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Wednesday , 12 June 2024

ITS paves the way in Canada

In Canada, many applications of Intelligence Traffic Systems (ITS) are in operation since the early 1990s such as Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) including real-time traffic signal control systems and Advanced Traveller Information System (ATIS) for Arterials/Freeways and Public Transit networks.

National ITS architecture

Canada’s ITS Architecture Plan incorporates the development of technologies and infrastructure on a national level to ensure that products and services are integrated seamlessly. It provides a common framework for planning, defining and integrating intelligent transportation systems which includes the functions (e.g., gather traffic information or request a route) that are required for ITS; the physical entities/subsystems where these functions reside (e.g., the field or the vehicle); and the information flow and data flow that connects these functions and physical subsystems together into an integrated system.

Border Information Flow Architecture (BIFA)

Transport Canada, in partnership with United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is also undertaking the development of a Border Information Flow Architecture (BIFA). BIFA supports the planning, development and implementation of ITS and other technology based solutions at the US-Canada Border. The Architecture would help guide a deliberate effort to ensure that the technologies deployed at border crossings are able to interrelate. Federal, state and provincial agencies from both sides of the border have been actively participating in the working group.

Improving transportation infrastructure

The ITS technologies, being adopted on a large, medium or small scale by provincial and municipal bodies, are playing an important role in perking up the overall surface transportation infrastructure and operation in Canada. They optimise transportation network capacity and improve road safety and emergency response, accessibility and mobility. These technologies also disseminate real-time traveller and weather information and improve the transportation infrastructure systems’ efficiency including that of intermodal facilities, commercial vehicle operations and border crossings between Canada and United States.

In Canada, ITS technologies such as fully automated urban traffic control system are in operation since 1993. The real-time traffic signal control system called Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) is being successfully implemented in Canada’s economic capital, Toronto. Owing to the increase in population densities and urban development, it has been significantly expanded.

The existing ITS and smart transportation technology systems in place are ATMS, ATIS, AIMS, APTS and CVO:

Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) on freeways and highways: These include traffic monitoring, speed control and red-light running at signalised intersections by CCTV cameras, electronic toll collection via smart cards or transponders, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, reversible lanes or lane control signals, ramp meters, and traffic data collection via detection systems.

Advanced Traveller Information System (ATIS): These operate via dynamic message signs (DMS), websites and land-line/mobile phones, and provide real-time parking information in central business districts (CBD) and large public places such as shopping centres and sports arenas.

Advanced Incident Management System (AIMS): Emergency personnel dispatch for police, fire, medical and road maintenance services, emergency pre-emption and real-time travel advisory come under this system.

Advanced Public Transit System (APTS): These include bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT), water-bus/ferry service, transit signal priority (TSP), automated vehicle location (AVL) / computer aided dispatch (CAD), automated fare collection (AFC) by using smart cards, real-time transit information and trip planning.

Commercial Vehicle Operation (CVO): Comprises electronic registration, automated weigh-in-motion inspection, electronic screening, dynamic routing and dispatching, remote disabling, automated fleet maintenance and management.

Most of the above mentioned applications and systems are implemented through government funding while some applications like the electronic toll collection on Highway 407 in Toronto and CVO systems in the Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are being installed and operated in collaboration with the private sector too.

Some applications like COMPASS, RESCU, VIVA BRT and DRIVE BC in use in Canada are worth mentioning here.

COMPASS: This is a Freeway Traffic Management System programme developed by the Province of Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to respond to traffic congestion problems on urban freeways in Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The initial leg of the King’s Highway 401 COMPASS System, a 16kms section, started in the early 1990s within the City of Toronto. Over the years, the King’s Highway 401 Compass System has been upgraded with more advanced equipment and computer software programmes. The geographical limits of the system have also been expanded both in the east as well as the west to cover the entire section of King’s Highway 401 in GTA. The Compass System includes a 24/7 Traffic Management Center (TMC) facility, Vehicle Detection System (VDS) Stations, CCTV Cameras, Ramp Metering System and Dynamic Message Signs (DMSs). In addition to Compass, MTO has recently developed a Traveller’s Road Information Portal (TRIP) which is a road information service for easy access to road information for provincial highways. Through this, information on road closures and restrictions, winter road conditions, construction, traffic flow, traffic cameras, car pool lots and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes is provided and updated regularly.

