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The Warsaw Voice » Business » May 20, 2009
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Intelligent Transport Systems
May 20, 2009   
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Prof. Wojciech Suchorzewski, the chairman of the Program Council of the Polish Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Congress, and Marek Litwin, Ph.D., president of the ITS Polska Association, talk to Andrzej Ratajczyk.

At the end of May Warsaw hosts the second Polish Intelligent Transportation Systems Congress. Who is this event aimed at and what are its objectives?
The ITS Polska Association, a member of ITS Europe-ERTICO, is organizing the congress for scientists, researchers, industry insiders and members of nongovernmental organizations, local government and city authorities. One of the main goals of the ITS Congress is to promote intelligent transportation systems whose economic efficiency is several times greater than that of capital-intensive "heavy" infrastructure. The participants and organizers of the congress want to be able to shape transportation systems and make them modern, safe, efficient and environmentally friendly. It is also important to integrate and foster close cooperation between all people who deal with transportation.

Questions of intelligent transportation systems are extremely important to Poland, metropolitan areas in particular. The importance is acknowledged by the honorary patrons of the congress, namely, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the National Police Headquarters, and the Mayor of Warsaw.

Why is it so important to introduce intelligent transportation systems?
The European Commission lists intelligent transportation systems as a top priority and in the coming years several billion euros will be spent on promoting such projects. According to the Commission, it is vital to pursue efficient ways to solve transport-related problems. The European Commission identifies excessive traffic congestion as the number one problem and that does not only apply to roads, but also to air corridors. Europe has very intense air traffic. The magnitude of the problem is best illustrated by the fact that heavy road traffic alone costs EU member states an estimated 1 percent of their GDP. This is not the price of transportation per se, but extra costs paid by business, transport operators and all of us, when we get stuck in traffic jams, for example. Curiously enough, the figure is even higher in countries with better road networks than Poland, such as Britain and France, which lose 1.5 percent of their GDP to traffic congestion. These costs and the negative effect crowded roads have on the environment result in a great deal of attention paid to finding remedies to these problems. People realize that spending 1 million euros on ITS pays off better than spending the same amount on road construction.

What use of modern ITS does Poland make at present?
Poland lags far behind others in this department and I don't just mean developed countries. This particularly shows in traffic management. There is practically no city in Poland with a proper traffic management system like those in Prague or Vienna. The City Council in Warsaw decided back in 1999 to introduce a system like that, with plans to launch it in 2003. It is now 2009 and we have only a handful of intersections, with nothing more than a pilot system. Poznań has been trying to introduce a traffic management system for over a decade, but it will only cover a part of the city. Traffic management systems have been also designed for Cracow and the Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia Tricity area, but they are just model projects. Work is under way for systems in non-urban areas, but this is just the first step on a long and winding road. In the ITS department, Poland is more than a decade behind other EU countries.

Can Poland spend EU funds on catching up? The EU assigns vast resources for expanding transportation systems.
Projects designed to introduce intelligent transportation systems are perfectly eligible for EU funding, but cities first need to make the effort and prepare appropriate applications. So far, EU funds have been used to finance a system to manage tram traffic on Jerozolimskie Avenue in Warsaw. The project came first in a national competition for urban projects.

What problems will be discussed in detail at the congress?
The congress will tackle the most significant questions of how ITS can be introduced in Poland, highlighting the best examples from other European countries. The discussed topics will include environmentally friendly traffic management, the role of ITS in the transportation policies of Poland and the EU, and ITS for better safety on roads. Congress participants will also talk about electronic systems for toll collection. Such systems should not be regarded as a sort of restriction, but a tool to enable fast and fair collection of tolls for road use and other fees.
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