Fleet News

Trafficmaster: Mastering the art of avoiding congestion

IF you only looked at the cold, hard facts, no-one would drive a car.

Latest figures suggest that there are about 24 million cars in the UK and 28 million motorists, 10 times the number in the 1950s.

Put another way, that is enough to fill a motorway 12 lanes wide with a traffic jam stretching from Birmingham to Beijing.

In December, The Guardian newspaper reported on the extent of the misery for drivers, with some professional van drivers saying they spent 70% of their day in heavy traffic, turning an average two hour journey into a four hour one.

The picture painted is a road network being strangled by congestion, with drivers subjected to a daily grind of demoralising delays and jams to which there seems no solution.

Latest research has suggested that UK businesses are losing £3 billion a year because of congestion.

Live traffic information provider Trafficmaster is witness to the extent of the suffering of fleet drivers every day, as it monitors congestion on every trunk road and motorway for its range of in-car services.

It now has such a wealth of information that it can predict where and when the jams will appear on most days of the year.

But while it can’t solve the problem, Trafficmaster can try to ensure drivers avoid it where possible.

This philosophy was behind its vast investment in a series of monitoring devices on roads throughout Britain that monitor traffic speed.

As a result, the firm’s head office in Milton Keynes hosts a huge map of Britain showing the traffic chaos in all its glory. Flashing symbols show where traffic is building up and average speeds, from 30mph down to 0.

At times, London and the M25 is just a sea of flashing red zeros. Its services, under the leadership of chief executive officer Stuart Berman, range from Trafficmaster-I, on online version of the map allowing drivers to look at speeds on key routes before they set off, to navigation devices such as SmartNav, which include live traffic avoidance, re-routing the driver around the worst traffic to ensure they get to their destination as quickly as possible.

With satellite navigation systems one of the fastest growing equipment sectors in motoring and one of the most common Christmas presents last year, the firm is expecting phenomenal growth for its products, particularly SmartNav.

SmartNav is different because a driver is connected directly to a call centre, adding a human touch to the battle against congestion. Currently 99% of calls are answered by the team within 8-10 seconds, who can then provide much more information and advice than a system based on a computer in the car.

Drivers give details of their journey and the route is downloaded into the in-car navigation system, once the clearest route has been obtained.

It will also be developed to actively check other routes during the journey to make sure a quicker option isn’t available because of changing traffic conditions.

The SmartNav service can also incorporate 24-hour personal assistant support, emergency and breakdown service, nationwide safety camera alerts and GPS stolen vehicle tracking.

Adrian Joseph, sales and marketing director at Trafficmaster, said: ‘Our technology means we can now offer a platform for a range of services, rather than a single product. We can offer live traffic information, satellite navigation and stolen vehicle tracking and so on. We are creating ongoing product enhancements for cars to help drivers.’

Most manufacturers now approve the firm’s products and several are now fitting systems such as SmartNav as standard.

According to Joseph, by avoiding congestion, a typical salesperson covering 25,000 miles a year could save £2,050 a year through extra working time, lower mileage and reduced fuel costs.

He added: ‘There are clear benefits for fleet operators, particularly in terms of reducing stress for drivers and improving customer service levels by offering more predictable journey times.

‘There is a degree of trust in all satellite navigation systems, but we are putting a human face to that process.’

Although it isn’t identified as a reason for buying the system, there is also a health and safety benefit in case of emergency.

The driver has access to the call centre and can immediately be located, which could speed the arrival of the emergency services.

Craig Blount, business development director, said: ‘Fleets are looking at satellite navigation and congestion avoidance systems with a lot of interest. They seem to be a lot more interested in terms of duty of care as well.’

For Joseph, there is the potential for satellite navigation to become as common as the mobile phone as the need to monitor congestion becomes increasingly important on any journey.

Joseph added: ‘There could be a day when this sort of technology becomes standard. ‘Manufacturers are putting it in their standard as well as premium vehicles. However, every car manufacturer has a massive role to play in this development.’

IN BRIEF – COMPANY HISTORY

1990

  • Department of Transport (DoT) granted licence for Trafficmaster to install a pilot traffic detection scheme, which was launched in September on the M25 and other motorways around the London area

    1992

  • 12-year licence granted. After successful evaluation of the pilot system by the DoT, 12-year licence granted covering all motorways and trunk roads in England

    1994

  • Flotation complete
  • Trafficmaster floated on the London Stock Exchange
  • UK Motorways covered
  • National motorway sensor network completed

    1996

  • First product for an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Trafficmaster Oracle, which came as standard on all Vauxhall Vectra models in the UK
  • Twenty-five year licence granted by Department for Transport, covering England, Scotland and Wales 1998
  • The RAC, in conjunction with Trafficmaster and O2, launched RAC Traffic Alert, which provides traffic information and information from the RAC 1999
  • Trafficmaster announced a joint venture company with the RAC, called RAC Trafficmaster Telematics Ltd (RTT) 2000
  • Trafficmaster Europe GmbH was set up in May 2000 and located in Hochheim am Main near Frankfurt
  • Trafficmaster.net – Live Traffic Information On The PC Screen
  • Another major first for the company is its state-of-the-art website, www.trafficmaster.net. Launched in the autumn of 2000, the site offers internet access to traffic information and, via full membership, a wide variety of services and bespoke reports relating to traffic and congestion across the UK 2001
  • Trafficmaster brought together its group businesses into a new headquarters building at Cranfield in Bedfordshire 2002
  • Trafficmaster launched SmartNav. SmartNav is the first any-car system to combine satellite navigation with live, historic, forecast and incident based traffic information and provide a live link to a personal assistant
  • Fleetstar Dynamic Fleet Management Package
  • Trafficmaster sells Fleetstar to Cybit Holdings in February 2002. Fleetstar is a dynamic fleet management information system 2004
  • Trafficmaster acquires satellite navigation company Yeoman Group
  • Founder of Trafficmaster, David Martell, retires as chief executive and appoints Stuart Berman
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