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Technology can help local authorities deliver cheaper, more effective transport infrastructure, says new guide

Transport infrastructure can be operated more efficiently and effectively by implementing the latest technology and managing legal risks, local authorities have been told.07 Oct 2014

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) UK have jointly issued a guide for local authorities on emerging transport technology (20-page / 4.14MB PDF).

The guide highlighted examples of new technology that can help make transport systems safer, less congested and easier to manage. In particular, it said that the increased connectivity of devices means there is the potential for greater sharing of data to better inform decision making, both by road users and local authorities.

"Advances in technology contribute to better tools to assist in monitoring what is going on in transport networks, predict what might happen in future and provide the means to manage transport pro-actively and on an area-wide basis," the guide said.

"Technology provides the ability to: collect data/information – from sensors on vehicles and at the roadside and from communication devices; communicate data/information – from/to sensors, personal IT devices and the processing facilities; process information – using increasingly capable computing facilities and software; disseminate information – rapidly to travelers and to decision makers; automate processes – such that rapid, consistent and 'intelligent' actions can be taken," it said.

The advancements in technology enable automation of processes and mean that local authorities can cut their costs in operating transport networks, it said. However, the IET and ITS UK said there were data privacy and security issues that local authorities must consider. These issues arise as a result of the increasing connectivity of devices and the fact that presents opportunities for sharing information, the guide said.

"From a privacy perspective care needs to be taken in the way that information is released or used, particularly where it potentially includes personally identifiable information," the guide said. "Some personally identifiable information is easy to recognise as it clearly identifies the individuals, however there is also a risk that release of poorly or partially anonymised data may lead to identification of an individuals when data from multiple sources is combined."

"Failure to adequately address the protection of personally identifiable information undermines the trust of citizens and transport users, resulting in reduced uptake of services or an unwillingness to provide information," it said.

The guide said that raw data gathered about public transport use can, upon examination, detail individuals' regular journeys and therefore be classed as personal information. It suggested summary data, where data on journeys is aggregated, can help local authorities with "transport planning and route congestion monitoring" without carrying the same privacy risks.

The guide recommended that local authorities release transport data under a licensing agreement which sets out conditions on data use and rights. It also advised local authorities of the benefits of using information systems that conform to open standards but recommended that they ensure the systems they use adequately protect data from unauthorised, including when in transit. Data made public should, the guide said, not generally contain sensitive or personal information.

The IET and ITS UK said that changes in technology give local authorities options over the way they procure technology. They said local authorities can now contract with suppliers for IT services on a "pay-per-use basis" instead of having to make a large capital outlay at the outset, and said that merging service delivery across different authorities is also made easier by the availability of "virtualised servers".

Some transport systems also offer local authorities the chance to make money, the bodies said. These systems include website and mobile apps where advertising can be supported or where "valuable data" from the use of systems can be sold on to "commercial travel information providers", they said.  

Local authorities should ensure that suppliers are suitably incentivised to support and maintain the technology they supply regardless of the procurement model they adopt.