Introducing the Highways Agency Traffic Order Service
B Rush, A Case, PA Consulting Group, UK; R Castleman, P Hillman, Highways Agency, UK
The government is committed to improving management of the strategic road network and in June 2003 an ambitious programme was announced to develop the capabilities of the Highways Agency as operator of the motorway network.
England?s strategic motorway and trunk road network is a key element of the UK?s transport infrastructure and, with a value of around £62 billion, the country?s single most valuable asset.
Although representing only 2% of Britain?s total road network length, it accounts for one third of traffic volumes and two thirds of road freight volume.
The government is committed to improving management of the strategic road network and in June 2003, following up a commitment in the 10-year transport plan, an ambitious programme was announced to develop the capabilities of the Highways Agency as operator of the motorway network.
Achieving this will require a significant transfer of roles and responsibilities for motorway traffic management from the police forces of England to the Highways Agency.
Establishing a pilot traffic officer service in the West Midlands
In a comprehensive study completed at the end of 2002 the police and Highways Agency identified 31 distinct functions that need to be undertaken to manage effectively the motorway and trunk road network ranging from controlling technology on and beside the road; to patrolling and gathering network intelligence; to central planning and coordination tasks. Of these functions, the Highways Agency identified only one, repairing and maintaining the infrastructure, for which it had primary responsibility.
Police constables and senior officers identified 12 functions that were either core to policing priorities, or were likely to require on-going police involvement in the longer term. This left 19 critical functions, including minor incident management; diversion sign setting; dealing with abandoned and broken down vehicles, which do not contribute to the achievement of police objectives and which, as a consequence, are of diminishing importance to an increasingly target-driven and intelligence-led police service.
An early demonstration of the potential benefits of the change was needed to clarify the impact of the proposed transfer of functions and to optimise the introduction of the new service without disrupting the day-to-day Agency business of maintaining and improving the network infrastructure. This pilot was to take place on a limited section of motorway and provide lessons for the wider national rollout, which was proceeding in parallel.
The West Midlands, around Birmingham, was chosen as the location for the pilot because of the density of traffic on motorways in this area, the high levels of congestion, and also because policing this stretch of motorway is the task of a single body ? an established consortium of four police forces - the Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG).
Effective partnership working between the Highways Agency and CMPG enabled the existing police control centre to be used for control of motorway technology and for despatch and control of on-road resources during the pilot; whilst four vehicle outstations were established, within existing highway maintenance compounds, from which traffic officers and their vehicles would be coordinated.
On 26 April 2004, less than 12 months after the programme was announced, the first traffic officers rolled onto the network and, with the full support and assistance of the CMPG, the Highways Agency began to manage emergency telephone calls, control closed circuit television cameras and set motorway signs and signals from the regional control centre.
Assessment of the pilot
Initial results from the pilot service are encouraging. Although traffic officers were operating for the first six months without the same legal powers to control traffic as the police, the number of incidents being managed from the control centre increased by around 25%; greater intelligence was collected about network status, with more hazards being detected by patrol vehicles before they become serious incidents; and there was evidence of a greater police focus on the more serious incidents and toward intelligence-led policing activity.
With new primary legislation now in place to grant traffic officers statutory powers to stop and direct traffic, the managed transfer of responsibility for key functions is underway. Experience from piloting the service in the West Midlands has provided some vital lessons for wider roll out of the service, which is now progressing with a timescale for a national service by early 2006.
As the Highways Agency takes more of a leading role in setting the agenda for integrated incident management it expects to see a reduction in the duration of major incidents and improved management of their impact on congestion. At the same time, road users can expect to benefit from improved access to information both before setting of and en route and, if they are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident on the network, will appreciate the professionalism and dedication of the Highways Agency traffic officer staff.
With this initiative the Highways Agency has taken a bold step forward toward achieving its aim of safe roads, reliable journeys, informed travellers.
Association for European Transport