TECHNOLOGY AND TRANSPORTATION
An interesting magazine came across my desk the other day. It is called Thinking Highways, and it covers the fascinating field of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). On the surface, ITS is basically the endeavor to increase the safety and efficiency of the transportation system overall by integrating communications, information and logistics technologies. However, as I started to thumb through it, I got the sense there was a lot more going on here.
The cover said this was “The Hearts and Minds Issue,” followed by, “Is winning over the public the key to mainstream ITS success?” This was a curious choice of words, and maybe an acknowledgement that the public would be fearful, or at least skeptical, if it knew what ITS really was. I opened the front cover. Next to the table of contents I saw a full page ad for Redflex Traffic Systems, one of the leading purveyors of red-light camera mayhem. Is this what ITS is all about? A few pages later, I read a column about Google’s driverless car and the company’s lobbying efforts to pass enabling legislation to get the cars on the road (it was pretty compelling stuff).
Next up, I read a piece from the CEO of a tolling consulting firm, extolling how toll roads can boost economic recovery. Not much to note, but the writer concluded with “…many governments are expanding the opportunity for future toll road development.” Thanks for the warning!
I then flipped to a lengthy opinion piece promoting wider deployment of Automated Traffic Management (ATM) systems. These “systems” include technologies like metered ramps, variable message signage, dynamic route diversion and variable speed limits. To facilitate more ATM, the writer advocated the greater use of data “aggregated from individual vehicles by sampling their locations and speeds either by sampling their GPS equipment, cellular phones, or Bluetooth signals.” In Los Angeles, parking meters send out electronic signals to the parking police who have hand-held receivers, which allows them to already know where and what meter has expired and who should get the ticket. The writer also lamented the limited acceptance of ATM in the United States and advocated a tighter focus on marketing and branding to win over the public. Might this explain the earlier “Hearts and Minds Issue” reference? Would motorists embrace ATM if they understood the privacy implications of collecting all that information?
Three other articles in this magazine’s “Innovation” section revealed even more to me – the titles tipped me off: “Recognition Handbook,” was one, “Altered Images,” was another, and then there was, “The Science of Seeing.” All of these articles touted new developments in Machine Vision, the blanket term for the key components of modern traffic management: cameras, connections, computers and illumination. To be fair, the authors described the use of this technology in useful applications, like traffic monitoring and control, incident response, and vehicle assistance, but the most pervasive theme was the key role machine vision plays in today’s “Big Brother” style of enforcement. Here are a few quotes from these articles:
“For automatic vehicle identification, lane-use and occupancy monitoring, license plate capture, red-light running and speed violation enforcement, video tolling and weigh-in-motion… high resolution cameras consistently return the quality of images needed upon which those applications rely.”
“When a previously recorded (license) plate is seen by any other interconnected camera, the vehicle’s average speed is calculated over the known distance.”
“…high performance machine vision cameras can offer accuracy improvements, especially in high speed ALPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition) applications, while also reducing overall system costs.”
Finally, a few more pages in, I found a “case study” titled, “Taking Safety as Red,” by Charles Territo of American Traffic Solutions, a vendor for red-light cameras. It was mostly standard camera company propaganda, but significant by its inclusion in the editorial mix. Perhaps my perceptions of ITS will evolve as I learn more. For now, ITS appears to be a highly sophisticated, highly technical practice that offers the potential for many beneficial innovations. What was missing in all this was an acknowledgement that those innovations come at a cost: a loss of control over how we choose to drive and the loss of privacy while we do so. The impact of ITS on motorists (for better or worse) will only increase. That’s why it’s critical for all of us to become more involved. The NorthAmerican Transportation Association (NTA) and National Motorist Association’s grassroots lobbying efforts will continue as our primary means of affecting public policy on ITS.
TOP 10 CITIES FOR SPEEDING TICKETS
Every day, law enforcement hands out an estimated 100,000 tickets resulting in about $6 billion in fines annually. According to a recent report from www.trapster.com and www.CNBC.com, it seems a large portion of these tickets come from only 10 major cities in America. The U.S. cities that issue the most speeding tickets are: 10) Austin, TX; 9) Colorado Springs, CO; 8) Chicago, IL; 7) Orlando, FL; 6) St. Louis, MO; 5) Washington, DC; 4) Las Vegas, NV; 3) Houston, TX; 2) Los Angeles, CA; and the Number 1 spot goes to New York City, NY – apparently, the Big Apple has a worm in it! With heavy traffic, kamikaze taxi drivers, pedi-cabs, pedestrians, one-way streets, and cars looking for impossible-to-find street parking, it all adds up to the perfect storm for the cops in New York. The city also has hundreds of red-light cameras to augment the police efforts. Drive carefully, and avoid the hefty tickets. If you don’t know,www.trapster.com is a website comprised of 15 million drivers that work together to alert others of police activity and driving hazards. The company has compiled a list of the most red-light camera and speed-trap-happy cities by analyzing the number of reports posted by users over a 30-day period.