The Passenger Transport ITS Toolkit is part of a comprehensive library of reference and capacity building resources. They have been prepared by the World Bank for policymakers and senior technical managers in urban transport. This particular resource is part of a public transport toolkit suite, including the Urban Bus Toolkit and the Public Transport Fares Toolkit.

The objective of the toolkit is to provide a basic understanding of all aspects of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) for urban passenger transport related to improving both the internal efficiency of public transport providers and the customer service. The toolkit serves as a step by step guide that helps urban transport leaders, and the organizations they lead, to plan, design and implement ITS to improve the efficiency and attractiveness of the passenger transport system in their cities.

It provides capacity development support in understanding:

  • The basic characteristics of ITS
  • Evaluation of public transport planning, management and operations functions in assessment of the needs for potential ITS applications
  • ITS system inputs, outputs, information processing, communications and system architecture requirements
  • Estimation of the initial implementation and ongoing operating and maintenance costs of ITS and its benefits

The target users for the toolkit are policy and investment decision makers in cities considering whether to introduce or enhance ITS applications in management of urban passenger transport. The focus of the toolkit is on public transport; it does not seek to address the full domain of ITS applications for other modes such as the private car or freight transport. The applications covered in the toolkit are based on an initial needs assessment relating to the functions that are applicable to the delivery and use of public transport systems. Issues related to fare collection systems are covered in greater depth in that referenced toolkit.

The toolkit is based on field research in the first half of 2011, and thus represents general international practice at that time. However, ITS is a constantly developing sector, both in its applications and its technologies. The interested reader will be able to examine the latest developments through links to live sites that are provided in the website part of this toolkit. There is also a wide range of suppliers of the applications and technologies, and each has their own websites where more information can be found.

The Toolkit has been prepared under the supervision of Ajay Kumar, OP Agarwal, Sam Zimmerman and Georges Darido from the World Bank, and has been funded by a grant from the South African Trust Fund for African Energy, Transport and Extractive Industries (SAFETE).

Toolkit context

This toolkit on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) for Urban Transport serves as a step by step guide that helps city transport leaders implement ITS for improving the transport system in their cities. To that end, this overview:

  • Defines the nature and characteristics of ITS for urban passenger transport.
  • Describes the structure of the toolkit and its supporting components.
  • Provides guidance in the usage of the toolkit.
  • Outlines a decision process when considering implementation of ITS.

ITS definition and characteristics

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are a suite of public transport planning, operations management and customer service applications that are enabled by advanced information and communications technologies. They act to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, and usability of the public transport service offer to the benefit of public transport authorities, operators and passengers.

Intelligent Transport Systems involve customized, situation-specific applications to address specific functions. They utilize a mixture of proprietary and generic technologies for that purpose. They utilize multiple data sources, mostly in real time, and enable a direct affect on outcomes which are usually not possible without the ITS application.

The main application areas in conventional fixed route, fixed schedule urban passenger transport are:

  • Operations Management;
  • Driver Aids Fare Collection;
  • Traveler Information;
  • Traffic Management;
  • Security.

ITS can be used to support other public transport planning and business process functions for conventional public transport. They can also be used to support the unique needs of the operators and users of demand-responsive public transport. Public transport ITS systems often interact with the ITS systems that support other urban transport modes (e.g. commuter rail, metro).

In general, ITS is comprised of a number of sub-systems and technologies, many of which support more than one application. For example, Area Traffic Control (ATC) “smart” traffic signal systems can provide support to public transport priority or automatic public transport vehicle location applications.

Toolkit structure

The toolkit comprises five parallel strands, with interactive linkages between each of these:

  • Guidance Notes – the step by step process that should be followed for the Planning; Design; Implementation; and Evaluation of the proposed ITS system.
  • Transport Functions – the public transport planning, operations management and customer service activities that might be supported by ITS systems, considered at the Strategic Context; Tactical Planning; Service Delivery; General Support; and Statistical Analysis levels.
  • ITS Applications – the usage of ITS for these functions, clustered as Operations Management; Driver Aids; Fare Collection; Traveler Information; Traffic Management; Security; Demand Responsive Transport; and ITS-facilitated Functions.
  • ITS Technologies – the technical systems and hardware required by these ITS Applications, grouped as Automatic Vehicle Location; Driver’s Console; Operations Control Center; Driver Monitoring; Vehicle Systems Monitoring; In-vehicle Data Hub and Processor; Electronic Fare Collection; Travel Information Displays; Surveillance Equipment; Vehicle Identification; and Communications.
  • Case Studies – covering the ten cities or urban areas in which field research was undertaken, namely: Accra, Ghana; Cebu, Philippines; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Dublin, Ireland; Florence, Italy; Izmir, Turkey; Johannesburg, South Africa; Mysore, India; Prince William County, Virginia, USA; and Zurich, Switzerland.

