THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION: Connected vehicles in urban areas

Mark Cartwright presents the key points of the CIMEC project Roadmap for Cooperative-Intelligent Transport Systems

It’s 2019, and you’ve just collected your new car. The online brochure has promised you lots of exciting new services to make your life as a driver easier, safer, and even cheaper.

So, as you approach a set of traffic lights, it will help you choose your speed of approach in order to ensure you get there on a green. By avoiding braking and accelerating, you save wear and tear, and reduce your fuel consumption. You are also less likely to have an accident with vehicles (or pedestrians) crossing your path.

That at least is the promise of an increasing range of carmakers, for whom the concept of “connected vehicles” – when your car exchanges data directly with the road it is running on – has been developing rapidly in recent years. And it is a development that has gained a lot of interest from politicians across Europe, who see this as a way of using technology to improve the sustainability of their transport networks.

In the highway context, indeed, there has been a lot of collaborative effort. For instance, the European Commission’s (EC) Second Framework Programme (1987-1991) had a subprogramme called DRIVE 1, which included a number of connected vehicle projects. Remember, this was long before most of us had heard of the internet, and when mobile phones were still analogue bricks.

But there has been very little research on how vehicle connectivity will impact on cities. This is all the more surprising when you think that many of the services that connectivity makes possible will only (or primarily) be of interest in city traffic – including the example given above on “green light optimum speed advice” (GLOSA for short).

That has now changed. The EC-funded project CIMEC project, which launched in June 2015 and is now approaching its end, has looked specifically at cities, and more specifically at what “cooperative intelligent transport systems”, or C-ITS, might mean for city authorities.

There are certainly opportunities. In an extensive round of engagement, CIMEC identified 18 city-relevant “use cases”, relevant to one or more of city policy goals: traffic efficiency, traffic safety, the environment, or accessibility. Use cases include providing priority for public transport at traffic signals; helping freight vehicles manage their speed, fuel usage and emissions; supporting alternative and shared transport modes; and systems than could help forestall accidents with pedestrians and cyclists.

Networking opportunity

The focus on vehicles other than private cars should come as no surprise. While highways are essentially about maximising flow and minimising delays, the urban transport context is vastly more complex. City transport happens where people live and work: it has to co-exist with leisure, retail, education, community activity, and a thousand other things. City networks are not highways.

Indeed, during the CIMEC project, the EC realised just how big a gap this was and created a new Urban Working Group in its high-level C-ITS Platform. Both the CIMEC research and the C-ITS Platform experts focused attention on a small number of these use cases as policy priorities for cities, with “traffic signal priority for public transport” receiving overall the strongest backing.

This interest is telling, for a number of reasons. The aims are clearly in line with city policies for modal shift. Experience of working with public transport operators is well established. Bus/tram priority schemes are familiar traffic management services, so there is a lot of evidence (practical and anecdotal) that cities can build on. There are many mature systems provided by suppliers, so the role of cities, the nature of projects, and the likely costs are clear. The different technology designs are well tried and can be compared: cameras, barcodes, tag-and-beacon, number plate recognition, and so on.

By contrast, while cities are keen to encourage active modes (such walking and cycling), and would very much like to provide mechanisms to support this, they are far from clear what those mechanisms might be. It is true that some projects (notably VRUITS[1]) have proposed some potential services linked to pedestrian or cyclist safety, but the evidence on their practicality is much less well developed.

And it has to be said that there are significant challenges in technical and commercial design of C-ITS. Technically, there are important choices on whether to communicate from the centre (over mobile channels) or from the roadside (using local systems), or both (“hybrid systems”). Commercially, it is far from clear which connectivity services actually require a city to be actively involved. Indeed, even for the services that have real value, there are many potential business options ranging from “leave it to the market” to “needs to be imposed by regulation”.

To gain an understanding of what is realistic and what is still “vapourware”, CIMEC conducted an industry survey, asking European suppliers – large and small – how ready they are to offer connectivity products and services to cities. The results were salutary. Most suppliers see the potential in cooperative systems, either to improve existing services, or to enable new services. However, few are investing heavily in their development, and the overall impression is of a market at an early stage of innovation and maturity.

