Geofencing for future mobility management

ITS play a growing role in the mobility ecosystem. Cars, public transport, freight, Mobility-as-a-Service, and people and goods are increasingly connected within a collaborative ecosystem with lightning-fast information exchange. This allows us to tackle fundamental challenges in our built environment, such as traffic congestion, noise, pollutant emissions, etc., from a previously unthinkable perspective: dynamically.

Geo-fencing is such a technology: an invisible, digital wall that allows defining geographical borders flexibly and without directly affecting the physical world. Exchanging position information via GPS between road users and infrastructure lets vehicles know that such a border exists and its consequences (for example, a fine, should the border be defining a no-car zone).

The need for dynamic policy and its possibilities

Urban mobility becomes increasingly complex, as the needs of many must be aligned with the available infrastructure while ensuring safety, efficiency, and sustainability. However, cities are not just places to travel through but rather a place to live in. Therefore, achieving livability and efficient mobility concurrently might seem impossible: how could we have safe, attractive neighborhoods where people can socialize and interact while at the same time ensuring that these areas are accessible and well-connected?

The answer lies in dynamism: rather than having a single purpose (a road is a road, it is used to travel), the ambition of Amsterdam is to have adaptable purposes (a road is a parking area at night, a street in the morning, a café terrasse in the afternoon, a delivery hub in the evening), fitting the actual needs of the citizens.

A powerful tool in the mobility management toolbox is perimeter control: this allows reducing, for a given area, the number of vehicles that are allowed access at a given time. This allows, for example, avoiding congestion forming in critical areas during peak hours. Limited traffic zones are an example: only selected vehicles can enter these zones from a list of allowed number plates.

This has been a hot area of research & innovation in the last two decades, leading to successful systems deployed in large European cities (e.g., London (2003), Stockholm (2007), and Milan (2008)). However, as more refined techniques emerge from researchers worldwide, a fundamental limitation of perimeter control becomes more and more evident: static zone selection. The zone to be protected is defined to meet the needs of the city and its inhabitants, after which the infrastructure allowing to ensure access control (ANPR2 cameras, barriers, bollards) is installed. As the cities expand, grow, and evolve, the needs that led to the definition of the protected zone are also bound to change, gradually rendering the prohibitively expensive access control infrastructure redundant. Geo-fencing represents a promising direction to address this issue: rather than fixed infrastructure, the protected zone can be defined digitally, free from the constraints of the physical world.

A research project at Dutch TU Delft

Defining a dynamic, time-varying zone for perimeter control is challenging and ripe with research questions: where should the zone be? Depending on what measurements? How often should this zone move? Should we have multiple zones? How many vehicles should be allowed in each zone? Nirvana Pecorari, a Ph.D. student at the Transport & Planning department of the TU Delft, dedicates her doctoral studies to answer these questions. Based on state-of-the-art techniques in transport modeling, numerical optimization, computer vision, and machine learning, she seeks a solution to this challenging problem. At the core of her research lies powerful simulation software allowing us to measure and assess dynamic perimeter control’s impact on the mobility ecosystem to help design tomorrow’s urban mobility.

Lessons for the future

Mobility in cities is changing rapidly, bringing both complex challenges and incredible opportunities. A dynamic problem calls for dynamic solutions. Therefore, we must transition from our historical way of managing mobility, statically and with predefined targets, and instead develop approaches that evolve together with the city’s needs.

Disruptive technologies such as communication networks, connected vehicles, and AI carry great potential to help support the traveling needs of citizens while allowing for a safe, clean, healthy, and livable environment. However, we need concerted, careful action in researching these technologies’ potential benefits and impacts to ensure they are used fairly and for the greater good.

Source: AMS Institute

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