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Sensors could lead to better border traffic predictability


WINDSOR, Ont. — Truck tie-ups have become legion at the busiest commercial crossing between Canada and the US, the Ambassador Bridge. But, as in so many other areas of life, rapidly evolving technology might provide a solution to frustrated truckers, shippers and consignees.

The University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute is developing a sensors-based system that could aid trucking firms by going beyond letting them know what current traffic patterns are at the bridge, to predicting what to expect in an hour or two.

Already truckers and motorists can obtain wait time information from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Web sites, which anecdotally varies in terms of accuracy. And there are also web cams at the bridge’s Windsor and Detroit plazas to monitor traffic flow.

But that’s a far cry from estimating what traffic will be like later in the day, which could be highly useful for firms deciding to choose an alternate border crossing with fewer back-ups.

“You can go on the Internet right now and you can get from the CBP and CBSA: What’s the delay? Is there a delay? It’s a 15-minute delay – that sort of thing,” institute director Bill Anderson says. “But that’s only telling you what it is right now. So the innovation here is to try to give the drivers and dispatchers a head’s up in terms of what the crossing time is going to look like (in a few hours). If you’re moving things around, supply chains, and they need to get to places in particular times, you’d like to have some warning if there’s a high probability that you’re going to get delays. And it may be that there will be a delay an hour from now even though there isn’t a delay now.”

Funded by a grant from FedDev Ontario, the institute’s lab is working on sensor technology that measures the current flow of trucks passing along Huron Church Road in the immediate vicinity of the bridge.

“Essentially these sensors give us a real-time count of all of the trucks going in both directions toward and away from the bridge,” Anderson says.

Microwave sensors follow traffic on the six inbound and outbound Huron Church lanes.

“It can see the vehicle, and it’s really how long it takes the vehicle to pass by it at a particular speed, and from that you can infer what size vehicle it is,” Anderson says.

The hard part is extrapolating from current border flows to make future predictions.

“You use statistical analysis and different methodologies to make those projections,” he says. “And it’s not easy. Other people have tried making projections of highway traffic based on sensor information. When you get up above an hour it gets harder and harder.”

Anderson’s institute has been in talks with Ontario and Michigan transportation planners with hopes of adding sensors along such highways as Ontario’s 401 and Michigan’s I-75, providing even more accuracy along feeder routes.

Anderson says he got the idea while attending a traffic modellers’ conference in California when a United Parcel Service (UPS) representative asked them for technology to tell him “What the traffic is going to be not now, but in 15 minutes or a half an hour.”

Even knowing that small amount of information, given UPS’s sophisticated scheduling and routing, could really improve performance.

Anderson says the technology is still at least another year in development. It likely would be accessed through smartphone apps, similar to how truckers can choose where to pull off for the night based on available truck parking slots.

Jennifer Fox, vice-president for trade and security at the Ontario Trucking Association, says such predictability could help shippers and consignees “work together to shift or make changes to when they will have their shipping and receiving hours and thus allowing the truckers to make their adjustments.”

But it won’t work in all situations, such as if commodities are being transported in a specific radius.

“Again, it sort of depends on where they’re going and what the expectations of their customers are,” she says. “But if the stars align it certainly could be helpful, every bit of information helps.”

The MTO’s Ajay Woozageer says the ministry “would be happy to work with the University of Windsor.”

He says the MTO has already been increasing use of Bluetooth systems to monitor traffic patterns.

Two roadside signs will be deployed early in 2016 on Hwy. 402 that will indicate border delays and the ministry has also installed systems that include detectors and roadside signs at Hwy. 401/403 near Woodstock and on key freeways in the GTA.


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