Promoting open standards and specifications in traffic systems and ITS for cities and regions in Europe

POSSE (Promoting Open Specifications and Standards in Europe) is a 3-year project funded by the INTERREG IVC programme, which will raise awareness of the concept of open systems around Europe and will build the capacity of selected public authorities (mainly cities) to embark on a process of implementing open systems within their country.

Background to traffic management and ITS

Using computational intelligence for better traffic management and services to the public has a very long tradition in the domain of urban traffic management. The most widespread result of this development is the traffic signal controller – a control system for the arbitration of traffic flows at junctions that has evolved over decades and is becoming adaptive to traffic, cognisant of public transport vehicles, pedestrians etc. and will in the future probably even minimise the environmental impact of the junction as a whole. Other traffic management systems include a variety of detectors and monitoring systems, variable message signs providing en-route information, access control (barriers), tolling systems etc.

The consequences of un-interoperable systems

Local authorities procure, deploy and maintain these systems. But with more and more field installations, it became obvious that it was of utmost importance to ensure market forces and competition in order to avoid vendor lock-in, keep costs manageable and ensure constant innovation.  Vendor lock-in is a widespread problem among public authorities in Europe, especially in the area of traffic control. For example, once an authority has acquired a basic urban traffic control (UTC) system to manage its traffic signals, it may be unable to buy a bus priority system or a car park guidance system from a different supplier without replacing the UTC system too. Technologies purchased from different suppliers are rarely able to operate with each other as they are designed to different, proprietary, specifications.  This creates an anti-competitive situation which has implications for both the public authority and the suppliers in terms of economies of scale, closed customer base and stimulating innovation. The absence of open specifications and standards in ITS also perpetuates the monopoly that some suppliers have in a number of member states.

Countries addressing interoperability

The issue of open specifications and standards has been taken up, in a significant way, in two countries in Europe: the UK through the UTMC (universal traffic management and control) initiative and the German-speaking part of Europe through the OCA (Open Systems City Association) and its OTS/OCIT-Initiative, which have been working on this matter for more than 10 years. While there are a number of differences between the two initiatives - in the starting point, in the process of building consensus among stakeholders, in the product and in the business model - both initiatives have succeeded in defining specifications which are widely implemented: more than 100 local authorities have implemented UTMC in the UK and it’s estimated that well over 100 authorities from Germany, Switzerland and Austria have adopted and implemented the OTS/OCIT interface specifications. Furthermore, UTMC and OTS/OCIT specifications are also being taken up by cities from other countries in Europe, the middle-East and South America. The benefits of open systems have been shown through significant cost savings in technology in many cities (notably the outstations, eg, traffic controller, and communications) and incentivising suppliers to innovate in order to differentiate their products and services from others. Such quantifiable and qualitative benefits will be further identified and promoted within POSSE.

The POSSE project

At a Polis meeting in 2010 to introduce its members (city and regional authorities) to the concept of open systems, Polis brought together UTMC and OCA for the first time. Many Polis members confirmed that vendor lock-in is a problem in their respective country and that there is a pressing need for open systems.  The POSSE project will offer a step in this direction by developing a guide on the implementation of open systems, notably determining who to engage with and how to engage with them, drawing on lessons learnt and tips from UTMC and OCA – both critical success factors and potential pitfalls. POSSE will also produce guidelines on open ITS systems and standards as well as a study of the usage of UTMC and OTS/OCIT specifications. Under the leadership of Reading, one of the UK’s leading local authorities using UTMC, six cities will receive tailored support from the project culminating in a plan for implementing open specifications and standards in their local context. To enable other public authorities with an interest in open systems to benefit from the knowledge sharing within POSSE, an open ITS systems forum will be set up and coordinated by Polis. Several expressions of interest have already been received, including from one central government ministry.

For further information

To express interest in the forum and for further information about POSSE, please contact: Suzanne Hoadley, Polis, email:


1. POSSE partners: Reading Borough Council/Coordinator (UK), Klaipeda (LT), Burgos (ES), La Spezia (IT), Pisa (IT), Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NO), CDV (CZ), UTMC Ltd (UK), OCA e.V (D) and Polis (B)

2. Polis is a network of city and regional authorities promoting innovation in transport. It is the reference network on ITS for cities and regions. The Polis ITS agenda is driven by its members and therefore it addresses those issues which matter most to them. The current priorities are:

i.       open specifications and standards for ITS (POSSE)

ii.      open data – the publication of transport data

iii.     ITS benefits and impacts – development of KPIs for measuring ITS performance against policy objectives

iv.      tools to support decision making on ITS investments

v.       cooperative systems