NII and Intelligent Transport Systems
Just as the highway metaphor has driven the vision of advanced communications infrastructure, so also are advances in communications pushing the vision of our transportation systems future. How do these two systems interrelate? What policy issues does this relationship raise?
Over the past half-century, the U.S. highway system has advanced regional and national economic development by enhancing access to markets for goods, services, and people. It has also provided direct quality-of-life benefits by providing easier access to both work and leisure. Now the traditional model for surface transportation is reaching its limit. In many areas systems are at or beyond capacity. Building new or bigger roads is not the answer because of space and budget constraints and environmental concerns. Instead, the focus of transportation experts is now on promoting more efficient use of existing capacity. The central theme of these efforts is more efficient integration of existing transportation components through the use of information technology.
The Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program is the focal point for coordinating the development of a national ITS system. The current program was funded in 1991 under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. In the federal ITS program user services are broken down into 7 areas consisting of 29 applications (Table 1). Anticipated benefits of ITS include reduced travel time and pollution and increased traveler safety and convenience. Although there are clear public-interest benefits to ITS services, the public-sector role in ITS development will in many respects be indirect. Consistent with activity in other components of the national information infrastructure (NII), development will be a complex mix of public and private interactions.
The federal role in the development of ITS will be primarily that of an enabler, just as it is for the NII. ITS systems involving fixed facilities will initially develop locally and regionally, whereas commercial products for use in vehicles and in trip planning will be sold nationally and internationally. The Department of Transportation will need to take a leadership role in a variety of system architecture and standards development, deployment, and coordination issues to ensure that all of these systems will come together smoothly into a coherent national system. Standards will be needed to address interoperability at different layers in the ITS architecture and issues of data compatibility across systems. Data collected locally must integrate smoothly into national systems, requiring broad agreement on data definitions and coding. Local system developers will have to agree on what information is important, what it will be called, and how it will be recorded.
The standardization issues are complex relative to the traditional telecommunications environment, as they span a broader array of technologies and systems. At the same time, the environment for standardization is relatively weak. Telecom standards evolved with a common platform and a stable (indeed regulated) competitive environment, but ITS will consist of heterogeneous systems and a relatively independent set of players. As with other areas of computing and communications, players will face a conflicting set of incentives to seek standardization, including incentives to differentiate (for competitive advantage and to lock in market share) and to seek interoperability (to expand the market for services and to lower the costs for customers to migrate to their system).
Like standards development, many other aspects of ITS development and deployment will involve new and complex coordination issues. The technologies for many ITS applications have already been developed, but a variety of nontechnical issues will determine how and when these applications become widely available. Liability, intellectual property, security, privacy, and data ownership issues will all influence the commitment of private firms to deploying ITS services and the interest of users in adopting them.
Those in government and in industry responsible for planning and coordinating ITS developments recognize that some of the communications systems, such as those supporting traffic flow control and addressing emergency situations, will require real-time, quick response capability with high reliability. Such systems will probably have to be dedicated to ITS applications. At the other extreme, trip planning and many other offline applications can surely be supported by the nation's general purpose data networksthe NII. It is unclear, however, where the boundaries lie and what combination of architecture, commercial strategies, public services, and regulatory constraints will serve to define this relationship. In short, is the ITS a domain-specific application of the NII? Or is ITS a special environment whose information systems support is specialized and only loosely coupled, through data sharing, with the NII?
Intelligent Transportation Systems
The mission of the ITS program is to improve the safety, efficiency, and capacity of the country's surface transportation system through the use of information technology. The ITS program is coordinated within DOT,
bringing together each of the major program areas within the department. The systems integration and real-time information requirements of ITS include not only managing the flow of real-time information to and from individual vehicles, but also the seamless coupling of different modes of transportation. In addition, many commercial applications for consumer motorists are anticipated. These include traffic management, vehicle tracking, electronic toll collection, augmentation of driver perception, automated emergency intervention, real-time traffic and travel information, trip planning, and eventually automation of at least parts of the driving process, such as collision avoidance.
