Queensland Motorways: Breaks up Traffic Congestion in Fast-Growing Brisbane
"It’s not often that a project touches every single person in a company, but that’s what happened here." - Phil Mumford, on the importance of grasping the implications of change
There are a lot of things that Phil Mumford has liked about his job a position he’s held since 2004. He’s relished the everyday challenges of improving the highways under his watch, a roughly 60 km toll network in and around Brisbane that runs through some of Australia’s most economically vibrant areas. As part of this mission, he’s playing a central role in the $2.1 billion upgrade of the city’s main artery—the Gateway Motorway—a project designed to pave the way for economic growth in the future. For a seasoned transportation professional like Mumford who liked new challenges, Queensland Motorways didn’t disappoint.
But a few years back, one dimension of Mumford’s job that had become increasingly unpleasant was the view. With his office just a short distance from one of the company’s five tolling points, Mumford had an up-close view of the daily traffic backups that had become a miserable, twice-a-day routine. “It got to the point where I was embarrassed to see the level of congestion occurring at that toll point,” Mumford recalls. “You could see the frustration on the drivers’ faces—and there was little or nothing we could do about it.”
Bogged down by bottlenecks
While traffic on the motorways had steadily increased due to population growth and shifting patterns of economic development, the capacity to manually collect tolls by their nature remained essentially fixed, even with the fastest collectors working flat out. As a result, bottlenecks at the tolls had become a systemic part of the commuting experience for hundreds of thousands of travelers. The damage wasn’t only measured in lost time, but also accidents. Although Queensland Motorways had long recognized the need to break these bottlenecks, factors such as funding and the perceived immaturity of sensing technology had prevented it from moving forward. As Mumford explains, the Gateway Upgrade Project—which he terms a “defining moment”—changed that mindset radically. “If there had been any doubt about whether the traffic situation was unsustainable, the Gateway project put it to rest. With the congestion getting worse, free-flow tolling became a central part of our transportation plan.”
Reflecting the high profile nature of the congestion problem, the Queensland Government sought assurances on not only reducing travel times on the Gateway and Logan motorways, but also on smooth and timely execution (that the project “be done and done well”). For the Board of Queensland Motorways, Mumford needed to ensure that the project was delivered to scope and budget and met key benchmarks on system performance. As users of the motorways stood to gain the most from free-flow tolling and were thus largely in favor of it, the main imperative was to get them the facts as a way of solidifying grassroots support.
Drawing on experience
In addition to working closely with key government decision-makers, Mumford’s previous experience as a CEO in the transportation sector had provided him with a keen understanding of the importance of project management. “All too often, projects like this never hit their completion date because they lack the governance framework necessary to ensure rigorous and accountable project management,” says Mumford. That’s why one of the first things he did was to appoint a top-notch project director and set up a governance framework that closely monitored progress against well-defined timelines. On a monthly basis, the project director led a steering committee comprised of internal staff and vendor personnel to ensure it was on track, while Mumford kept the Board, Queensland’s Minister for Main Roads and the Premier apprised of progress.
The architecture of Queensland Motorways’ free-flow tolling solution is comprised of two main subsystems. The core function of the roadside subsystem is to use multiple sensing technologies to identify vehicles as they move through toll gantries. If a vehicle is equipped with an onboard transponder, the roadside card reader functions as the primary sensing device. If the vehicle is not equipped, a system of cameras captures images of the front and rear license plates, which are then sent on to an optical character recognition (OCR) engine to make the identification.
The second element of the solution, known as the Identification, Rating and Interoperability Services (IRIS) subsystem, picks up the information generated at the roadside and uses stored business logic to execute a series of toll-related transactions. Upon receiving the roadside information, IRIS runs it against an SAP CRM database, within which the solution maintains a comprehensive record of vehicle and owner profile information. Based on this information—as well as other key parameters collected at the time of passage—the IRIS system calculates the required toll and sends it (via IBM WebSphere® MQ, the solution’s core middleware) to SAP FI-CA, which then issues a bill against the customer’s prepaid toll account. Running on top of IBM WebSphere Application Server, the IRIS solution employs a mix of IBM Power Systems and BladeCenter servers, as well as IBM System Storage DS8100 for customer data storage. IBM Rational Portfolio Manager was used for project management.
