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Synectics’ CCTV software facilitates effective traffic flow management in Sheffield

Synectics’ CCTV software resolves traffic issues in Sheffield
The traffic management system uses Synectics SynergyPro software control and Modular Digital Recording System
A primary objective of Sheffield City Council is ‘to provide a pleasant city environment for residents and visitors alike'. In part, this objective is being met through the creation of an expansive network of bus and tram lanes (and gates - areas permitting bus and tram access only), devised to ensure the free flow of public transportation throughout Sheffield.

Initially, