What is an Intelligent Transport System?

As the population continues to expand, our transport systems have needed to grow and adapt to this increase in demand. With more people on the roads, larger urban populations requiring more inter-city buses and trams, and greater expectations for up-to-date information at our fingertips, a new approach to travel and transport infrastructure was needed.

Intelligent transportation systems were born out of this need; implementing smart tech into our existing systems to optimise travel, reduce congestion on roads and public transport and minimise error. New, digital approaches to traffic control, reducing emissions and improving road safety have all been implemented in various countries over the past couple of years, and innovation is only expected to continue as transport technology grows more refined.

But what actually is an intelligent transport system and how does it operate? What are the benefits of this new approach and how is it already being used in the real world?

This blog post has all the answers.

What are Intelligent Transport Systems?

Intelligent transport systems (ITS) combine classic transportation infrastructure and vehicles with smart information and communication technology. They’re designed to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of existing forms of transportation, as well as reducing fuel consumption for more environmentally friendly travel.

A variety of different approaches, concepts and technologies are used in intelligent transport system architecture, and the application of the idea and scale of projects differs from location to location. Some cities around the world are already using ITS to make their public transport systems more effective, and many motorways make use of ITS to prevent accidents and minimise delays.

The overall purpose of an intelligent transport system is to improve how a transport system operates by using data-sharing technology that adapts and reacts to changes in the system. Its key feature is that it provides real-time travel information and can alter the way a service runs to maximise efficiency and safety, based on a variety of external factors.

From a passenger perspective, an ITS provides more reliability from transport services, and from an operator perspective, it improves the efficiency of the system and removes human error from decision making.

Traffic Light

Types of Intelligent Transport Systems

Vehicle Control and Safety Systems

Vehicle control and safety systems are a type of ITS that focus on vehicles specifically and how to improve their overall safety to their drivers and others on the roads. They use technology that controls automated braking to prevent collisions or reduce the impact of collisions, and also can include automated systems where vehicles drive themselves to reduce human error and prevent crashes caused by distraction.

Transportation Information Systems

Transport information systems are designed to benefit the drivers of vehicles, providing them with route and driving guidance, traffic updates, warnings and electronic payment systems that speed up the use of tolls. As well as making driving easier, these kinds of ITS also reduce journey time and the environmental impact of journeys by improving efficiency.

Transportation Management Systems

Transport management systems affect the networks that transport operates on. They use systems and devices to monitor the status of services and routes and deliver this information to users or traffic management centres, which may make decisions based on this data. These ITS also deal with incident management, identifying when issues have occurred on transport networks and finding solutions that will have the least impact on other travellers.

Mobility Intelligent Transport Systems

A mobility ITS uses elements of transport management and focuses on improving the overall efficiency of transport networks to make mobility on them as streamlined as possible. Aspects such as distance, journey time and environmental impact are all considered, and then elements of a transport network like traffic signals or emergency vehicles are engaged when needed.

Environment Intelligent Transport Systems

An environment ITS involves both smart transportation information systems and vehicle management systems to ensure that the journeys being taken along transport networks have as minimal an environmental impact as possible. Not only are external features optimised to reduce congestion and improve driving efficiency, but information is also sent to vehicles to advise on the best routes and driving strategies to conserve fuel.

How does an Intelligent Transport System Work?


The majority of intelligent transport systems consist of roads or tracks, vehicles and people all working together in an integrated system. Telecommunication and information technology collects data through a variety of different devices and then relays this information through a traffic management centre where data is collected and analysed before sending real-time updates or commands back out.

For example, an ITS that controls the bus services in a city might use sensors to record when a bus leaves a certain stop. This message is sent through to a central database, which finds the information on how long a journey between stops takes, and sends out an accurate estimate of what time the bus will arrive at its next destination.

Other devices may also have detected that there are traffic delays or diversions, so this information would also be brought into the calculations and expected arrival times would be adjusted accordingly.

Elements of an ITS include machinery that captures and collects data, transmission equipment, data storage, analysis software, and embedded and automated systems that perform functions based on the information they receive.

What are the Benefits of Intelligent Transport Systems?