Eventually the ITS will call for a high-integrity, real-time network system. This system will take inputs from highway sensors, from vehicle global positioning system (GPS) systems, and from other information gathering systems. This information will be continuously compiled in a system of databases with a dynamic model of the local, regional, and national highway system, and will be used to provide real-time information on optimum routes, based on such factors as least time and fuel economy. Although there is a higher degree of homogeneity among ITS applications and data requirements relative to the NII, the real-time requirements, security, and scale of some parts of the ITS make it one of the most challenging NII applications.
The Government Role
Like the NII initiative of which it is a component, ITS is at the forefront of changes in how the federal government will relate to the states and the private sector. In the post-Cold War economy, agency initiatives are being driven by a new set of requirements. These include an active role for industry in project design, selection, and execution; reliance on private investment; mechanisms to ensure commercial adoption; complex management structures; and a federal role in consensus building.1 ITS fits well into this model. The ITS program, and in particular the definition of ITS technical requirements, have been developed with active participation from ITS America, a broad-based industry consortium, and with the understanding that ITS will rely heavily on private investment and state and local deployment.
The ITS program was established by Congress through the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems (IVHS) Act,2 part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. This legislation authorizes the secretary of transportation to conduct a program to research, develop, operationally test, and promote implementation of ITS systems.3 Though the secretary is authorized in these areas, it is clearly indicated in the legislation that this role is intended to be cooperative and facilitatory. The secretary is directed to seek transfer of federally owned or patented technology to the states and the private sector. The secretary is also directed to consult with the heads of the Commerce Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies, as well as to maximize the role the private sector, universities, and state and local governments in all aspects of the program.4
The management of ITS is conducted by the Joint Program Office (JPO) in the secretary of transportation's office. The JPO manages ITS activities in all areas of the department, as well as working actively to coordinate and build consensus among ITS stakeholders. As directed by ISTEA, DOT has produced a planning document, the ''IVHS Strategic PlanReport to Congress" (December 1992), outlining the program activities, roles, and responsibilities. DOT is also funding the development of a national ITS architecture. This development is being conducted by private consortia under the direction of DOT and is still in process. Currently, the architecture is loosely defined, identifying ITS system elements and estimating the communication and information requirements of each. It does not specify the technical characteristics of component interfaces that will be required for interoperability.
To examine federal policy in the development of ITS, it is perhaps easiest to break down the areas for federal activity. As ITS is broad in scope, this covers quite a bit of ground and will vary between different ITS application areas. For example, in the case of emergency fleet management, technology development will occur under a more traditional procurement model. Many traveler information services may be provided by commercial information services, and onboard capabilities will require the participation of auto manufacturers and wireless telecommunications companies. This participation could, in principle, be achieved either through market incentives or by mandating compliance.
Opportunities for federal activity in the development of ITS can be broken down into the following areas:
In pursuit of compatibility between local and regional systems, DOT has initiated the National ITS Architecture Development Program. This program was established in September 1993 and is requirements driven, based on the 29 ITS user services (see Table 1). The architecture seeks to define the systems components and component interactions for a national ITS. Given the breadth of interoperability issues related to ITS, such a high level of coordination will be necessary, but it is not without risk. Key challenges facing planners will be ensuring acceptance and conformance and designing a system that will be able to support unanticipated requirements and applications. To ensure flexibility, the architecture should be based on information requirements and interfaces, not specific technologies or the particular way in which the service is provided. For example, when placing a phone call, a user is typically indifferent to whether the call goes over copper, fiber, or any other medium, as long as basic performance standards are met.
Fulfilling these architectural guidelines will require political as well as technological prowess. It will be difficult to achieve consensus in the diverse environment of ITS developers and implementors. The most important means will be to keep the process open and participatory. This is the approach DOT has taken so far, and private-sector participation has been strong. Another opportunity to achieve conformance will be the procurement lever. To some degree, DOT will also be able to tie conformance to federal funding. However, not all local and regional implementations will receive federal funds, and while it is possible to mandate conformance as a requirement for general DOT highway funding, these funds may be shrinking and yield less influence.
Such a top-down approach is interesting to consider in contrast to other infrastructure development efforts. Part of the success of the Internet, for example, has been its ability to evolve from the middle out, to be able to run over unanticipated types of networking technology and to support unanticipated applications. The ITS application areas are highly defined at present, but technology planning is historically an inexact science, and much will rest on how willing users are to pay.
