Mobile phone signals used to predict Britain's traffic flow

"We have to use technology as much as Tarmac to get our network fit"

SENSORS ARE to be used to track cars’ movements around cities to control traffic lights and cut congestion.

York is believed to be the first city in Britain to use high-tech beacons that can detect drivers’ mobile phones and signals from vehicles themselves to monitor traffic flows.

A trial will be launched in June that uses six sensor sites on the A59 between the city centre and the city boundary. The sensors will be mounted on traffic lights, bollards and street signs.

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The information will be used to make better decisions about traffic light patterns so that traffic runs more smoothly and journey times are cut.

The pilot scheme will ultimately be designed to communicate directly with driverless cars.

The £3 million project, which is funded by the Department for Transport and the National Productivity Investment Fund, could be rolled out to other cities if it is a success.

London has similar technology dubbed Scoot, which uses data from sensors within traffic lights themselves to monitor flows of vehicle and calibrate the lights to keep them moving.

However, the York scheme is seen as being more advanced since it allows officials to predict traffic patterns during bad weather and route vehicles on to less busy roads to prevent the city grinding to a halt.

The development comes amid rising concerns about congestion. The UK is ranked the worst in western Europe for traffic. Figures from Inrix, the traffic data company, show that the average motorist spends 31 hours a year stuck in traffic at peak times, collectively costing the economy £37.7 billion a year in wasted time and lost productivity.

Traffic in York regularly dips below 20mph on average at peak times.

Peter Dew, the city council’s executive member for transport, told The Yorkshire Post: “Our historic city hasn’t got the space for more road, so we have to use technology as much as Tarmac to get our network fit for the whole of the 21st century.

“What happens on York’s roads over the next couple of years will help to define how traffic is managed in the UK. This is a genuinely pioneering approach to making our roads safer and air cleaner, made possible by York’s digital infrastructure.”

The development is likely to alarm privacy campaigners who have criticised the use of personal data in the past. York insisted that the data would be anonymised and stored in a cloud system that meets government data security rules.

Graeme Paton

This article first appeared in The Times

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