Change redefines roles
At the outset of the project, most in the company knew what free-flow tolling was at a conceptual level. But as Mumford relates, few knew what it took to get there as a company, and that the process of making this transition produced some of the project’s most indelible lessons learned. “Moving to free-flow tolling impacted everyone in the company—even me,” says Mumford. “We essentially went to a whole new business model, and that involved training every single employee in the company about new processes and new systems. It’s not often that a project touches every single person in a company, but that’s what happened here.”
Mumford’s insistence on tight project management paid off when the Queensland government, responding to the gravity of the congestion problem, advanced the project’s completion date, first by a full two years and then, once the Free-Flow Tolling Project’s implementation had begun, by another three months. “In situations like that, projects typically ‘go south,’ or the cost explodes,” says Mumford. “The fact that that didn’t happen here attest to the quality of our team’s project management capabilities and the governance framework we had in place.”
That’s not to say that Mumford didn’t feel the pressure when it came time to unveil the solution to the public. The night the solution went live at midnight, Mumford slept little. He anticipated the press conference to be held at one of the company’s busiest toll points at 6:30 a.m., by which time the immediate success or failure of the system would be evident. When the appointed time came, the press was there, but the congestion wasn’t. “At a point where the queues would once have been long, there were no back-ups,” says Mumford. “The fact that the solution performed so well actually made it less of a story that night, which suits us perfectly well.”
The meaning of 13 minutes
The metric most indicative of the success of the Free-Flow Tolling and Gateway Upgrade Project is the 13 minutes it currently saves travelers on parts of the Queensland Motorways network during peak travel times. For Brisbane’s local economy, this translates into a significant reduction in lost productivity. But to Mumford, the true success of the project is seen in its impact on the lives of the citizens using it. To get this perspective, Queensland Motorways went right to the source, surveying travelers on how they use the extra time they get from a faster commute. To business users and people traveling to the airport, it needs more predictability and therefore less need to leave early to provide a safety buffer. For plumbers, electricians and others in the trades, it can mean another hour or two spent on billable jobs every week. For “average” citizens, it means that much more time can be spent with family.
Over the longer term, the Free-Flow Tolling solution will also provide Queensland Motorways with powerful tools to more intelligently manage commuter traffic as it continues to grow along with Brisbane’s economic fortunes. Like most traffic-prone cities, the key to minimizing congestion in Brisbane will be to get as many commuters as possible to push their trips to off-peak hours. One way the Queensland Motorways solution could enable this in the future is through further use of intelligent toll pricing, whereby toll costs are driven not only by fixed factors like location and time of day, but on the realtime sensing of vehicle-specific information—and the use of that information to drive dynamic toll calculations. By giving Queensland Motorways the means to implement a flexible, intelligent toll pricing structure, the solution provides it with a powerful traffic shaping tool.
Smarter traffic through analytics
The vital ingredient to effectively managing traffic is the ability to measure it and analyze it—both of which are strong capabilities of the new tolling solution. By leveraging the customer data stored in its CRM database, Queensland Motorways can use its business intelligence tools (Cognos and SAP BI) to measure the impact of its tolling strategy and—if change is necessary—provide guidance on how, where and when it should be done. The solution’s BI capabilities are also the cornerstone of the company’s broader strategy of becoming a proactive resource to help commuters determine the best way to get to their destination. Under a vision it calls “total mobility,” Queensland Motorways plans to combine its knowledge of customer travel patterns with realtime traffic information (gathered by more than 700 sensors) to present commuters with “virtual itineraries.”
As a user of the motorways, Mumford has experienced the benefits of the new free-flow tolling solution firsthand, and is proud of the impact it’s having on his city and his fellow Brisbanites. “By leveraging the latest sensing technology to fundamentally change the way we do business, we’ve delivered real value to the citizens of Brisbane,” says Mumford. “It’s an obligation we take very seriously, and now are in a much better position to fulfill it in the future.”
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
BladeCenter E Chassis (US), BladeCenter HS12 (US), Power 570, Storage: DS8100 (US)
WebSphere MQ (US), Rational Portfolio Manager (US), WebSphere Application Server (US), Linux (US), Tivoli Access Manager for Business Integration (US)
GTS ITS Middleware: Middleware Implementation Services, IBM Global Business Services (US)
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