To the extent that the Highway Trust Fund constitutes a major source of federal investment that can be tied to ITS objectives, the ITS is different from the larger information infrastructure of which it is a partthe national information infrastructure. However, the states have a much bigger role in ITS than in the NII, where state roles are largely confined to telecommunications regulationsauthority that will likely be substantially curtailed in the future. So whereas the NII requires more sensitive relationships between the federal government and private industry, the ITS requires a three-way collaboration between a federal department with significant
financial resources; states with the major responsibility for both investment and operations; and private industry, without which neither level of government can realize its objectives.
ITS has also produced concerns about the abuse of personal privacy. The information gathering potential of ITS is tremendous. ITS systems may be able to identify where individuals (or at least their vehicles) are and where they have been. Who owns this information, and who will have access to it? Will there be limits on its use? Will service providers be able to sell this information to marketers?
The DOT role in ITS will differ fundamentally from the earlier DOT role in developing the federal highway system, and it anticipates challenges federal policymakers will face in other sectors in the future. Other areas of federal activity, such as environmental management, housing, health care, education, and social services, are becoming more information intensive. ITS offers a proving ground for federal efforts to coordinate the development of intelligent infrastructure. A critical factor in managing this effort will be to maximize the extent to which systems can be leveraged across sectors. If ITS can be leveraged in ways that will decrease the marginal cost of developing infrastructure for other areas, it can help to jump-start these efforts and offset or reduce ITS costs.
ITS Infrastructure Requirements
Most ITS applications have an inherent communications component, and in the minds of many, ITS brings a vision of dedicated communications networks. However, in looking at the infrastructural elements, the communications element, while pervasive, is generally not beyond the scope of anticipated NII capabilities. Instead, it appears that ITS communications requirements may be met largely through general-purpose infrastructure. Special-purpose infrastructure needed to support ITS can be broken down into five general areas:
Table 2 maps the 29 ITS applications against these five elements of required infrastructure. This chart is not perfect, as it does not recognize the changing requirements within application areas between early and advanced applications. It also does not recognize that some applications may be enhanced by access to data gathered by the traffic control application. Despite these limitations, Table 2 does point out that a significant component of ITS services may be provided through general-purpose communications infrastructure. Only two applications are identified as having a dedicated network requirementtraffic control and automated vehicle operation. In particular, the primary need for a dedicated ITS network will be for automated vehicle operation, perhaps the furthest out on the time horizon of the ITS applications. Traffic control is also identified as requiring a dedicated network because of the large proliferation of sensors that will be required in some areas. Of course, these dedicated networks may be either owned or leased by transportation agencies.
Table 2 offers a simplified but practical overview of the systems that will be required to support ITS. The Information Infrastructure Project in Harvard's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program is currently exploring this area in its project on intelligent transportation systems and the national information infrastructure. The project will lead to a workshop in July 1995 that will investigate opportunities for linkages between these initiatives, including infrastructure requirements.
The conclusion supported by Table 2 that most ITS services will not require a dedicated network is based on anticipated rather than available NII capabilities. For many applications there are a variety of potential technological solutions, including public ATM, frame relay, or SMDS networks and the Internet. The Internet is a desirable solution from cost and ubiquity perspectives but is currently lacking in speed, reliability, and security. It is now a "best-efforts" network, with no guarantee of delivery. The Internet technical community recognizes the need to move beyond best efforts service to provide a variety of quality-of-service levels consistent with the needs of different groups of users and applications.5 Efforts are under way to explore the development of quality-of-service paramaters, including a reserved bandwidth service. Similarly, a variety of systems of encryption are now being developed and tested to ensure secure communications.
In terms of communications services available today, mobile communications are virtually ubiquitous and are becoming more so. Mobile phones are virtually free today, and it would be reasonable to expect that they will soon be bundled with most new cars. Exploring the provision of basic ITS services through mobile cellular technologies may offer a low-cost means of developing and testing their marketability.
