As Victoria's population continues to grow, traffic congestion is expected to worsen, particularly in Melbourne. In fact, the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission estimated in 2006 that the economic cost of Melbourne's congestion was in the range of AU$1.3 billion to AU$2.6 billion per year, and that this range was likely to double by 2020.
However an audit report by the Victorian Auditor-General's Office, which assessed VicRoads' use of IT traffic management systems to improve traffic flow on Melbourne's main roads and freeways, showed neither the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure (DTPLI), Public Transport Victoria, nor VicRoads currently have a clear strategy or coordinated plan to leverage IT systems to manage traffic flow.
The Using ICT to Improve Traffic Management (PDF) report found that although IT traffic management systems are critical in managing traffic flow, their effectiveness is limited when road capacity is increasingly saturated, which is the case for many arterial roads across metropolitan Melbourne, particularly during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
The audit also found that tram and bus tracking systems are obsolete, and are therefore unable to provide accurate and reliable reference data to VicRoads traffic signals systems, which means that public transport traffic signal prioritisation is not always available when required.
The audit report suggests at this current rate, VicRoads will only likely review traffic signals once every 20 years, which will not only "negate the opportunity to improve currently deployed ITS, but also pass on a further backlog of reviews to future years".
Auditor-General John Doyle said while there is no single solution to the state's congestion problem, a range of interventions need to be considered such as capacity expansion, demand management, IT solutions, and economic or pricing measures.
"The solutions to traffic congestion require a multi-faceted approach, and the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, which has portfolio responsibility for integrated transport policy, should be more proactive in setting the strategic agenda for traffic congestion," he said.
Eight recommendations were made as part of the audit report in suggestion of how all the relevant parties could improve the use of IT traffic systems across the state.
"I note that VicRoads, DTPLI, and Public Transport Victoria have accepted all my recommendations and have indicated specific courses of action," Doyle said.
The recommendations for VicRoads includes developing a program to ensure traffic signals across the state's network are consistent with operating plans under the SmartRoads strategy, which was launched in 2010 outlining how road-based transport should be prioritied according to mode, place, and time of day, and to improve performance monitoring of deployed intelligent transport systems and assets.
For the DTPLI, the audit report suggested a state wide strategic document on traffic management is needed to ensure that VicRoad's efforts are in line with broader government policies and objectives.
The audit report recommended that Public Transport Victoria upgrades and improves the quality and reliability of bus and tram IT system communications and interface with the central management and monitoring system that collects, stores, and analyses data that has been in use in Melbourne since 1982 — ironically dubbed the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System — to enable more effective public transport prioritisation, and to work with VicRoads to better use technology to give trams and business improve road priority.