Tips for traffic management training
As traffic management systems become more complex, the task facing road traffic officials is changing apace. Dr Gareth Evans reports on how growing demands of sustainability, integrated transportation and enhanced safety and technology is influencing the way modern traffic management technicians are trained.
"Anyone who is aiming to get into traffic management needs to be well aware that it is not just about throwing a few cones out on the road," says Steve Bennett, manager of the UK-based specialist industry personnel company, Traffic Labour Supplies.
"There are many things to learn and it takes time through gaining experience on the road. It takes a good year of solid experience to create a fully competent operative and those who choose to learn, usually become valuable assets to their employer."
The ongoing uptake of ever more technology-dependent traffic management systems means career development training – especially for the roadside worker – increasingly needs to balance the practical aspects of the job with the theoretical ones.
"I believe the assessment process, from operative to foreman, needs to be reviewed to engage in both site assessments as well as a classroom test," Bennett says.
"At the moment it is easy to educate yourself in the rules and regulations on the road, but a foreman is created through knowledge on the road and undertaking the practical experience, as site specifics vary from each traffic management design."
Nevertheless, sometimes practical experience is harder to obtain and less desirable, especially when it comes to preparing traffic management technicians to deal with major incidents on highway networks which rely on sophisticated control systems or specific infrastructure features.
Here, advances in simulation technology are having a significant impact on training.
"In a perfect world, you'd do what the military do, and run live training exercises, but that's often not a very realistic option for traffic managers," says transport safety consultant Alan Jackson.
"You can hardly shut down critical links like bridges or tunnels for the time it would take, and even if you could, the economic disruption to commercial traffic would be just too great to even think about."
They are also, he points out, expensive to do, take months of meticulous planning and tend to be very resource hungry. Perhaps most importantly, however, they are constrained by what is achievable in real life – something, Jackson explains, which does not affect simulations.
"Live exercises are limited by their initial parameters and once you've set up the scenario, you're pretty much stuck with seeing how it plays out. It's static, but simulations let you go dynamic. You can vary the initial events that lead up to an incident, or change the whole nature of the incident itself five times in an afternoon if you want to. Sims let you model multiple scenarios in a way you simply can't in real life, and that level of experience equals better traffic management and greater safety."
He points to the way the Swedish Road Administration (SRA) incorporates simulation in the training of the Traffic Information Centre (TIC) personnel responsible for round-the-clock management of the four major tunnel systems in Göteborg as a prime example.
With around a third of a million vehicles – some 25% of the country's traffic, much of it HGVs – passing through the tunnels daily, the SRA has established a special certification programme for TIC staff, using continuous training to maintain high-level competence.
Annual live fire exercises form one key element of this, and the SRA's purpose developed tunnel simulator makes up the second, delivering cost effective training and helping to ensure the operational robustness of the technical systems.
"It's a controlled environment to generate complex incidents that could never be replicated for training purposes otherwise, but it's not just about disaster response.
Training new technicians virtually, rather than on the job, means they can be thoroughly familiar with all the tools and applications before they actually sit down and take control for real – and from a safety perspective, that's a big plus."
Simulation and sustainability
Sustainability agendas have conspired to promote the use of simulation, particularly as the economic and environmental implications of congestion have assumed greater priority for traffic management.
Traffic flow is notoriously difficult to predict, principally because it is influenced by a range of factors – not least of which being the decisions of individual drivers – which inevitably complicates effective management.
Historically, traditional approaches have tended to aggregate traffic types, making all of the vehicles in an individual class behave in a particular way.
While this has been helpful in terms of providing predictions of traffic volume per hour, it has been less useful as a way to model real events and network performance.
Developments in micro-simulation, however, have opened up the possibility of accurately modelling complex systems, and in turn, have brought benefits for traffic managers and planners. Unsurprisingly, the technology is increasingly forming a part of training programmes as a result.
"In Utah, for instance, there is a system in place where the simulation is used to generate detector data as if they came from the real world" says Peter Möhl, a partner and key accounts director at the German specialist traffic and logistics software company, PTV AG.
"In this traffic management laboratory, the traffic managers can play through different scenarios – see the current situation, choose a measure and see how the situation changes."
With this providing an effective means to estimate the impact of new traffic schemes before they are implemented, and reducing congestion accepted as key to minimising carbon emissions in cities, the link between simulation and sustainability is logical, as Möhl explains. "They [managers] can both simulate the critical situation and, even more importantly, simulate the effect of the counter measures. So, all types of situations and countermeasures can be assessed in advance regarding key performance indicators such as journey times – for the whole network or on specific routes – environmental and financial aspects and the like."
Currently a range of different competing technologies and the fact that individual public authorities and private organisations follow their own strategies when it comes to simulation training tends to complicate the situation, but Möhl feels this will have to become more standardised in the future. For the moment at least, it seems "a broad view on different and constantly changing technologies" remains an essential part of the mix for today's traffic managers. Clearly those who achieve it, as Steve Bennett said, will be valuable assets to their employer.