The trend so far in the development of ITS services has been dedicated private network solutions. Cost comparisons made by these early implementors have heavily favored the use of owned versus leased infrastructure. However, these estimates may not provide a balanced perspective. Analysis of owning versus outsourcing needs to consider customized rates available for multiyear contracts, as opposed to full tariffs, and anticipate the availability of advanced virtual network services. The cost differential is also being driven by the lower cost of capital faced by public agencies. One means of leveling the playing field in this area is industrial bonds, which would allow private corporations to float tax-free bonds to raise money for public sector projects.
It appears that there is considerable room for a larger open network role in provision of ITS services. Realization of this role will require active dialogue between the telecommunications community and the ITS community. A shared infrastructure approach can offer benefits beyond reduced cost. From the perspective of a national ITS program, expanding the role of public communications service providers can provide a more stable environment for the deployment of ITS services. The case for owning versus outsourcing will of course vary from project to project, depending on the proximity of the site to existing infrastructure and its value as right of way.
The debate between DOT officials and communications service providers has often painted a black-and-white picture of the ownership issue. There are possible win-win solutions that recognize the value of roadside right-of-way and explore options in trading access for bandwidth and sharing revenue from excess capacity.
In most areas, ITS networks have been procured based on a predefined architecture. Alternatively, states could purchase services rather than networks. This would allow communications service providers to determine what network architecture could most cost effectively meet the service requirements in the context of their overall business. This might also place expertise in ITS communications where it would more easily migrate to serve other areas. If the larger role in ITS network planning is undertaken by public-sector officials, the resulting expertise and learning curve benefits will remain local. If this responsibility falls more heavily on the private sector, other regions may benefit from the providers' expertise. It may also allow services to roll out consistent with underlying economics, rather than arbitrary politically defined geographic areas.
Assuring the maximum benefit from shared infrastructure opportunities will require an active role on the part of DOT and other ITS constituents in articulating ITS requirements and in participating in NII and Internet development activities. ITS has been largely absent in reports coming out of the Clinton administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force (ITTF), the focal point for federal coordination on NII activities. The IITF offers a high-level platform for DOT to articulate its ITS vision and seek integration with both federal and private-sector NII development activities.
Referring back to Table 2, the information component is a dominant infrastructural element. People, vehicles, and freight will all move across regions and ITS deployment areas and will require the integration of ITS information across these regions. Standardization of data structures will be a critical element in the success of ITS and needs to be addressed.
Interest in advanced infrastructure is at an unprecedented level. The Internet and the NII have been embraced by both parties and are virtually unavoidable in the media. This offers fertile ground for the advancement of ITS on both technical and programmatic fronts. To date, ITS activity has occurred almost exclusively in the transportation domain. The conclusion that much if not most of the network data communications needs of the ITS can be met by the NII, if it develops into fully accessible services that can interoperate with all the specialized ITS subsystems, suggests an important dependency of ITS on NII outcomes. Yet there is no formal mechanism, other than participation in the ITS America discussions, through which federal interests in the NII can be brought together with state interests. Such a mechanism needs to be put in place.
A task force launched on April 25, 1995, by Governors Richard Celeste and Dick Thornburgh is responding to a request by Jack Gibbons, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to examine how federal-state relationships might be strengthened or restructured in the area of science and technology. Sponsored by the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government, the National Governors' Association, and the National Council of State Legislators, the task force will be looking at a number of specific cases, including the intelligent transportation system. Out of this work, or perhaps out of the President's NII Task Force, a mechanism needs to emerge for engaging state governments in the architecture and policies for the NII. If this linkage is made through the NII Task Force, it follows that the Department of Transportation, together with other departments and agencies concerned with the nation's transportation systems, needs to participate actively in the work of the task force, to ensure that interoperability, security, and other features of the NII are appropriate for the national transportation system's needs.
1. Branscomb, Lewis M. "New Policies, Old Bottles," Business and the Contemporary World.
2. In the fall of 1994 the IVHS Program was officially renamed the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program in recognition of the program's multimodal scope.
3. Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, Part B, Section 6051.
4. Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, Part B, Section 6053.
5. Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council. 1994. Realizing the Information Future. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., May, p. 6.