Guest Editorial: Mr. Greg Bartlett

September 14, 2011

Dear Readers,

I am glad to introduce you with Mr. Greg who is the guest editor of Indian Tollways for the month of September.

Mr. Bartlett has been involved in the North American transportation sector since 1987, starting in traffic signal and control systems, then in emergency pre-emption systems, and from the early days of ITS onward, the design, production and deployment of highway variable message signs.

Mr. Bartlett has written many specifications on VMS products, has been the author of numerous technical industry papers, and is the author of two novels.

From the pen of Mr . Bartlett

When I was asked to write something for IndianTollways, my immediate thought was to share some facts and figures, some statistics and trends, and perhaps make a few comparisons between worlds of the awakening giant of Indian ITS and North America. Interesting on some levels, exciting from a business opportunity view, but pretty dry stuff for the most part. After all, when we are not at the office, or preparing for some work-related event, how many of us in the transportation biz really look forward to sitting down with a riveting piece on road construction for a good read? Did you inwardly shake your head and say “not me”? I know, I did too.

My chosen topic, something along the lines of “A Passage through India: Tollroads and Technology” sounded pretty catchy. Perhaps the ITS pros in the emerging Indian market might find my perspective interesting. Having been in the transportation business for almost a quarter-century, I watched the birth of the ITS movement in here in Canada and the United States. Not easy going, I can tell you.

So I began my research, looking at the best-practices models, the lessons-learned white papers, hoping that I’d see something that was a little different – something that didn’t appear already on the program list of every ITS conference everywhere.

Then a strange and wonderful thing happened. I was talking with a very good friend of mine (an Indian professional with a successful business in ITS), and we found ourselves discussing some issues with getting a project done and making it really work for the long run. And I realized that although the content was completely different, I was having the same kind of conversation that I had in 1988 while trying to figure out the deployment strategy for the first Variable Message Signs in Canada. Or in 1993 when the U.S. Interagency Group was formulating the specifications for the EZPass semi-active transponder based toll system. Or in 1997 while discussing the safety concerns on Canada’s highway 407, the first fully automated open-tolling highway in the world. Or in fact, just last week, during a meeting on a nagging site issue that could threaten an otherwise well-planned delivery in the U.S.

The common thread spanning time and continents, it turns out, has less to do with experience and technology and more to do with the timeless nature of people interacting with people. Like so many things in life, it turns out, our problems and issues, tragedies and triumphs, are similar – not only across geography but across time.

For example, India’s Grand Trunk Road, dating back to around 300 BCE, was in many respects a model ITS deployment in its day. Chandragupta Maurya had a staggering number of officials employed specifically to maintain the road, collect fees for use, and manage its traffic and usage. In fact, the road worked so well that eventually invaders marveled at how fast they could cover ground. In addition to the logistical difficulties of managing the far-reaching roadway without the benefit of modern communications, constant threat of invasion and political turmoil must have made the enterprise difficult indeed.

If we go back even further, to the era of the ancient Silk Road more than 3,000 years ago, what do we see? Well, let’s put aside the materials, technology, and conveyances for a moment: What do we see then? We see many places where locals charged a fee for use of sections of the road in exchange for its upkeep (and sometimes even for safe passage). The voluntary exchange between road operators and users kept the problems of the day (bandits, invasions, road deterioration) under reasonable enough control that all manner of villages, towns and communities grew along the way. The end result, of course, was that technology, knowledge, human and monetary capital were spread across great distances more efficiently and contributed significantly to overall production and human advancement. The net gain in wealth creation is incalculable.

I realized that while our present-day version of ITS is relatively new to India, the true concepts of ITS have been in practice in this great country for millennia. Intelligent transportation in 2400 BCE meant the understanding of wealth creation through efficiency of trade by people of Lothal, where they built what today is the oldest known commercial seaport in the world.

The Silk Road, the port of Lothal, the GT Road – all ancient examples of ITS in action. They shared attributes of using the best of what they had to maximize the efficiency of movement of people and goods – and a fair exchange of fee for use. Likewise, they shared many of the same attributes we encounter today, from contract problems, delays, weather, conflicting interests (of course in those days conflicting interests were settled by the sword, and today we prefer meetings and lawyers). But to a large extent, their issues were analogous to our issues, and the end goals have not changed much, either: To facilitate the movement of people, ideas, goods and services; to expand trade, to facilitate the advancement that is the engine of wealth creation. This is the tide that lifts all boats, the road that connects us all.