These strands and their component parts are presented in this document. More detailed information is provided on the related website. The website has a number of additional support features, including a Site Map to help the reader to locate relevant material; a Glossary listing abbreviations and acronyms used throughout the text; a listing of References and ITS-related Publications; and links from the Passenger Transport ITS Toolkit website to other resources including the Urban Bus and Public Transport Fares toolkits, and external ITS-related sites.

For the purposes of this toolkit, an “authority” is assumed to be the public entity involved in the strategic planning, investment decision making and regulatory oversight of public transport in the respective metropolitan area or city, while the “operator” is the entity, public or privately held, that actually delivers the public transport services.

User instructions

This toolkit can be entered in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the user and the purpose of the visit. The following suggestions are made:


Policy and investment decision-makers in local governments or transport authorities, transport executives, transport regulators, and transport operators should enter the toolkit at the 'ITS Planning" level of the 'ITS Program Guidance' notes. This may lead them to consider the 'Public Transport Functions' that they seek to improve and the 'ITS Applications' that are relevant for that purpose. The 'ITS Applications' section then indicates the necessary 'ITS Technologies', and hence the further applications that these might support, and also suggest 'Case Studies' in which the applications have been implemented. Arising from this, functional specifications can be prepared.

Transport managers

Managers of the relevant transport bodies charged with designing and developing the selected 'ITS application(s)' should enter the toolkit at the 'ITS Design' level of the 'ITS Program Guidance' notes. They could then avail of the relevant 'ITS Applications', 'ITS Technologies', and 'Case Studies'. At the end of this process, they would direct the preparation of a technical specification and procurement documentation. Following the implementation, they would also perform an 'ITS Evaluation' of the system based on the preparation approach suggested in the 'ITS Program Guidance' notes.

Technical managers

Technical managers charged with the procurement, installation, and operationalization of the specified 'ITS application(s)' should enter the toolkit at the 'ITS Implementation' level of the 'ITS Program Guidance' notes. They are likely to be working with external consultants and contractors with far greater detailed knowledge of the subject, and hence they need their own independent resource better to inform themselves. To that end, they would also avail of the relevant 'ITS Applications', 'ITS Technologies', and 'Case Studies'.

Decision process when considering an ITS program

flow chart for decision process

  1. Is there an effective strategic framework for passenger transport in your city?

    Not really: Lobby to place passenger transport higher on the political agenda for the city.

    Yes: Proceed to Step 2.

    Resource: Use ‘Transport Functions’ to identify the strategic issues for passenger transport.

  2. Does the passenger transport system need to be fundamentally reformed or just improved?

    Reformed: Use the Urban Bus Toolkit: www.ppiaf.org/UrbanBusToolkit

    Refined: Proceed to Step 3.

  3. Are there clear priorities for improvement of the passenger transport system?

    Not really: Consult with user groups and operators to identify priority action areas.

    Yes: Proceed to Step 4.

    Resource: Use ‘Transport Functions’ as a framework to assess transport system deficiencies.

  4. Is fare collection the priority action area?

    Yes: Use the Fare Collection Systems Toolkit:

    No: Proceed to Step 5.

  5. Are priority improvement action area amenable to ITS?

    Not really: Avoid ITS; use less complex, conventional approaches to system and process development.

    Yes: Proceed to Step 6.

    Resource: Use ‘Transport Functions’ to assess the benefits and cautions related to ITS for the identified priority action area. Use ‘ITS Applications’ to understand the suggested approaches in greater detail. Read ‘Case Studies’ that relate to those applications.

  6. Is the priority action area within the Authority or the (private/public) Operator domain?

    Operator: Find incentives to encourage public support for an ITS program through the Authority.

    Authority: Proceed to Step 7.

  7. Is the Authority prepared for fundamental changes in the public transport business and service processes to fully use ITS capabilities?

    Not really: Avoid ITS; use conventional approaches to system and process development.

    Yes: Proceed to Step 8.

  8. Is there a budget potentially available to implement an ITS program?

    No: Avoid ITS; use conventional approaches to system and process development.

    Yes: Proceed to Step 9.

  9. Do you have the management resource available to plan an ITS program?

    No: Commission a Pre-Feasibility Study from appropriately qualified consultants.

