Various definitions of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have been put forward. For purposes of ITS Canada’s Strategic Business Plan, the following definition was used:

ITS: The application of advanced and emerging technologies (computers, sensors, control, communications, and electronic devices) in transportation to save lives, time, money, energy and the environment.

Even with this definition, the term ‘ITS’ is an elastic one, capable of broad or narrow interpretation. It covers all modes, including ground transportation such as private automobiles, commercial vehicles, and public transit, and also rail, marine, and air modes. Because these are dynamic systems, the term ‘ITS’ is understood to include consideration of the vehicle, the infrastructure, and the driver or user, interacting together dynamically.

The congestion and safety problems in Canada’s transportation networks, combined with continued growth, the fiscal reality of restricted budgets, and environmental and land use constraints, have resulted in a shift in focus toward demand management and more efficient use of the existing infrastructure. The application of ITS is critical to achieving these goals. ITS provide an important key to achieving many of today’s transportation objectives: mobility, safety, efficient transportation, providing a financial base for new highway infrastructure (through tolling), public-private partnerships, and transportation demand management (through road pricing, transit, and High Occupancy Vehicles (HOVs), which in turn can benefit air quality and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Leading-edge technologies are already in use and are being developed to improve transportation around the world. Computer and communication systems are integrated to provide an intelligent link between travellers, vehicles, and the infrastructure to address the challenges that modern society faces, such as an increasing number of vehicles on surface routes. Traffic collisions and congestion take a heavy toll in lives, lost productivity and wasted energy. Fulfilling the need for transportation systems which are economically feasible and environmentally efficient requires new ways of solving transportation challenges.

Goals of ITS include moving towards a fully integrated transportation management system, improving efficiency, safety, productivity and general mobility, while reducing threats to travel safety and security as well as the negative effects to the environment such as pollution. Continuing development and integration of new technologies is necessary because of today’s constrained transportation agency budgets, in order to maximize the capacities of existing infrastructures. ITS Canada strives to foster ITS applications, promote government-industry cooperation, and strengthen the Canadian industry.

ITS involves a broad range of technologies that affect the design, construction, management and operation of transportation systems. Governments around the world – including those in Europe, the United States, Japan and Canada – are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in ITS solutions to solve transportation problems. Development and deployment in the new millennium will be a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. ITS Canada is in a very good position to provide leadership, not only in the use of ITS to enhance transportation facilities here in Canada, but also in the export of our ITS technologies abroad.

The partnership between transportation agencies and law enforcement agencies (especially those responsible for enforcing the traffic laws and providing first response in emergency situations) is an important one. With the heightened focus on security of the nation's transportation systems, the role of law enforcement agencies has greater significance. The emergency service providers (fire, police, ambulance), and their ability to respond quickly with the right resources, are integral to the optimal operation of the ground transportation system. ITS offers the tools for the emergency service providers and transportation agencies to integrate their services through the provision of appropriate real-time information. This enables them to be more responsive, thereby serving the public better. A prime example of how ITS can assist is the RESCU program in Toronto, which provides integrated police and transportation services from a single operations centre. Signal pre-emption devices allow emergency vehicles to have priority passage through intersections.