There are many different approaches to intelligent transport systems involving all kinds of vehicles, but the overall benefits of these tend to be the same.

Less Traffic

One of the key purposes of using ITS is to reduce the amount of traffic congestion in urban spaces or on motorways. A larger population means more vehicles which means busier roads, and now plenty of cities and popular routes are perpetually jammed at busy periods.

New systems such as smart motorways can reduce congestion and regulate traffic, which means that roads stay clear and delays are minimised. This leads to faster journey times for everyone and clearer routes through busy areas, which is particularly beneficial to emergency service vehicles.

Environmentally Friendly

As well as reducing congestion and journey times, using ITS to minimise traffic also has a positive impact on the environment. Cities that are not clogged with vehicles will have cleaner air, and fuel won’t be wasted when cars have to crawl through busy areas at minimal speeds.

Intelligent traffic systems can also be used to minimise the environmental impact of ICE vehicles through techniques such as vehicle platooning, where vehicles travelling closer together lower aerodynamic drag and save power, or routes are calculated based on real-time road conditions to recommend the fastest and most energy-efficient route.

Dynamic eco-driving is another potential application of ITS technology, where real-time driving instructions are sent to vehicles recommending the most efficient speed and strategies based on traffic conditions, leading to more economic driving that saves fuel.

Safer Roads

Intelligent transport systems are also one of the best ways to make transportation safer, through a variety of different approaches. Not only can real-time data improve the quality of driving and minimise accidents, but it can also send instant updates when accidents do occur and ensure that delays or further incidents are minimised.

Updates can also be sent to vehicles on the roads about driving conditions to make instant recommendations about speed and routes, again reducing the likelihood of accidents.

Research has also been done into the use of systems such as pedestrian and cyclist detection software which would make roads much safer for those not in vehicles. Autonomous emergency braking systems have also been tested and suggested, which dramatically reduces the likelihood that a driver will not react in time to prevent a serious accident.

Faster Travel

The reduction of traffic congestion brought about by intelligent transport systems also means that journey times will be massively reduced. Not only this, but with real-time information about road and traffic conditions, travellers will be able to plan their journeys more accurately, avoid busy periods and reduce the time they spend on the roads.

ITS will also be able to recommend the most efficient routes to drivers based on the current conditions of the roads, which again will lead to faster journey times.

From a public transport perspective, ITS will also make a positive difference in how long it takes to travel on trains, buses and trams. Commuters and the general public will be able to access information about traffic delays, the number of people already on buses and trains and whether services are running on time, reducing the time spent waiting for transport and meaning that travel on public services is more efficient.

Efficient Public Transport

Leading on from that last point, many ITS technologies aim to make public transport much more efficient. The majority of people simply accept that things like bus schedules are never going to be accurate, but using smart technology to track and deliver data on these services could totally change this.

Not only will intelligent transport systems reduce traffic on public service routes, making journey times faster and more reliable, they will also be able to provide commuters and users with reliable information about the status of their bus/train/tram.

Increased Transport Data

Finally, a benefit of implementing intelligent transport systems that collect and share vast amounts of real-time information is that there will be a huge amount of accurate travel data available to access to continue improving and developing systems. Collecting the specific details of road conditions, vehicle users, public transport use and busy or dangerous areas will be able to better inform the future ITS that are created, helping streamline services and reduce things like congestion, safety and environmental damage.

Train Timetable


Intelligent transport is an area of development in the transport engineering industry that has already seen a lot of exciting innovation and is predicted to continue to advance as more locations start implementing smart systems into their transport infrastructure. Disciplines such as automotive engineering, electronic engineering, automation and embedded systems are all involved, meaning that engineers from all backgrounds get the chance to work together in intelligent transport system jobs to find solutions to safety, environmental and congestion problems.

If you’re looking for a recruitment partner with expert knowledge of the intelligent transport industry and experience in sourcing candidates that work in smart technology, get in touch and find out more about what our agency can offer you.

Chris Oddy

Chris Oddy

About the Author

Chris is an award-winning recruitment consultant who has specialised in the electronics and embedded systems sector since 2008. Chris is passionate about technology and customer service.


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