Because of this, the benefits are currently hard to quantify reliably, and the costs and risks are not well understood. There are also new challenges. The connected model requires road users to be suitably equipped with matching technologies. Moreover, many connected services require information from the vehicle, which puts a significant burden on data protection.

CIMEC suggests that initial deployments are likely to focus on professional drivers in managed fleets. The example of public transport signal priority is one such service; another might be a variant of GLOSA specifically focussed on urban freight (where emissions are especially concerning for cities and fuel usage is commercially interesting to operators). One exception to this is the potential to capture information from vehicles: floating vehicle data has the potential to enable much more responsive traffic management, and the more vehicles that provide it, the better informed the city will be.

A co-operative effort

To complicate the picture yet further, there are several other developments underway which involve both transport and technology, and which are widely seen as being much more significant and fundamental. These include the rise of personal technology such as smartphones; the emergence of increasingly automated vehicles; the “Smart Cities” agenda, and the Internet of Things[2]; and new transport modes, like ride-sharing and electromobility.

Like C-ITS, these are likely to affect traffic and transport operations; indeed, some of them might be delivered using one or more C-ITS services. Like C-ITS, they have potential legal ramifications for what a city must do (for example to protect the safety of its citizens), for what a city can do (for example in managing freight routes), and for what a city cannot do (for example because of data protection requirements). Like C-ITS, they will require innovations in data management and publication, service contracting, and partnership agreements.

These are not trivial difficulties, and the pathway to harmonised Europe-wide C-ITS services is still very murky. However, we are now at least beginning to see the shape of the problem from a city perspective. As these become better understood, they are, in an increasing number of innovative city projects, being addressed in sound practical strategies: careful planning, phased implementation, realistic expectations and budgeting, and good project management.

Finally, though, it is important to note that cities and industry cannot build the future by themselves. The complexities of C-ITS are just too diverse, the policy interactions too deep, and the skillsets too undeveloped to make this an efficient approach. So national and European policymakers need to do their bit: clarifying the legal environment, collating a robust evidence base, guiding the private sector, establishing a suitable funding regime for cities, and facilitating technical support to cities as they begin their programmes.

We know that the future will be different from today. We just don’t yet know how, or how we will get there.


Mark Cartwright is Director at Centaur Consulting

He is also Director of UTMC ( and Managing Director of RTIG (


1) The CIMEC “Roadmap for European cities” is available on the CIMEC website at Please note that this has not yet formally been accepted by the European Commission.

2) The CIMEC Use Cases for urban connectivity are as follows:

  • UC1: Individual routing of vehicles
  • UC2: In-vehicle signs
  • UC3: In-vehicle signal information
  • UC4: Management of loading and unloading areas for freight vehicles
  • UC5: Access control for heavy goods vehicles with dangerous goods
  • UC6: Regulation of access to free lanes for electrical vehicles
  • UC7: Green lights for police and emergency vehicles
  • UC8: Traffic light management
  • UC9: Green lights for public transport vehicles
  • UC10: Green lights for cyclists
  • UC11: Parking management
  • UC12: Inform about incidents in the road network and access control to these areas
  • UC13: Inform about emergencies in the road network and access control to these areas
  • UC14: Dynamic access control for air quality management
  • UC15: Speed enforcement around schools
  • UC16: C-ITS services for vulnerable road users
  • UC17: Pedestrians crossing in front of bus/tram
  • UC18: Bike lane change and unusual crossing

[1] Improving the safety and mobility of vulnerable road users through ITS applications,

[2] “The Internet of Things enables objects sharing information with other objects/members in the network, recognizing events and changes so to react autonomously in an appropriate manner. The IoT therefore builds on communication between things (machines, buildings, cars, animals, etc.) that leads to action and value creation” (European Commission DG COMM, Definition of a Research and Innovation Policy Leveraging Cloud Computing and IoT Combination)