In the years ahead road users will be able to use information about traffic lights throughout the Netherlands, irrespective of their brand of car, the options included or not included in their car, the town in which they drive or the supplier that provides the traffic lights in that town. This is made possible by the new national transfer point Traffic Light Exchange – TLEX for short – as a central point for automated real-time data exchange between new smart traffic signal systems (iVRIs) and road users. The Netherlands is a global frontrunner in this field. TLEX is the place where millions of data messages are transmitted between road users and intersections. This makes it a crucial link in the Talking Traffic chain, enabling road users, iVRIs and infrastructure to communicate with one another in real time with the aim of achieving a smooth, efficient and safe flow of traffic. Access to data of all iVRIs (so of all traffic light suppliers) is provided via TLEX, thus creating national coverage.
TLEX receives large amounts of data from intersections: when is which traffic light red or green? The data is then rapidly transmitted to ‘cloud’ services. The cloud receives iVRI data as well as data on such aspects as weather conditions, available parking space, accidents and traffic jams, and then combines and checks these data flows. Other companies use the data from the cloud to provide their customers on the road with tailored information via an app, navigation system or even when cycling.
A two-way street
The real-time data flow is a two-way street, as road users are also connected via their smartphone or navigation service and, during their journey, feed valuable data back to the iVRI via the cloud and TLEX. So the new iVRIs do not just transmit data, they also receive data from TLEX and may use it, for example, to adjust arrangements based on the actual amount of traffic. The new VRIs allow road managers to choose to prioritise some road users over others: ambulances, heavy goods vehicles, public transport or groups of cyclists are given a green light as soon as they approach an intersection. This means that iVRIs can adapt to current traffic volumes, types of vehicle, distribution across town and current speeds. Less unnecessary stopping and accelerating creates a smoother and safer flow of traffic with substantially lower emissions. This year alone, road managers are turning more than 1,250 VRIs spread across the country into iVRIs, mainly on the busiest intersections. All of the remaining VRIs in the Netherlands will be converted in the years ahead.
TLEX ensures the safe and reliable transfer of anonymised data to and from traffic lights. TLEX has been developed under the umbrella of the Talking Traffic Partnership, a special collaboration between the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, local and regional authorities, and more than twenty market participants for the development of innovative traffic services. Swarco, one of the companies in the Talking Traffic Partnership and an international player in the traffic industry, took on responsibility for the development of TLEX. The Partnership has set high requirements on privacy and security, which obviously also apply to TLEX and which are fleshed out and monitored with due care.
Innovation with international significance
As TLEX incorporates international standards (SPaT, MAP), all VRI suppliers active in the Netherlands are involved, and all large and small road managers in the Netherlands are making step-by-step adjustments to their VRIs for the supply and receipt of data, a globally unique situation is arising. In the years to come road users will be able to use information about traffic lights throughout the Netherlands, while being able to choose from several navigation services. These services include speed advice, giving a motorist the certainty that they will be given a green light at the traffic light ahead and can continue on their way or information about waiting times until a green light.
The brand of car, the options it does or does not include, the town in which the motorist is driving and the supplier that provides the traffic lights in that town make no difference here. The Netherlands is a global frontrunner in this field. Naturally, all domestic and foreign service providers (navigation, apps, car companies and others) may use TLEX as a transfer point.
TLEX is now ready to receive data from iVRIs, transfer data to several clouds, receive data from clouds and deliver the data back to iVRIs. Road managers are presently finalising the purchase of the adjustments that need to be made to more than 1,250 iVRIs, making sure that they will be operational in the course of 2018. Several service providers involved in the Talking Traffic Partnership, such as Flitsmeister, Locatienet and MTVNL, are expected to introduce their services from the beginning of 2018 onwards, such that they directly pass the information available from VRIs and other systems on to their users – in real time and in a safe manner. This includes notifying the relevant VRI of the users driving towards it.
Talking Traffic Partnership
Within the Talking Traffic Innovation Partnership, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment has joined hands with local authorities and some twenty market participants from the traffic industry and the telecommunications, automotive and service industries to develop innovative traffic applications. Its purpose is to improve the accessibility, traffic flow, traffic safety and quality of life on both motorways and urban and provincial roads, in the busiest regions and cities, by means of the real-time exchange of information between road users and traffic systems. The government and the market are working together on development and operation in a multi-year innovation partnership lasting until 2020. Studies have revealed that poorly adjusted traffic lights are responsible for damage to society totalling roughly € 90 million annually. Adjustments to Talking Traffic iVRIs are continuous and fully automatic, making the dependency on loop detectors costing € 1,000 apiece each year a thing of the past.