Highways England waves around £62m contract for National Traffic Information Service after brief chat with vendors

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Updated Highways England is shopping for a new £62m National Traffic Information Service to help collect, process and disseminate real-time data and information about traffic on 4,300 miles (6,920km) of road.

The money up for grabs has increased since the government agency published its prior information notice, which in February valued the work at £50m. Suppliers were invited to a market engagement due to take place on 5 March.

Big consumers of road traffic data are satellite-navigation companies but the group also includes third-party road data aggregators, traffic information service providers, road industry representatives, other government and local authority agencies, freight sector representatives and operators.

The current National Traffic Information Service, which dates to 2011, is designed to provide a continuous data feed to help people plan their road journeys and avoid delays. It also supports agency operations teams get to grips with planned and unplanned "traffic events" on the strategic road network. Meanwhile, historic data is used to help measure network performance and plan for future changes.

The contract notice said the agency is looking for a new system to perform this function as well as collect "traffic event information from multiple data sources including third party in-vehicle data and over 10,000 roadside sensors."

After some processing, the idea is to publish traffic information and travel advice to Highways England's roadside LED signs, the service's website and mobile phone apps and data feed APIs.

After a transition period, the new service is expected to offer "improved availability and reliability of traffic data and information for Highways England's customers and internal business functions". It is also expected to provide "an adaptable and scalable IT system that will enable Highways England to meet its evolving traffic information needs and make best use of automation to streamline the need for manual intervention."

Highways England said the winning supplier should remove "under-used traffic data sources, including automatic number-plate recognition", and "under-used output channels such as event emails."

The prior information notice specifies a "a flexible and scalable cloud-based IT system that aligns to the UK Government's Technology Code of Practice and makes best use of automation to improve efficiency of the service". It said: "On completion of transformation, the supplier will operate the service to achieve the required performance levels for a further period of 3 years."

No such requirements appear in the tender.

The prior information notice also specifies continued support for DATEX II, the European Union standard for traffic data, which feeds the agencies data into Google Maps. This requirement is also absent from the final notice.

A report from the Office of Rail and Road [PDF], which monitors Highways England's performance, says the agency has a particular problem with the accuracy of roadworks data. "Customers and users of roadworks data, in particular the freight and logistics sector, use this data to help plan their operations and journeys weeks in advance. Low levels of accuracy are leading to a lack of trust and are reducing the value of roadwork information. This means missed opportunities for Highways England to inform road users and to help organisations plan more efficient journeys."

The Register has contacted the body for comment. ®

Updated on 28 May to add

Following the publication of this article, Highways England got in touch. A spokeswoman said the prior information notice value was based on a five-year contract. In the three months since the consultation, the agency has decided to add two years to the expected contract length, taking the value to £62 million in the contract notice.

She said in-vehicle data currently comes from a combination of on-board units and mobile phones, and is secured and anonymised by Highways England’s data provider before it reaches the agency. These data sources would be “re-procured” from third party in-vehicle sources as part of the National Traffic Information Service (NTIS) for 2021 to 2026.

The spokeswoman said the NTIS would continue to support the DATEX II standard.

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