Comparing traffic monitoring services - How to avoid traffic jams in Budapest?

The school year has begun, with heavy traffic congestions on Budapest roads in the first week of September. We tested at end of August which Internet-based service helps best avoid them.

 

Being stuck in traffic jams is frustrating and increases fuel consumption. In Hungary, however, traffic monitoring services have been of little help avoiding them.

 

Traffic jams are the nightmare of drivers. Since heavy congestions may occur any time anywhere, what do drivers do? They try to prepare for it.

 

In the meantime this changed, developed. Let's quickly revise the possibilities to minimize the time wasted in traffic.

 

Earlier drivers used to rely on the radio to obtain information, which is still an option today but this information is neither continuous nor does it cover all road stages. The era of telecommunication when information may be acquired also via mobile phones has long come. First such traffic news was transmitted via text messages and this service is still available today. With the development of mobile communication, the time has come when devices may be equipped with GPS, or current traffic information may even be acquired through internet data provision.

 

TMC-traffic updates can be received with a navigation device through radio waves, with an antenna and a receiver.

 

Before taking a look at the before mentioned services, let us not forget about the TMC (Traffic Message Channel) transmission either, which is broadcast to GPS devices via radio waves. This service functions well almost everywhere in the world and has arrived to Hungary, too, some years ago. There was a big press conference, snacks, drinks and applause, great expectations. Since then, though, we found that neither this is of European level in Hungary. The reason is simple. Actually, it ignores the technology, there are no sensors built in traffic lights to monitor traffic. There are no loop detectors to serve the same purpose. Instead, administrators enter the received data manually. At least it has the benefit that the general road closures are usually displayed on the map, although there is little information on the current traffic, as the usually congested roads go red in the morning. Even if the given road happens to be clear. Here you find a good test on this. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed a bit since the article. The annoying part is that upon buying a GPS device, it is specified if it is equipped with TMC receiver. Of course, if so, the device comes at a higher price than without this function. The reason the whole thing is annoying is that while the other – later introduced – services are free, or were prepared under own development, the establishment of this system was financed by the European Union. And today, in the shadow of internet-based systems is no longer worth anything. So those who intend to use their GPS only in Hungary may as well buy one without TMC service.

 

Now let us have a look at the various internet-based services. Their essence is that users connect to the data providers with their mobile phones and acquire information, and at the same time transmit signals too, so their own movement is also displayed on the map with some delay. The idea is good, as the speed of moving vehicles makes up the signs on the map. We have taken a look at four such services to see how accurate information they provide.

 

On August 20, at noon, Budapest city centre was practically empty. We checked what traffic monitoring services showed for normally congested roads.

 

Though we chose traffic monitoring, Google Maps showed no information for the given road stage.

 

My traffic, Jittit, Best way and Google. We relied on utv.hu’s video cameras, as this is the easiest way to check to what extent the colours on the map reflect reality. In the city centre we checked Erzsébet Square area, as the cameras there are functioning and since it is the city centre, cars with information transmitter will most probably pass.

 

We ran the test on more occasions. First on August 20, at 11.30 am. Why? Because then there was some, even if minimal, traffic in the city, but the road closures, which had been stressed but often not announced in detail, were not yet in place, the majority of them started only later.

 

According to utv.hu’s cameras, József Attila Street, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street and Károly Boulevard were completely empty. I did not include Andrássy Street since it only has a brief stage displayed.

 

My traffic (left) and Best way (right) were misleading on August 20, as the systems signalled congestions for clear roads, too.

 

The real traffic situation of this area could literally be observed via internet, there were scarcely any cars. The question is what the different traffic monitoring solutions were showing at the time. Much to our surprise, Google showed nothing, not even that traffic flowed fast. Best way showed heavy traffic for Bajcsy, József Attila Street and Andrássy Street. It marked Károly Boulevard as smooth. According to Jitti, traffic was slow in József Attila Street towards Chain Bridge and on Bajcsy Street before Andrássy, while there was no information about the other directions. My traffic definitely showed congestion. While there was no information about Bajcsy, they marked Károly Boulevard as congested, allowing for a speed of 15-30km/hour, and Andrássy ‘stood still’ from Bajcsy outwards.

 

As the traffic monitoring systems failed on the public holiday, we gave them a shot on a weekday afternoon, with heavily crowded roads.

 

BestWay displayed the congestion, correctly; however, it did so also in the direction where progress was smooth.

 

Totally misleading, but the inaccuracy of the information could be blamed on the holiday. Therefore we gave the systems another shot on August 31, on a Wednesday afternoon and evening. This was a completely neutral, weekday afternoon with quite heavy traffic. This can be seen in utv.hu’s images as well. Best way showed quite well that there was smooth traffic on József Attila Street. On Bajcsy-Károly Boulevard route it showed slow traffic towards Astoria, however, it showed the same in the direction of Nyugati Square, whereas it shows on the video camera that there was hardly any traffic in that direction. There is not much to write about Google’s information, as Budapest city centre was yet again a big blank spot. It should be noted though, that we were using a computer and our experience shows that Google runs better on mobile phone. On the computer we often activated the traffic view with no result. While on the computer we could not see any information on Google Maps, normally Google navigation shows traffic information actively, even if not accurately on Android mobile phones.

 

Jitti showed an incomplete picture on the tested weekday but the displayed information was basically correct.

 

With the repeated tests Jitti had some problems, too, as it showed slow traffic on József Attila Street and did not give any information about Erzsébet Square. In the direction of Astoria it showed similar traffic as Best way, showing at least correctly that traffic was smooth in the reverse direction, on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street. According to My traffic, József Attila Street almost stood still, Károly Boulevard was crawling, and there was no accurate information available on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street.

 

The results are far from accurate, though one could say what we already referred to, that is, service providers may not be displaying the most current traffic on the computer, and we should have tested the systems on a smart phone instead. This might be true but these online maps should enable drivers to check the current traffic situation in Budapest before hitting the road.

 

Undeniably, Google traffic monitoring runs stably on smart phones.

 

Domestic services in Hungary are still in their early stages, moreover, even the worldwide Google maps failed. Actually, they were the ones that failed most our tests end of August. Before getting accused of not setting the traffic view, here is a larger part of Budapest where it can be seen that traffic monitoring was on and the system showed congestion on Rákóczi Street.

 

We can finally state: we appreciate that these services started in Budapest but the map information has only been indicative so far. Let’s hope that with time, it will get more accurate.