IMAGINE you’re waiting for a bus in Sydney’s CBD, on your way home from work and there’s an accident on your route which could massively extend your journey — making you cranky and late for dinner.
Imagine you’re stuck in traffic or your train service is disrupted and you are on the platform wondering how you’re going to get home.
It’s not that hard to imagine these nightmarish scenarios at all. Many Sydneysiders have experiences like these every day.
But that could soon be about to change, because of a $123 million traffic-busting system — which will make Sydney home to the “world’s most advanced transport management system” by 2020.
It means a hardworking team in a hub known as the Traffic Management Centre (TMC) — which looks at the city’s chaotic roads every day — will be able to react faster, prevent bottlenecks and get the information to you far more quickly than they currently do.
It also means that if you’re standing at that very same bus stop in 2020, you might glance down at your phone and see a notification which says: “There is an unusual bottleneck or accident on the Eastern Distributer. Take the 505 to avoid.” And, voila, you’re back home in time for dinner.
This is because the new system — according to Transport for NSW co-ordinator general Marg Prendergast — will be able to detect bottlenecks instantly or even predict them before they’ve happened.
Currently, staff at the TMC have to sit and watch cameras to see where there is unusually heavy traffic, make decisions to ease the traffic and then attempt to relay this information to you, the driver or public transport user.
Every step of the process is manual and it has been this way since 2000 — when the existing system was put in place to deal with an increase in traffic from the Olympic Games.
However, Ms Prendergast told news.com.au the process is about to get a whole lot quicker.
“With this new system we can predict where a bottleneck is going to occur up to 30 minutes before it actually happens, and we can act within five minutes to prevent it from occurring.”
She said the TMC can create diversions and alter traffic light signals to ease the disruption.
Not only that, she says you should be able to get notifications on your sat nav or smartphone which tell you where to go to avoid traffic jams in real time.
WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT?
It might sound like black magic, but Ms Prendergast says the new system — which will be put in place by Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS) — is basically a more automated version of what the TMC is doing already.
She said it will rely on CCTV real time video footage, satellite technology, incident data from the emergency services agencies, data from roadside infrastructure, two-way data exchange with private motorways and real time public transport data to make bold predictions.
This data is then instantly crunched by the new system which will create autogenerated congestion alerts that quickly point operators to where unusual conditions exist on the road network, leading to faster detection and clearance of crashes and other incidents.
And over the next few years, Ms Prendergast says a range of new apps will be released which will make it easier for the traffic wizards to push this information to you.
She believes the massive investment is vital if Sydney is going to be able to cope with the major increase in strain on its roads in the coming years.
There are currently 95,000 unplanned incidents on the city’s roads each year and 77,000 planned road occupancy licenses put in place — these are issued when a road needs to be dug up or when there is development causing a change in traffic conditions.
With the city’s construction sector still steaming ahead, Ms Prendergast said these planned incidents will increase 16 per cent a year.
She said these major development projects and a growing population means this new technology is vital is Sydney’s roads are to cope in the future.
It would work alongside the impending introduction of driverless Metro trains next year and also driverless cars, to redirect problem traffic and keep vehicles moving.
“It means that we will be able to do heaps better planning for the 360 major events we have in Sydney each year and it also means we can organise emergency buses for degraded rail services more quickly,” Ms Prendergast said. “And, it means we can tell you about these changes faster too.”
Tom Walker, senior vice president and managing director of CTS Asia-Pacific said the new system will also help Sydney prepare for driverless cars.
“The world’s cities have become far more complex in the last 20 years and transportation planners now need to deal with a range of new opportunities and challenges while preparing for a hybrid future, which will likely include the introduction of autonomous vehicles,” he said.
It is hoped the CTS system, in the future, will be able to send commands to driverless cars and direct them away from heavy traffic.
In December 2016, Cubic Transportation Systems was awarded a $12 million contract to trial contactless travel payments in Sydney and the company has been involved in traffic management in Sydney since 2000.