The Extranet – Solving the Transport Riddle

In The Extranet I hinted at “extras” that we could expect from the Internet as it crawls into every facet of our daily lives. In this issue I am going to explore a way that the Internet could be used to solve the transport riddle.

Last week I had the misfortune of spending two days in Johannesburg. As a country bumpkin, I was blown away by the absolute chaos of the transport system. The impact that the stress of clogged freeways and three hour commutes must be having on family life must be indescribable. Surely there is an easier and less painful way to manage this chaos?


If we look at the aviation industry, can you imagine a major airport operating without air traffic controllers, radar and control over the exact location of every aircraft? Of course not, chaos would result. Why then is our road system any different, and are we surprised by the extent of the problem? We need technology to solve this.

How about this? Every vehicle wanting to enter a major metropolitan area would have to be fitted with an Internet-enabled, satellite navigation system and onboard computer. As new vehicles are manufactured they would have this fitted as standard and existing vehicles could merely carry portable units. Each vehicle would thus have a unique identity (MAC and IP Address).

The system would be funded and driven by supply and demand. Toll booths would be unnecessary, as vehicles would just be charged as they use certain roads. Tariffs would differ for peak times, already congested freeways and other circumstances. On a Pay-as-you-Drive system, you would have to have a certain credit available in your Toll Account, to pay for your use of the roads.

Like “early bird” discounts, your toll to use a certain road would drop significantly if you pre-booked your use well in advance on the Internet. For example, if you know that you need to get from Point A to Point B daily by 8:30, you merely go onto the Internet and book this trip. The system then “knows” to expect you, and rewards you for giving it prior notice. A road user who just impulsively uses a road will be charged a premium.

If you want to make an impulse trip, you just get in your car and type in the GPS position of your destination. All alternative routes to this destination will be displayed with the toll cost, expected arrival time, distance to be travelled and any other traffic information. You would then decide on your route, drive there and be charged accordingly.

The system will route traffic as circumstances change. You will still drive your car, but will be encouraged to use a specific route as the system solves the congestion resulting from, say an accident or bad weather.

Busses and taxis carrying passengers will be favoured and pay a discounted toll to encourage use of public transport. Emergeny vehicles would enjoy right of way at all times. I suppose vehicles could be prohibited from entering certain areas by means of toll-type gates that would just not open if the freeway was over-congested or you had no credit in your Toll Account, but I think that the objective would be to keep the traffic flowing freely at all costs.

I really believe that computers and the Internet would do a better job of planning and routing traffic than a couple of million commuters all making their own irrational decisions in their headlong rush to their destinations. Or maybe not?

Be Good



4 thoughts on “The Extranet – Solving the Transport Riddle”

  1. Yep, the traffic in Joburg is horrendous at best. It doesn’t help that the majority of drivers seem to have some sort of death wish…

    Great ideas there, but what I’d like to see implemented too, which would work nicely with your plans, is that it would be impossible for unroadworthy cars to make any sort of trip at all until their cars are up to scratch. The same with unlicenced drivers or drivers with drunk driving bans etc. The internet could be used to simply block them from the road altogether. It could also be used to outlaw speeding, with the time taken to get from point A to point B electronically worked out and toll costs etc significantly higher if you arrived there too early.

  2. Perfectly feasible. Speed enforcement and tracking of hijacked cars would be two of the immediate spin-offs of the proposed system. As you speed, your Toll Account would just be immediately and automatically debited. You could even get a situation that by the time you get to the next toll point you would be diverted off of the main freeway due to lack of funds because of speeding. Unroadworthy vehicles and unlicensed drivers wouldn’t stand a chance in an automated system like this. A little bit BIG BROTHER but if it saves lives, it’s worth it.

  3. Here in Brisbane, and for all I know in many other places, the traffic lights are electronically controlled, with the theory that traffic congestion can be minimised. In the event of high speed car chases involving the police, or big accidents where emergency services have to get through, the lights are set to work in the emergency service vehicles’ favour, which avoids potential accidents. While not quite the same as what you’re talking about it is a step in that direction.

    In the case of South Africa I think that the majority of people would happily forego a bit of personal freedom in order to ensure their safety both on the roads and at the hands of hijackers.

  4. The majority of the problem lies in the real lack of foresite. Companies go off and pay developers to build systems that fit into some form of proprietory client server architecture. What the world needs to do is get the developers building engines that facilitate functionality. This way applications can aggregate services from systems thus creating infanitly flexiable workflows and calls. Then things like airport management, traffic management, in fact, any form of management is done through a set of services that are publicly exposed and thus allowing for more streamline information sharing. The technologies exists to implement this. CORBA and SOAP are both proving to fantastic standards. Well that is what I believe anyways đŸ™‚ Think about it …

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