What was the idea that kickstarted C-Roads?
In 2010-2012 everybody was aware that C-ITS has great potential, but we had this chicken or egg dilemma: who’s going to start to deploy? The car industry or the infrastructure owners? At the ITS World Congress in Vienna in 2012, transport ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Austria agreed to start preparing a C-ITS corridor, and similar discussions have taken place in France and the Nordic countries. We ended up with several roadside deployments, the SCOOP@F project in France, the Nordic Way in the Nordic region, but no interoperability. Everybody was aware that this was not the final solution because we need to provide seamless services to European travelers. We worked together to launch the C-Roads Platform, which brought together and harmonized existing deployment activities to ensure interoperability.
What made it work?
Instead of technology, we started discussing use cases. There are always better and newer technologies ahead, especially in the telecoms sector where mobile networks are now using 5G, tomorrow it will be 6G and then moving towards 7G. The industry has told us many times to wait for the next release because it is much better, but in road safety, we didn’t want to wait. Road authorities have realized that they can invest today and then take steps to improve. In fact, that was the starting point at C-Roads when we started to define use cases to see how we wanted to serve our customers, the travelers, with the technology that was available. We need to improve here and there, and that’s what we’re doing at C-Roads, to further develop use cases by using existing and proven technologies.
The C-Roads Platform now has a stronger focus on urban areas. What’s behind this step?
C-Roads was launched in 2016 to ensure the interoperability of trans-European road transport between several operators and at border crossings. This was the starting point. But – of course – no trip starts and hardly ever ends on motorways, so the next logical step was to cover cities. We started inviting cities in 2019, and now 54 cities are committed to implementing C-ITS and contributing to the work of C-Roads. Within cities, we have recognized that C-ITS has much greater potential than connecting individual cars to each other and to infrastructure. Some cities are already equipping their entire public transport fleet and blue light vehicles with C-ITS for priority services. They see C-ITS not just for individual cars, but also to orchestrate fleets, and that’s something we didn’t foresee at the beginning. Transport operators are investing heavily in C-ITS technologies to connect their fleets to the overall mobility system. It is important that C-ITS does not just mean connectivity, the letter C stands for collaboration.
How did the first V2X-enabled personal vehicles change the direction of developments?
We were very happy when Volkswagen announced that it would start to equip commercially available vehicles with C-ITS, and it was good to learn that they would start with mass-produced models rather than premium models. There are now a million or more C-ITS-equipped vehicles on European roads. The corona pandemic put a brake on all investments and launches, we had to recover and start again, but now we see that aftermarket systems can be brought to market, so penetration is increasing even further.
The C-ITS infrastructure already recognizes these vehicles and by seeing them, even with such a low penetration rate, we can identify trouble spots and traffic jams. Of course, for us on the infrastructure side, it is still a learning process how to process the data and integrate it into the overall system.
Although the Delegated Act for C-ITS did not pass in 2019, so we don’t have a legal framework, the commitment of infrastructure operators and the automotive industry is still there, so I see things moving in the right direction.
Can you imagine a point in the future when C-ITS coverage will be mandatory for the whole travel network?
First of all, a clear yes. I would like to see the wide range of communication networks available to exchange information between infrastructure and vehicles, but I would not tie the mandatory availability of data to a specific technology. It would be enough to define the functionality that the communication network should provide.
For road managers, the peripheral areas are the blind spots. For example, we hardly know what is happening in very rural areas. The communication network is there. But we want to avoid the road infrastructure operator being responsible for the deployment of 5G. C-ITS services do not require the exchange of large data sets as long as we do not exchange images and videos. We are exchanging map elements, it is a small dataset. So far 4G is good enough, with decent coverage.
When we started, everyone said that C-Roads would never be able to do everything with short range, and I totally agree. That was never our plan, C-Roads supports hybrid communication, both short range as well as long range. In Austria and the Nordic countries, there are motorways that go through really rural areas where there is no need for short range. But in the cities, there are critical junctions where our task is to invest in short-range communication technologies. In rural areas, where there may be safety concerns, it may also be worth investing in short-range technologies. For temporary roadworks and traffic lights, instant direct connectivity makes sense, but that’s about it. The mix of communication technology is very important. Not one or the other, but the intelligent use of both technologies and the synergies of the two.
What was the biggest achievement of the C-Roads platform?
It’s cooperation. We have managed to cooperate, first of all with the different corridors between Germany and France, between the Nordic countries and other regions. We have managed to get cooperation between authorities, which is not usual. We have also achieved cooperation not only with each other, but also with the industry. In the Car 2 Car Consortium, we have a half-day meeting with our technical experts every two weeks.
Until recently, road operators have been responsible for building and maintaining the road, and the car industry has just used it. They complained about the bad roads and the road operator complained about the vehicles that did not obey the rules. They have never sat together to shape the mobility network of the future.
We see C-Roads and C-ITS as the starting point for a new era of mobility. We are working together, public transport and private transport alike, exploring opportunities and synergies together, and designing it to support all of our goals. These may be political goals such as sustainability, safety and efficiency, but also serve the industry’s goals of making money from it. It may not be that the winner takes all, but overall we are helping to ensure that road users win in the end. It is a small paradigm shift that we have achieved, and it is working so far.