INTELLIGENT TRANSPORT SYSTEMS (ITS)
APPLICATIONS IN HONG KONG
Jason S. F. Wong
DipEM BSc(Eng) CEng MIEE MIMechE MBCS MIHT MHKIE MIEAust
Council Member of ITS-HK
Mott Connell Limited, 40/F Hopewell Centre, Wanchai, Hong Kong SAR, China
Tel. (852) 2828 5757, Fax. (852) 2827 1823, Email: email@example.com
Dr. Nelson H. C. Yung
BSc PhD CEng MHKIE MIEE Sen.MIEEE
Council Member of ITS-HK
Laboratory for Intelligent Transportation Systems Research
Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam
Road, Hong Kong SAR, China
Tel. (852) 2859 2685, Fax. (852) 2559 8738, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hong Kong, with a land area of only 1098 square km and a population of 6.7 million,
currently has some 1,890 km of roads including 116 km of expressways/highways . These
roads are serving more than 0.5 million licensed vehicles, of which a high percentage are
public buses. They support a daily average of 7.7 million passenger journeys on public road
transport alone in 2000, making our road network one of the busiest and most heavily loaded
in the world .
Unlike most of the other developed countries, Hong Kong does not have a very long history
of road infrastructure development and transport system deployment. Development in the last
30 years has been particularly dramatic, helping Hong Kong to evolve into a complex and
modern international city with reasonably well developed, extensive and efficient road
infrastructure, fully utilizing our existing land resources and capacity.
With the population estimated to continue substantial growth within the next 10 years, the
demands on our road infrastructure and the efficiency of our transport systems are expected
to be tremendous and increasingly extensive, which will further stretch our existing
congested road network resource. Moreover, the close proximity of Hong Kong with
Mainland China, coupled with the commercial success of the neighboring economical zones,
has stimulated heavy demand on cross-border goods traffic as well.
In short, in order to sustain our vibrant business community engaging in international finance
and trade activities, instead of expanding our present road infrastructure, the use of
technology based Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to enhance and provide an
efficient and effective integrated transport structure is inevitable. This paper serves to
provide an overview of the present ITS systems that have been successfully deployed in
Hong Kong including those that have been used in control and management, electronic toll
collection, electronic payment for public transit system and information dissemination on
public buses. Together with Hong Kong own research in various ITS areas, these would form
the foundation for the development and deployment of our next generation of ITS.
EARLIER AND PRESENT ITS APPLICATIONS
TRAFFIC CONTROL & MANAGEMENT
A number of major highways and strategic road networks in Hong Kong have deployed
sophisticated traffic control and surveillance systems (TCSS) to assist and ensure effective
management of the road networks by operators. The largest at present being installed at
Route 3 and Lantau Link within the Tsing Ma Control Area, which forms part of the vital
road network connecting the new airport with the city.
Figure 1. Traffic Control & Surveillance in Lantau Link / Route 3
In general, essential features that are typically integrated as part of a TCSS include:
• Traffic computer system and operator workstations to supervise and implement
appropriate traffic plans on the route.
• Closed circuit television system (CCTV) to provide operators with a clear view on the
status of the entire route, and in most cases 100 percent coverage is achieved.
• Signal equipment, including lane control signals such as lane use signs and speed limit
signs, as well as electronic variable message signs, provides a flexible media of directing
motorists on the road.
• Automatic incident detection (AID) system provides operators with alert indication that
the road has become congested, such that appropriate actions could be taken timely.
• Speed enforcement camera system is in place in selected areas of the network to check
and identify speeding vehicles, for law enforcement by the authorities.
• Radio communication system is provided to the dedicated operation and maintenance
teams of the route, to enhance efficiency of the whole traffic management operations.
• Emergency telephones have been provided along major routes to enable motorists to
communicate with the operators when assistance is required.
The management of these TCSS is conducted separately from their respective control centres
for the assigned controlling areas. In order to provide the public with the latest status of
highway routes, selected CCTV pictures can be freely accessed over the Internet, to show
traffic conditions of these network routes. With respect to AID detection technology, besides
the traditional loop sensors, Hong Kong has also utilized the more advanced microwave
detection system as well as digital image processing systems for detecting incidents.
Microwave detection was deployed in the Lantau Link and Route 3 related highways, while
visual surveillance equipment has been used on the more stable tunnel environment. In
general, both technologies are considered satisfactorily and would expect to be further
utilized in other strategic road networks in Hong Kong.
On the urban/area traffic control (ATC) side, two separate adaptive traffic control
technologies have been deployed in the territory. These are the Split, Cycle and Offset
Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) for Hong Kong Island and the Australia’s Sydney
Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS) for the Kowloon and New Territories areas,
which control over 1,000 signalised junctions located throughout the territory. To
supplement these, over 140 CCTV cameras have also been installed at strategic locations to
provide real time traffic monitoring. These ATC systems are managed separately from their
respective regional control centres.
