Thoughts on the ITS Europe Conference in Dublin

I was fortunate to have been able to attend and make a brief presentation at the 9th ITS European Congress in Dublin in 2013. Given that there were (understandably) only a few of us from Australia and NZ at a European conference, I thought that I would share some of the things I took away from the conference.

There might be some bias because of the presenters and the audience, but the clear message at the conference at least is that austerity in Europe may in fact lead to a greater focus on ITS but with a requirement for it to be mean and lean. The discussion was very much on now not building new roads, particularly in Western Europe but all efforts to be directed to better managing the existing. This was held out also in the closing comments of Alan Kelly TD, the Irish Minister of State for Transport, Tourism and Sport – “when money is tight, ITS is not nice to have, it is must have”.

On a related note, in the closing the audience and presenters were challenged as to why the technical presentations at the conference remained dominated by roads focussed topics, albeit with an emphasis on better management of existing roads. The clear (western) European mobility focus is on encouraging active modes (walking and cycling), then public transport and last of all private travel – but although there were a few presentations on the more active modes there did appear to be a potential mismatch between strategic direction and research and development activities.

There was a fascinating session on game mechanics and some interesting opportunities to use this field to assist in positive behaviour changes through reward mechanisms. There does seem to be a misfit between this and how we currently make use of vehicle actuated warning signs, where the sign “rewards” you only for bad behaviour!

The broader use of (generic) ICT in the transport sector was seen as part of ITS, with very little distinction into how things were discussed at times. My personal experience in Australia has been of more of a distinction being drawn between the more specialist/niche areas of ITS and generic ICT, and indeed I have contributed to that. It does make me wonder if there is something that we miss out on when drawing this distinction, although I think that we need to be careful to ensure that the customer facing service (ITS) remains the focus rather than internal organisational support ICT activities.

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