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Monday , 22 July 2024

Re-defining Indian Highways

Smart Highway Services

Smart-HighwaysCovering the wide spectrum of customers, smart highway services can be packaged into four specific segments, Traffic Management including incident management and response, Traveller Information, payment systems, Goods/ Freight Vehicle Operations and Electronic Payment Systems. In order to achieve optimal delivery and management of smart highway services the agencies responsible shall adapt smart business processes largely through enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Traffic Management on a Smart Highway involves efficient management of the processes for data collection, data fusion (conversion of data into information) and disseminating the information appropriately to operators and highway customers for their decision making.

Traditional traffic management is focussed on incident Management i.e. detection, verification, response and clearance leading to resumption of normalcy in traffic flow. Smart highway apart from efficient incident management shall also focus on incident prevention which is possible only when timely and accurate information is provided to drivers in a format that is easy to understand and convenient to use. These include adaptation of conventional and passive systems such as Highway Advisory Radio services and Variable Message Signs to technology intensive systems such as use of CCTV based video analytics to assess the driver behaviour and combining with physical infrastructure and traffic flow trends to predict incidents and adopt suitable mitigation measures.

Large instances of standalone sensors and IT systems deployed across the country shall be networked and connected to regional and national data centres for integration, consolidation and processing of data on a single platform. Sensors include those for vehicle detection and classification, weigh-in-motion, surveillance cameras, weather monitoring etc. Technology adaptations shall suit the purpose and geographical and climatic conditions while the process adaptation shall suit the varying maturity levels of data collection systems.

Smart Highways shall integrate the traveller information with the traffic management to enhance efficiencies through design and deployment of schemes such as differential toll rates (peak/off-peak). Also, timely availability of information can help operators design and implement response initiatives to mitigate customer dissatisfaction such as providing redeemable benefits to customers such as discount on toll or food/service coupons as compensation for drop in service levels.

Goods / Freight Vehicle Operations provides for electronic screening of vehicles for compliance to overweight, safety, regulatory compliance and pollution norms and setting up of centralised electronic information / data exchanges cutting across jurisdictions / states can be far reaching in enhancing the safety and operational efficiencies.

Networking of Weigh-in-Motions stations and static weigh bridges stations across the country and integration of the same with the motor vehicle department’s data bases and making this data on vehicle credentials including their compliance to law and safety norms accessible to enforcement officers on their handsets can enhance their efficiency.

By automating the processing of this credential information, delays at interstate border check posts can be avoided with improved traffic flow and enhanced customer satisfaction among freight operators. Ability to track the vehicle location of its fleet while on smart highway network just by subscription to this data service without having them to make any capital investment is a key paradigm shift in smart highway framework.

Smart Highway framework emphasises on integrating the sensor network across the toll plazas of the highway into a single data centre and converting this data into a multitude of information services for different stakeholders i.e., fleet owners, law enforcement agencies, investors, regulators, research institutes etc., and offering the same on subscription basis.

Electronic Payment Systems (EPS) provide for unified, transparent, accessible and convenient payment options to its customers for a variety of services availed by them without he/she getting into complexity of multiple entities involved in the transaction. EPS under smart highway shall emphasise on outsourcing of the technology deployment for electronic payment, transaction reconciliation and settlements to private sector, while authorities focusing on service level and user benefits in terms of reduction in congestion at toll plaza and convenience in payments.

FasTAG nationwide electronic toll collection system is in right direction and the same shall be integrated with multiple other payment media, services and 3rd party system including vehicle and driver credentials maintained by regional transport authorities. This shall ensure quick penetration, adaptation and efficiency across stakeholders.

Asset Management adopts a systematic process of maintaining upgrading and operating of physical assets (such as pavement, bridges and other facilities including IT systems) cost effectively. Deployment of such systems by operators shall facilitate collection, processing and exchange of such information amongst operators shall enable synergising the maintenance activities amongst neighbouring operators thus achieving cost effectiveness. Access to this data to regulator/ authority shall help in monitoring of service levels of the physical assets by respective operators.

Highway authority shall facilitate by setting-up of assent management system standards and specifications, data exchange protocols to be adopted by respective operators and shall collect and manage of data on condition/ quality of physical asset, maintenance and service levels and making the data available to road users.

Customer Relationship Management provides simple and accessible communication channel for enabling the customers/users to register their complaint integrated with system, process and resources to analyse and provide prompt and appropriate response in a transparent way. This shall ensure customer satisfaction the primary objective of smart highway. Smart highways shall use variety of communication channels to provide information services to its customers depending on their accessibility, adaptability and maturity levels. Challenge is use of data generated by smart highway in a timely and consistent way regardless of communication channel.

Smart Highway unleashes the potential of value of such large volumes of data generated on physical assets and their performance by migrating them on to a common platform, storage on cloud, application of data analytics to convert them to useful information and make the same accessible to various stakeholders for their decision making on commercial basis.

