Stockholm and IBM Drive Intelligent Transport

stockholm-betalstation_liljeholmenIntelligent transport seems more like an oxymoron than a green transportation initiative, especially in the U.S., but with impetus from IBM there are positive results to report on two fronts: city congestion and pollution.

The controversial debate about using taxes and fees to control wasteful driving habits while helping the environment could enter a new phase with the example of the Stockholm Congestion Charging System, which was created by Big Blue and launched in Sweden’s capital more than two years ago.

The system has significantly improved access to the city by cutting waiting times on access roads by one-half. City traffic is down 18 percent and CO2 emissions in the city were cut between 14 and 18 percent. These are the results of a study on the system by the Stockholm City Traffic authorities, IBM says.

Further, the number of “green” tax-exempt vehicles such as hybrids has almost tripled, with the study showing that the congestion charging system is the most influential factor in the decision to choose a green car.

It also found that the number of commuters using public transport increased by around 7 percent or 60,000 passengers per day. Last year about 82 million vehicle passages were handled by the congestion charge system at an accuracy rate of nearly 100 percent.

IBM was the prime contractor for the system design, development and initial operation. It worked with the Swedish Road Administration and the city of Stockholm to develop the congestion charging system that was rolled out in August 2007.

“It is quite clear that the positive effects of the congestion charging system are continuing. Reducing traffic volumes, decreasing CO2 emissions and improving accessibility is bringing significant benefits to the city, its visitors, and residents, and has been a factor in Stockholm being awarded European Green Capital for 2010,” says Ulla Hamilton, Vice Mayor of Stockholm city responsible for traffic and environment. “It is also satisfying to see that the retail business in the city has not suffered as a result of the congestion charging system.”

The congestion charge is a national tax that will raise an estimated $84 million in 2010. The money is invested in the Stockholm region for traffic investment.

“Intelligent transportation systems like the Stockholm solution are key to effective traffic management and sustainable cities,” says Jamie Houghton, IBM’s Global Leader for Intelligent Transport Systems.

The Stockholm system is the largest of its kind in Europe, with 18 barrier-free control points around the inner city equipped with cameras to identify vehicles around a 24 square kilometer (9.3 square mile) area.

An IBM research report released this week in Stockholm at the ITS World Conference says as the world becomes more urbanized – with 70 percent of the population living in cities by 2050 – many cities are struggling to keep pace with increasing traffic and congestion.

The IBM report, “Intelligent Transport: How Cities Can Improve Mobility,” found that most urban leaders favor the increased use of enhanced public mass transit systems and other alternatives to private vehicles. In addition, most leaders interviewed agree that infrastructure investments are necessary to build more effective transport systems.

But tight capital budgets are driving an increased focus on the need to better manage transport demand and supply through deploying technology-based intelligent transport systems.

“The majority of cities are at an early stage in understanding and realizing the full potential of ITS,” the report says. “There are significant gaps between the progress of the typical city and the leaders.”

In addition to working with Stockholm, IBM is also assisting the cities of London, Singapore and Brisbane to address traffic management and congestion challenges.

“The Stockholm scheme will continue to be a major influence on many other cities considering managing the challenging urban development without incurring the costs of building new roads,” Houghton says.

Intelligent Transport research was conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in 57 cities, with a focus on a range of economic indicators and an evaluation of their transport systems. Interviews with senior transport and city officials were conducted in 15 cities selected to represent a geographical spread and varying stages of economic development and maturity in transport infrastructures and intelligent transport systems. The cities are located in Australia, Chile, China, Egypt, Italy, India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

So is ITS a template or fuel to drive more anti-tax temper tantrums? And where’s the U.S. in all this research and evaluation? Can ITS take Manhattan? If intelligent transport is the wave of the future in Europe and Asia, it might just be time for the U.S. to get smart.

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