We heard about innovative traffic distribution methods such as real-time information dissemination, dynamic modelling, and incentives to nudge drivers into using roads or periods they might not otherwise consider. Dynamic incentivised trip making is an emerging thought; the challenge lies in how such a system convinces drivers it’s worth their while to change their time or route.

Papers and sessions discussed the components of a ‘smart city’ solution which suggests that implementing a true Smart City vision is not yet realised. The tools that were identified as potentially contributing to smarter cities included making data-informed decisions that drive measurable outcomes, sing dashboard tools to show where problem areas are to help target solutions, and the need for planners, especially in cities, to do more to understand what is happening ‘on the ground’.

An ideal Smart City would presumably rely on multimodal solutions with travellers using technologies to suit particular trips. Interestingly, most papers focused on managing cars, traffic, and congestion with not much emphasis on mode shift.

ERTICO City Moonshot project, for example, aims to engage, inspire and empower cities by discussing their smart mobility challenges. While focusing on data sharing; Mobility as a Service; and policy priorities on sustainability and the role of transport. ERTICO City Moonshot is working to create a unique knowledge database. With more than 300 interviewed cities, the project summarises the key findings, including cities needs and interests in how they wish to shape and improve their mobility systems. With a share of the global population living in cities and megacities, the results will have a long-lasting and tangible impact and make our cities smarter by improving the way we live and move.

It is important to remember, as shared by Ms Obama during the Opening Ceremony, that mobility is unevenly distributed across the globe, but society gains are made through knowledge exchange. In addition, some difficult problems are still to be solved, including behaviour. To have a better ecosystem,  ‘personal‘ ego systems need to go. Smaller projects with exciting new ideas are being developed and implemented rapidly everywhere. However, the more significant, more ambitious projects with potentially larger impacts are slower moving because they are often constrained by excessive concerns on regulation, integration, competition, and collaboration – none of these are technology barriers.

In conclusion, despite COVID-19, the road is more travelled than that of the ITS World Congress is Singapore. The road to a mobility world must focus on more Accessible; Equitable; Affordable; Has zero fatalities; Has zero emissions; Is resilient, and is seamless across Continents.  There are still the ITS Congresses in Toulouse and Los Angeles next year to continue our joint efforts in moving the needle of smart mobility.