    Yes: Empower a management team to execute the planning process and prepare a functional specification and outline budget justification for the proposed ITS program.

    Resource: Use the ‘Planning’ section of the ‘ITS Program Guidance’ to brief the management team, or write Terms of Reference for the external consultant. Use ‘ITS Applications’ to define the technical options for them to consider.

  10. Does the ITS program, as planned, meet your set objectives within your resource constraints?

    No: Replan the system at a lower level of complexity and cost; or avoid ITS and use conventional approaches to system and process development.

    Yes: Commission a Detail Design and Feasibility Study to prepare technical specifications and supply-tender documentation, and provide an economic evaluation. Establish functional evaluation criteria, and define base-level metrics.

    Resource: Use the ‘Design’ section of the ‘ITS Program Guidance’ to brief the management team, or to write Terms of Reference for the external consultant. Use ‘ITS Applications’ to define the technical options for them to consider. Use ‘ITS Technologies’ to identify additional opportunities arising from the preferred approach.

  11. Are there other city-level initiatives with which the ITS program would need to be compliant?

    Yes: Ensure that ITS program designers are fully aware of interface issues and protocols, particularly in the domains of area-wide traffic control systems and information and communications technologies.

    No: Proceed to Step 10.

    Resource: Use ‘ITS Technologies’ to understand the potential issues in these domains.

  12. Does the ITS program, as designed, still meet your set objectives within your resource constraints?

    No: Redesign the system at a lower level of complexity and cost; or avoid ITS, and use conventional approaches to system and process development.

    Yes: Procure and install the ITS system(s), and adapt business processes to take advantage of the opportunities created.

    Resource: Use the ‘Implementation’ section of the ‘Guidance Notes’ to overview these processes. Read relevant ‘Case Studies’ to identify and forestall potential problems.

  13. Does the ITS program, as installed, meet your contract requirements and technical specifications?

    No: Pursue the program contractor(s), and enforce the supply contract conditions

    Yes: Proceed to step 14.

    Resource: Use the 'Implementation' section of the 'ITS Program Guidance' for advice in this area. 

  14. Does the ITS program, as installed, still meet your set objectives within your resource constraints?

    No: Identify whether the changes in the business and service processes thst were planned in this ITS program and not being achieved, and resolve the management issues causing this.

    Yes: Investigate additional ITS opportunities, using the benefits of the initial program to fund their implementation.

    Resource: Use the ‘Evaluation’ section of the ‘ITS Program Guidance’.


Key Considerations

1. Intelligent Transport Systems are not an end in themselves; rather, they may be an important means for achieving a broader end. It is important to identify the goal(s) for the transport improvement program before examining the appropriateness of an ITS-led approach.

2. Intelligent Transport Systems will not mend a broken or poorly organized urban passenger transport system; ITS can only act to enhance one that is already reasonably effective. For deeper reforms, use the Urban Bus Toolkit: www.ppiaf.org/UrbanBusToolkit

3. Intelligent Transport Systems are only truly effective where there is a willingness to change organizational and operational procedures to take advantage of the opportunities being created. Using technology to do the same things as before will make little difference to the overall outcome.

4. You will only fully understand the potential of Intelligent Transport Systems when you start to change operational procedures, and then you will be able to refine their application. Many cities have only been able to take full advantage of ITS in their second or third implementation programs.

5. Intelligent Transport Systems are usually not cheap to implement, and they might not have an obvious direct financial return. ITS may assist many aspects of the business, though, and enhance the usability of the system and the customer experience so as to retain or increase ridership.

6. All Intelligent Transport Systems have an ongoing management and maintenance cost, which may be quite significant. Unless there is an ability and commitment to meeting these expenditures, and capacity to do these tasks effectively, then an ITS program should be simplified or not implemented.

7. Intelligent Transport Systems are often easier to fund in the public sector, where returns may be evaluated against economic as well as financial criteria. However their opportunity cost should be assessed against other local expenditure priorities, especially where resources are constrained.

8. Commitment to an Intelligent Transport Systems program by an Authority risks capture of the process by its potential suppliers. The Authority needs to develop its own management and technical capability so as to counter this; the ITS Toolkit is a valuable resource for this purpose.

9. It is very difficult to impose Intelligent Transport Systems on private operators unless they can see the potential for direct financial returns. ITS programs focused on ‘control’ of operators are unlikely to prove any more sustainable than similar enforcement measures in the sector.

10. Electronic fares collection may prove to be the Intelligent Transport System with the highest financial return. Any success in this domain could both act as a technical platform and provide funding support for future programs. Use the Public Transport Fares Toolkit for further advice.