Drivers may be less frustrated by the apparent whims of traffic signals if a research project by Victoria University of Wellington associate professor, Dr Paul Teal, goes ahead.
The multidisciplinary project aims to bring together economists and engineers to design a traffic control system that reduces operational costs and delays, thereby delivering both economic and social benefits.
Strengthening the relevance of the research is the recently released OECD Economic Surveys NEW ZEALAND report which states that Auckland and Wellington are the second and third most congested cities in Australasia.
To give an idea of the scale of the problem, a 2013 New Zealand Transport Agency Research Report estimated the annual cost of traffic delays in the Auckland region alone at $1.25 billion.
The OECD report suggests implementing demand management strategies such as pricing mechanisms to reduce urban road congestion. Instead, Dr Teal's research will explore utilising mobile devices as a means to predict traffic movements, thereby enabling a new kind of management strategy.
"Although the traffic control system in New Zealand is relatively advanced, it can't anticipate traffic flow, which is part of the reason why roads get congested," says Dr Teal. "It's also why we often find ourselves sitting at the lights even when there is no traffic around.
"Our project aims to use mobile devices in cars to convey key information some time before the vehicle arrives at an intersection, and use that information to set a more appropriate phasing of traffic lights."
GPS tracking technology will be used to determine such factors as speed and location, with the information then sent back to a centralised traffic control system.
Wider application of the technology may also include providing information on vehicle weight, fuel economy, destination and costs of traffic delays.
"Two key components when it comes to inefficiencies in traffic are slowing down and stopping. These are largely reflected in the operational cost of fuel and the cost of lost time.
The research will focus on strategies for using the available information to minimise the total society cost, which is the combination of the operational and delay costs.
Funding is currently being sought for the research project.