The Ministry of Transport and AraFlow Limited conducted a trial between October 2013 and April 2014, using new technology to deliver real-time traffic information.

Read the Ministry's June 2013 media release at the start of the trial.

The trial was intended to investigate whether providing accurate real-time information about traffic conditions to commercial transport operators would improve their productivity. It focused on freight movements along State highway 2 (SH2) between Tauranga and Auckland.  The trial was based on previous successful trials in Europe, which had shown travel time and fuel savings for heavy freight vehicles when vehicles avoided driving in congested conditions, using real-time traffic data.

The trial used Bluetooth traffic sensors (placed at approximately 20km intervals along SH2) to collect anonymous data on average speeds between fixed points. The trial was primarily conducted on SH2, shown in black on the map, between Tauranga and the junction of SH1 and SH2 south of Auckland. Monitoring devices were also installed on other alternative routes in the region, to provide traffic data for alternatives to SH2. The alternative routes are shown in green (see fig 1).

Map highlights SH2 and alternative routes

Fig 1: Map of monitored routes

Data generated from the sensors was used to create information about overall journey times along the route, as well as maps of congestion. It was intended to augment this with other data sources, such as the NZ Transport Agency’s information about traffic incidents. The real-time data was to be presented to drivers on temporary in-cab units (tablet computers). (See fig 2 for an example of how the data might have been displayed to a driver). The data was also to be available in map form to transport operators and the Ministry of Transport, through the password protected AraFlow website (See fig 3 and 4
below).

Display showing wait time, weather conditions and traffic conditions

Fig 2: A mock up of how the in-cab display planned for the trial might have looked

Once the travel time information system was operating, the researches planned to carry out tests of some simple forms of what is termed Cooperative-Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS). C-ITS is also referred to as vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications, using Digital Short Range Communication (DSRC) devices. This part of the trial would have used purpose-built roadside communication units, using DSRC, to provide additional customised information to drivers. The information was to have included speed warnings tailored to the vehicle when approaching known dangerous corners.

Display showing peaks in journey time

Fig 3: Example of significant delays detected following a fatal shooting at an intersection near the town of Paeroa on SH2 on 22 October 2014

Map highlights different sections of routes showing travel conditions measured as percentage of speedlimit

Fig 4: An example of the webpage display of the travel speed map generated using data collected as part of the trial

Outcome of the trial

The first two phases of the ITS trial were successfully completed by late October 2013, with Bluetooth monitoring sensors installed along the routes. The data generated by the sensors was then used as planned, to generate web-based information about travel times and congestion levels on the routes in the network (fig 3 and 4). AraFlow was also able to demonstrate the operation of their C-ITS communication devices in controlled tests.

However, despite an extensive process to recruit vehicles, the researchers did not find companies interested in taking part in the planned third operational stage of the trial. 

Operators gave a range of reasons for not taking part in the trial. These included safety concerns (given a possible increase in driver distraction due to the device in the cab). Other operators felt their existing data providers were able to supply sufficiently accurate information. Many freight companies also advised their vehicles were either not using the State highways being monitored, or if they did, it was only for a small part of the journey and — so the data would be of limited practical use.

Of particular interest to the Ministry was feedback from operators, who said the increased costs in fuel and road user charges from using a longer alternative route were too great for them to be concerned with relatively small delays typically seen on this part of highway network.  Operators were only worried about major delays, for example arising from vehicle crashes, which might cause several hours delay. These incidents could reasonably be expected to be reported through existing media.

Given the inability to recruit willing test vehicles, the Ministry and AraFlow Ltd decided not to continue with the trial. This meant the trial also did not proceed to the stage of testing the C-ITS devices on SH2.

Lessons learned from the trial

Key lessons for the Ministry from the trial were not about the technology itself, which worked as expected. As agreed, AraFlow were able to provide a web-based tool to display the travel time information in real time and demonstrate the operation of the C-ITS communication devices.

Rather, the key finding for the Ministry was that providing highly accurate real-time information about congestion on our rural State Highway networks is likely to be of limited benefit to many freight operators. This finding is relevant to much of New Zealand’s road network, as few parts of New Zealand’s highway network have viable alternative routes.

It is likely the ability to collect and provide highly accurate information using new ITS technologies will be useful in truly congested areas, such as Auckland. However, we will need to be cautious in simply extrapolating benefits seen in overseas trials directly to the New Zealand road network.

This finding from the trial was very much part of the Ministry’s thinking when it developed the Government’s ITS Technology Action Plan [PDF, 177 KB]. The concern our geography is a limiting factor in gaining benefits from ITS was specifically noted in section 4.13 Research and Evaluation.

Questions and answers

What was the Intelligent Transport System Trial?

The Intelligent Transport Systems trial was a partnership between the Ministry of Transport and AraFlow Ltd, using monitoring stations provided by HMI Technologies Ltd.

The trial investigated whether providing accurate real-time information about traffic conditions to commercial transport operators would improve their productivity.  It focused on freight movements along State highway 2 (SH2) between Tauranga and Auckland. 

Co-operative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) use a high speed digital wireless communications protocol, (Digital Short Range Communications (DSRC)) transmitted over short distances on the 5.9GHz frequency range, which is ideally suited to communicating with and between moving vehicles.  Because the trial did not proceed as planned, the C-ITS element of the trial was not able to be tested on SH2, but was demonstrated in a controlled test.

Why was the Ministry of Transport involved in this trial?

The Ministry of Transport’s involvement in the trial reflects its commitment to help maximise economic and social benefits of the transport network. The role of Government is discussed in the Intelligent Transport Systems Technology Action Plan 2014-18: Transport in the digital age [PDF, 177 KB] May 2014.

Who is AraFlow Ltd?

AraFlow Ltd is a New Zealand-based company which provides specialist Intelligent Transport Systems consultancy services, including operational network planning, project and procurement management. Its clients include Auckland Transport(external link) and Christchurch City Council(external link) (see also Transport for Christchurch(external link))