Greg Bartlett,

VP Business Development

Ledstar Inc.

Ontario, Canada

Sharing Few Queries with Mr. Bartlett

Ques: Where do you see the future of ITS (Intelligent Transportation System ) in India?

Ans: Very interesting question, because I think ITS will look different here. India has a wonderful, frustrating, and eclectic way of being a bit different than the rest of the world no matter what the application and I believe India’s approach to ITS will fit that description too. In terms of deployment and use of ITS, I think the two main areas in the near-term will be toll roads and intermodal commercial transport. I see more of a macro ITS approach in India. I don’t see, for example, as much emphasis on  micro-ITS such as red light cameras, license plate readers, active-variable speed systems, which I realize is somewhat of a contrarian view, since India’s urban centers are some of the most chaotic and congested in the world. I just happen to think that we will see more success in a macro approach over the first decade or so.

Ques: When do you feel  ITS will be common in daily traveling in  India ?

Ans : My observation is that Indians have been using forms of ITS for 3,000 years – just not in the way we think when we use the term “ITS”. Every time I stand at an intersection in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi – you name it – I am amazed at the ITS going on. How else to explain four lanes of traffic in each direction (on a two-lane road) making u-turns and cross-overs, and pedestrians in the middle of it all making their way here and there! Yet it is quite rare that one sees an accident of any consequence.  Seriously though, the rate of projects incorporating ITS components is unlike anywhere in the world right now, so as these projects come on line, now and in the near term, they will touch more and more people in their daily travels. People will eventually have well-defined expectations and reliance on ITS, what I have termed “ITS Symbiosis”. But that’s a whole discussion in itself.

Ques: How is your product going to benefit common people ?

Ans:- Variable message signs (VMS) are kind of a unique aspect of ITS. Engineering-wise, a VMS is a rather complex system with a bunch of subsystems whose whole purpose in life is to be as non-complex as possible. In other words, an event or condition arises somewhere that may affect the motorist, and a clear message warns or advises them in advance. Simple as that. But the benefit to the common people is beyond enormous and highly complex. The causal relationship may be as simple as saving the motorist a bit of time getting from A to B, or as profound as saving his life by warning of road blockage, fog, or other destructive event just ahead. In aggregate, the benefit is an increase in efficiency (thus carrying capacity as well) of the roadway, saved time, saved fuel, and increased safety.

Ques: What are  the new technologies   LEDSTAR is planning to launch in the coming year ?

Ans :  If I was certain that my competitors were not hanging on every word of this interview, I would amaze you with all sorts of breathtaking announcements. Suffice to say (wink wink) we are looking to give clients more flexibility in VMS application, more information & telematics. And we never forget our commitment to legendary durability.

Ques:-The main Challenge that you feel  ITS is facing today  and any suggestion for it.

Ans:- I see the main Challenge as a heavy, slippery ball consisting of three ingredients. The first is Legacy: It is a huge and complex effort to upgrade, change, make new, build on, etc., existing infrastructure. When I say “infrastructure”, by the way, I mean both physical and mental varieties. The second ingredient is Inertia: As Newton said, a body will remain in its given state unless acted upon by an external force. When you consider the billions/trillions of day-to-day interactions & routines that are based on doing the same thing in the same way today as was done yesterday, making changes to the overall system takes a relentless, Herculean effort. The third ingredient is Commitment: This is not just put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is kind of commitment. That type of commitment is actually not too difficult. The amount of funding flowing to ITS programs all over the world is increasing from both private and public sectors. What is more difficult is shifting commitment on the part of government (ITS priorities sometimes only last as long as election cycles). The problem of commitment is evident in the private sector also, where many products have been long on promises and short on quality and lifespan.  What are the solutions for handling this heavy, slippery ball? No-one has all the answers. But I think we get on the right path with properly balanced partnerships between public and private enterprises, high standards, and being relentless. We just keep at it, and time will do the rest.

Ques: Would you like to be the guest editor for Indian Tollways for the month of September ?

Ans: Absolutely, it would be an honor.

Ques: Your views  on Role of Indian Tollways   as a web magazine for ITS” .

Ans: It’s far reaching, topical, well-written, has fascinating and timely articles, and it’s free. What’s not to like?

Thanks for all the Answers ,ending with a positive note that  LEDSTAR brings new and new technologies in coming year and shapes the future of ITS.

Best wishes from Indian Tollways


Ritu  Oswal

Assistant Editor

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