Improving traffic data to boost route efficiency

Improving traffic data to boost route efficiency

Traffic information providers are boosting efforts to improve the accuracy and detail of roadway condition reports – potentially offering trucking firms a way to reduce delivery delays due to congestion in a time of tighter hours of service (HOS) rules.

For example, INRIX recently unveiled its new XD Traffic real-traffic information service to provide more “granular” detail concerning roadway congestion and closures, noted Jim Bak, the firm’s marketing manager.

“What we’re basically doing is shrinking what’s called the ‘Traffic Message Channel’ or TMC used to ‘paint’ roadway congestion on a digital map,” he told Fleet Owner. “In the U.S., a TMC is usually a mile in length, but in countries like Germany and it can be 3 miles long, while in Barcelona, Spain, some are 12 miles long.”

NRIX’s XD Traffic, by contrast, shrinks that one mile TMC down to 800 feet in many cases – allowing for much finer analyses of traffic delays, Bak said, which in many cases can reveal a very different picture of potential time lost or gain when fleets make re-routing decisions.

“What if a traffic jam is only a quarter mile long for example?” he pointed out. “With the current TMC measured only in one mile increments, a trucking firm would be blind to that.” That means a potential re-route could actually require more time to complete versus staying on the original route, even with the backup factored in, Bak noted.

Ryan Glancy, INRIX’s vice president and general manager of its fleet division, added that more “granular” real-time traffic information not only can help carriers provide more accurate estimated time (ETA) of arrival data to shippers and improve fuel economy, but can improve safety as well.

“Better and more detailed traffic data provides drivers with more accurate warnings about traffic slowdowns,” he told Fleet Owner. “In severe weather, too, more dynamic traffic data improves on the fleet’s ability to warn drivers about road closures and help re-route them.”

He added that INRIX’s XD Traffic product now offers cover of four million miles of roads in 37 countries and also provides what he called “map independence” so customers can post its traffic information on their map of choice. Real-time traffic information for twice as many highways, ramps and interchanges, city streets and other secondary roads compared to its previous offering is another hallmark of the XD Traffic system.

The accuracy and detail of real-time traffic data is also the subject of a new report compiled by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which found that – at present – traffic navigation devices are much better at analyzing the impact of congestion on ETA on highways versus smaller and more localized "surface" streets.

“Unlike our traffic jam analyses that focus only on traffic jams, our ETA analyses include separate analyses for jam and non-jam trips,” the group noted.

The report analyzed the average difference between the starting ETA provided by the device and the actual ending time for the trip using a variety of different traffic navigation devices and found the average for any of the units on non-traffic jam trips is never more than 3 minutes off from the actual arrival time, and nine of the twelve readings are less than one minute off.

“Yet the longer the jam on surface street or highway, the larger the initial average difference,” UMTRI’s researchers found. “So the longer the jam, the more likely the device will report it, especially on the highway. But the longer the jam, the larger the difference in the ETA between the original ETA and the actual arrival time. This applies only to vehicles that stay in a jam instead of taking the optional routes to avoid the jam offered by many of the devices.”

This is one reason why INRIX and others are trying to beef up the level of data gathered, analyzed and reported by their systems. “Making a routing engine ‘smarter’ all depends on the data,” INRIX’s Glancy explained. “It can only be as good as the detailed data it receives.”

“Traffic is the single most important telematics application,” added Roger Lanctot, associate director for the global automotive practice at consulting firm Strategy Analytics. “Without reliable and accurate traffic data, it is impossible to determine the best routes, accurate arrival times, or even vehicle range based on fuel resources.”

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