With the advances in control and communications technologies, the Hong Kong Government
plans to introduce a Traffic Management & Information Centre (TMIC) system and facilities,
which would integrate these TCSS and ATC systems in the territory to enable more effective
normal traffic control and incident management throughout Hong Kong.
Hong Kong currently has eleven (11) operated toll tunnels and bridges . Since 1993,
automatic tolling using passive electronics tags mounted on vehicles has been gradually
introduced. This system allows the motorists to travel through the toll plaza without having
to stop for payment. Initially there were two separate independent automatic tolling systems
deployed among these toll sections. However, in 1998 the Government instituted a full
standardization of the facilities into a common system to reflect the close proximity
geographical nature of Hong Kong and to provide ease of use for the public motorists. After
its introduction, each motorist only needs to subscribe one electronic tag, which is valid for
all toll plazas in Hong Kong.
With this approach, the unified “Autotoll” system in Hong Kong is now supporting nearly
280,000 automatic tolling transactions out of an average throughput of nearly 660,000 in total
each day, which is equivalent to roughly a 42% utilization coverage . This level is
expected to grow further in the future.
Figure 2. Automatic Tolling (Autotoll) System in Operation
On another scale, the Government of Hong Kong has also investigated the use of a more
advanced electronic road pricing (ERP) system for free-flow tolling on other busy sections of
the network, which features no stoppage and undisrupted traffic flow to further enhance the
efficiency of road usage. Under this auspice, vehicle positioning technologies that utilize
differential Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Dedicated Short Range
Communications were put on trial at the busy Wanchai district in 1998, having beacons
mounted at gantries and under footbridges. In-vehicle unit was used for deducting toll from a
FLEET MANAGEMENT OF VEHICLES
Selective bus routes have recently deployed GPS based vehicle tracking and fleet
management systems as trials for possible full deployment in Hong Kong. These systems also
include passenger information panels provided at main terminus and selective bus stops, to
inform awaiting passengers on when the next bus would arrive at the bus stop, and when the
next scheduled bus is due to leave the terminus.
Together with the newly introduced entertainment television and information services called
“Roadshow” installed on board the buses, it is planned that passengers would also be advised
of up-to-date traffic information during their bus journey in the immediate future. If the
current trial demonstrates better services to the public, full-scale implementation would be
highly probable. It is planned that the bus stop passenger information panels would be
gradually introduced at more than a hundred bus stops throughout the urban areas in Hong
Kong, with around one thousand buses to be installed with GPS based equipment.
In addition to public buses, other private fleet operators are also keen to introduce GPS based
vehicle tracking and fleet management systems to enhance their territory-wide fleet
operations. Due to the specific environment in Hong Kong, the positioning technology is
best to utilize a mixture of differential GPS, dead-reckoning and map-matching, in order to
effectively address the specific fading and multi-path characteristics of densely occupied
urban areas with many high rise buildings.
ELECTRONIC PAYMENTS IN PUBLIC TRANSIT
Hong Kong pioneered the development of contactless smart card for use in automatic fare
collection within the transport sector. This electronic micro-payment system, named the
“Octopus” system, has been developed and introduced in Hong Kong since 1997.
Figure 3. Octopus System in Operation
The system, based on a contactless smartcard technology, currently has a circulation of over
seven (7) million cards and is supporting an average of six (6) million passenger-trips daily,
which could be used in all public transport modes including buses, mini-buses, ferries,
railway and underground trains. This fully integrated “e-card” system has now been so well
received by the public that the system is expanding into non-transport applications, such as
payment for beverage vending, payphones, self-serviced photo machines, parking meters etc.
Besides its convenience offered to the public as an alternative mean of coin payment, the
success of the Octopus system is also due to the full co-operation of the participating private
transport operating companies in agreeing on an acceptable business model for the system to
prosper. This co-operation is a key factor that enables the system to be used in all the public
transport modes throughout Hong Kong. It is understood that this e-cash transport ticketing
system has been modelled elsewhere in the world as well.
Other electronic payment applications are also on trial in Hong Kong at present. They include
the recent replacement of mechanical parking meters with electronics ones. Some meters can
now accept payment via electronic cash cards such as Modex, Visa Cash and Octopus. A
large-scaled deployment would be considered if the response from the trial is positive.
ITS IN RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
In terms of ITS research, a number areas have been or are currently being investigated by the
universities in Hong Kong, including surveillance, navigation, traffic light control, crash
barrier, network modeling, planning, parameter estimation, fuel and emission control and
electric vehicles. A selected number of cases are discussed below:
Traffic control and management based on surveillance cameras is common nowadays.
However, as the number of CCTV cameras increases, there is an obvious need for performing
this task automatically.
240 250 260 270 280 290 300
(a) Tracking sequence (b) Signature of a motor cycle
Figure 4. Visual Surveillance
Figure 4 depicts some of the research results of tracking the trajectories of multiple vehicles
on multiple lanes using a deformable model , and how vehicle types are being classified
INTERNET LIVE TRAFFIC VIDEO
With the advent of Internet technology, it becomes possible to have live traffic video
accessible over the Internet, with its efficiency mainly determined by the coding/decoding
methods used. The introduction of the MPEG4 standard, as well as new coding/decoding
algorithms, such as wavelets, offer new opportunities. Figure 5 depicts an H.263 based
parallel video codec system that at present transmits live traffic video from the Transport
Department to the University of Hong Kong .