RESCU: Road Emergency Services Communication Unit (RESCU) is being operated by the City of Toronto Transportation Services Division since 1994. It is a traffic management system that is used to detect disruptions to the traffic flow along the Don Valley Parkway, Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. Once a disruption is detected, RESCU operators notify the appropriate emergency service providers as well as road users of any necessary action. The system comprises 73 Traffic Cameras, 217 VDS Stations, six overhead DMSs, a website and 24/7 traveller information system telephone service for roadway construction. The City of Toronto RESCU traffic management operations extend over a length of 35 highway kilometres – starting from the western limits of the City just east of Highway 427 and extending eastward on the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard to the interchange with the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). Its coverage extends to the north along the DVP to Provincial Highway 401.

VIVA BRT: Viva is the first bus rapid transit (BRT) service in the GTA. It provides frequent, flexible and comfortable transit alternatives to its residents and visitors. Viva BRT services are operated by York Region located to the north of the City of Toronto. Viva, started in 2005, connects the towns of Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Aurora and Newmarket. The BRT service also links York Region with Toronto and its subway system, Government of Ontario (GO) transit stations and the Region of Peel transit system in the west. Viva BRT operates along major arterial corridors of Highway 7 and Yonge Street. The system is fully equipped with state-of-the-art ITS infrastructure and articulated buses including real-time next bus information smart display at Viva bus terminals and stations, ticket vending machines, GPS enabled automated vehicle location (AVL) system, terminals and in-vehicle security surveillance system, and transit management center facility.

DRIVE BC: Drive BC is the traveller information system of the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure that provides details of 24/7 real-time traffic and highway condition, incident information on provincial highways, current and planned special events information, US-Canada border delays and inland ferry information via web portal and an automated toll-free telephone service. The Drive BC system includes CCTV cameras, DMSs, etc.

Surface transportation infrastructure investment

In 2008/09 federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada collectively invested over $3.5 billion in the National Highways and Transportation Infrastructure System including ITS covering a highway network of over 38,000kms. The federal funding for transit infrastructure has also increased significantly in recent years, reaching $730 million in 2008/09.

The Canadian government’s primary focus of investment is mainly categorised in three sections: Support to build and improve Trans-Canada Highway Network infrastructure; Support for public transit infrastructure in urban areas with high population densities including major cities across Canada; and Support for research and development activities towards making surface transportation infrastructure safe, efficient and environmentally clean with the help of alternative green, people and goods transportation modes.

Transport Canada continues to leverage its investments and expertise in transportation infrastructure, ITS technology, security and transportation data management to help overcome border issues. Construction projects are currently underway at several border crossings, progress is being made on border wait times and improvements to cross-border data are being pursued. Research continues in these areas.

The latest investment trends are to collaborate with private organisations or consortiums under public-private partnership (PPP) to achieve the goal of making transportation infrastructure and network system smart and intelligent. PPP is proven to be a more effective and efficient approach to share costs and responsibilities rather than relying on government funding which can take years and which also involves hidden risks.

Current and proposed plans

Under Canada’s $62 billion Economic Action Plan, thousands of transportation and public transit infrastructure projects are underway across the country at provincial, territorial and municipal levels. The Action Plan has invested approximately $5 billion in multi-year science and technology initiatives.

The Canadian Government, under the $2.1 billion Gateways and Border Crossings Fund (GBCF) programme, has allocated $400 million for the construction of new access roads. These will be equipped with state-of-the-art ITS technologies for surveillance, real-time traveller information, and fully-automated border clearance & commercial vehicle operation system technologies. They will link Highway 401 with the new bridge crossing between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan – the busiest gateway for Canada-United States trade, and one of the most significant commercial trade corridors in the world.

Integration of ITS needed in decision-making

Despite the increasing dependence on the ITS technology, there is a need to address the related issues like concerns about equity, privacy and ambiguity in the impact of ITS on the environment. Also, public and political acceptance are prerequisite for the widespread deployment of ITS.

The national implementation of ITS in the United States and the European Union countries proves that success will only be achieved by integrating the ITS during the decision-making process on the transportation infrastructure. Government support for research and development activities towards innovative transportation solutions will surely make long lasting positive impact on the management of national transportation infrastructure and the operation and maintenance of sustainable transportation facilities.


Sadiq A Pirani, P.Eng., P.E., MITE, MPEO, MPEC
Senior Engineer / Project Manager ITS
Traffic and Transportation Engineering Services
FOCUS Corporation, Canada

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