Key Drivers for Smart Highways Initiative

Customer Acceptance – It is essential that the customer who is central to the smart highways framework shall be able to assess, appreciate the value and patronise services. Their ability to adapt and use the technological capabilities and services is critical for the success of the initiative. Customers shall be made aware, that while smart highway services strive for the safety, mobility, cost effectiveness and convenience, shall also ensure that users are made responsible for compliance to regulatory and safe personal behaviour while driving. Customer education campaigns aimed at promoting the personal benefits, incentives and disincentives shall be undertaken by the operators and authority through various social media and direct contact programs.

Service Matching Customer Capabilities – Smart highway interventions shall be designed keeping in view the varying maturity levels of customer. For e.g. traveller information for facilitating planning while being made available through a mobile application for tech-savvy customers shall also be made available through a multi-lingual call centre available on call basis to a quick and easy to remember toll-free number. This takes care of different maturity and socioeconomic levels of the customers. A Smart Highway shall ensure design of roadside infrastructure design to facilitate intuitive use by road users and communication to and from vehicles. Test for Smartness of Highway shall be in catering to the needs of ignorant and illiterate users.

Enabling Vehicles to act as Sensors – Vehicles on the smart highway will be equipped with some sort of vehicle locating technology as well as a communications transceiver which in conjunction with the vehicles built-in sensor array and electronic bus will form the core of on board sensor system. This vehicle credentials and diagnostics data coupled with the location data can turn the vehicles into a probe from which invaluable transportation and non-transportation information can be gathered by transportation agencies and private entities. Smart highway interventions shall be designed on the data gathered from these probe vehicles to develop response strategies for congestion mitigation, incident response, driver behaviour feedback and education etc.,

These interventions shall be designed keeping view the varying levels of smart and dumb vehicles travelling on a smart highway adapting a mix of high-tech and low-tech features to ensure that they interface with and ultimately fulfil the objective.

Networking of Roadside/On-road Sensors – Roadside infrastructure must allow communication with vehicle, provide services to its customers and give the highway operator access to data. Interactive and Intelligent highway is made possible with sensors networked throughout a highway infrastructure. Efforts are being made in the past in installing variable message signs, CCTV, traffic counting sensors, emergency communication systems (Roadside SOS Phones) etc. connected with the traffic control/ management centre through wireless or wired technology.

Physical infrastructure shall be integrated with telecommunication and sensor technologies to enhance the operational efficiency and safety of the highway. Focus shall be kept on customer with highway agencies, toll agencies, highway operators adopting the technology for offering services that go beyond the physical asset such as traveller information for evaluation choices and decision making before and during the travel. Smart Highway contains the intelligence that allows for flexible decision making to deliver not only a safer but more efficient and convenient travel experience. This is the ultimate goal of a networked infrastructure.

Meeting Commercial Objectives – Smart Highway system shall facilitate meeting commercial objectives of operators and investors, while ensuring the customer expectations are being serviced. In order that operator family is be able to structure and continually supply relevant and user friendly services that complement the physical asset and there by maximise its investment, the smart highway system shall help them in constantly engaging with the customer to capture their demands and ability to pay for the same.

Also, cost of such services shall be minimised be capitalising on the technology for solution design and start-up environment for building, deployment and management of services.

Centralised Monitoring with Decentralised Implementation – Vision shall be set-out by the authority with a single central agency mandated with all the powers to conceptualise the bundle of services and frame the guidelines for implementation of the initiative. Regional and local agencies shall be allowed to evaluate, select and deploy the services based on their needs and availability of fund but incompliance with technical and procedural specifications stipulated by central agency. Central agency shall monitor the deployment, service levels and performance of agencies/ operators and regulate the same.

Implementation and Way Forward

Identify low cost interventions to integrate the systems already implemented and build soft infra to bounce off early benefits to the stakeholders. For e.g.

  • networking of all toll plazas, weigh-in motions / Static weigh bridges and consolidating the data centrally on a cloud and build analytics to provide data to enforcement agencies.
  • setting up of a network of national highway regional and national level data centres and customer support centres operating on a uniform procedures and platform

Use of existing administrative set-up such as that of Indian Highway Management Company Limited (IHMCL) by building capacity and capability within to drive the initiative and also to undertaking the early bird projects in parallel. Driving the initiative through a single agency such as IHMCL shall ensure uniformity and transparency. The agency shall design the services, evaluate and moderate technology deployment, implementation methods, commercial models for implementation, defines the service levels, set-up the environment to monitor the performance of operators / smart highway service providers.

Formally set-up an advisory team under nodal agency comprising of experts from technology (IOT, Data Analytics, Cloud Computing RFID, etc.,), highway operators, automobile industry, financing institutes, customer/ road users such as truck operators and start-up companies to provide guidance on setting out a vision for a smart highway, assess where we are today in light of vision and a develop roadmap to the future to implement the same in a focussed and programmatic way.

Government shall facilitate by setting the policy framework and define parameters for monitoring the realisation of benefits of the program and enable participation by home grown start-ups. Methodology adopted for smart cities can be replicated here as well.
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