Figure 5. H.263 Codec over Fixed Telephone Line
(Video supplied by the Area Traffic Control Division, Transport Department, HKSAR)
Current law-enforcement systems on the road, such as red light cameras, speed radar, rely
heavily on human recognition of the vehicle registration plate (VRP) and mark (VRM) on a
photograph. In the indoor or more controlled cases (tollgates), most VRP/VRM approaches
are able to produce acceptable results. However, a wide-angled, non-restrictive case as
depicted in Figure 6, new techniques that are reliable and fast are needed to tackle the hostile
outdoor environment where vehicles are not constrained. Figure 6 depicts the result of a
VRP/VRM recognition system that is able to do just that .
Recognized as: H Y 6 8 2 9
P: 99 100 100 98 99 99
Figure 6. VRP/VRM recognition result
FUTURE ITS DIRECTION
Being one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Hong Kong faces unique challenges
in providing a safe, efficient and reliable transport system to meet the economic, social and
recreational needs of the community in an environmentally acceptable manner. The local
government is committed to the continual development of Hong Kong’s transport system,
which would particularly focuses on:
• Better integration of transport and land use planning.
• Better use of railways as the backbone of our passenger transport system.
• Better public transport services and facilities.
• Better use of advanced technologies in transport management.
• Better environmental protection.
Given our limited land and financial resources, a growing population, an increasing traffic
load on the network and a greater concern for the environment, we need to devise an
appropriate transport strategy in Hong Kong for the future. It is increasingly important not to
rely solely on the expansion of the road infrastructure, but to improve services to the general
travelling public and to use the existing road resources more efficiently and effectively by the
utilization of advanced information and communication technologies.
In this regard, the Hong Kong Government continues to support the development and
implementation of ITS in Hong Kong, and has established close collaboration with the
private sector, universities and institutions. The features in ITS would generally include
traffic management, public transport information system, travel and traffic information, fleet
management, incident detection, breakdown control, parking control etc. The continued
advancement and deployment of state-of-the-art ITS technologies to provide a better
transport system to serve the public is therefore confirmed in Hong Kong.
It is envisaged that possible future ITS applications and developments in Hong Kong would
• Passenger information to help public transport users to make informed choice on route
• Driver information to give drivers updated traffic bulletins and route guidance to avoid
over-burdening congested areas.
• Automated tracking and dispatch systems to improve the productivity of commercial and
public transport fleets, and to reduce congestion.
• Traffic signal, speed, lane and ramp control systems to help alleviate congestion and
improve road safety.
• Extended use of common payment systems such as the Octopus card.
In particular, besides the plans originated in the private sector, which include continued
development in vehicles tracking and fleet management on buses and private vehicle fleets as
well as passenger information applications, various ITS projects are currently under
consideration by the Government of Hong Kong SAR.
For example, the Transport Information System project would form the transport information
infrastructure for enhancing the transport business process and supporting ITS applications.
The Traffic Management and Information Centre project would connect all the existing and
future traffic control and surveillance facilities in Hong Kong, to provide effective and
efficient traffic and incident management, information collection and dissemination, on
highways and other road segments. Other planned improvements also include ATC systems
as well as on strategic road networks which would include traffic control and surveillance,
CCTV, red light and speed enforcement systems.
In summary, with all the ITS developments which are planned to be implemented in the next
few years, together with the commitment of the Hong Kong Government to transform Hong
Kong into a leading start-of-the-art digital city, the future of ITS in Hong Kong will surely be
exciting and impressive.
1. Census and Statistics Department (2000) Hong Kong in Figures (Government of Hong
2. Transport Department (2000) Annual Report (Transport Department, Government of
Hong Kong SAR)
3. Transport Department (2000) Monthly Traffic and Transport Digest (Transport
Department, Government of Hong Kong SAR)
4. LAI H. S. (1999) Methodologies for Automated Visual Traffic Surveillance, Ph.D. thesis.
(Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, The University of Hong Kong).
5. Lai A. H. S. & N. H. C. Yung (2000) Vehicle-type identification through automated
virtual loop assignment and block-based direction biased motion estimation. IEEE
Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, June 2000, Vol.1, No.2, ISSN 1524-
6. Leung K. K., N. H. C. Yung, Cheung Y. S. (2000) Parallelization methodology for video
coding – an implementation on the TMS320C80. IEEE Transactions on Circuits and
Systems on Video Technology, Dec 2000, Vol. 10, No.8, pp.1413-1425.
7. S. Lai, L. L. T. Yeung & N. H. C. Yung, (2000) Automated vehicle license plate
recognition in Electronic Road Pricing. Invited paper, Workshop on service automation
and robotics, June 2000, ISBN 962-442-154-4, pp.131-139.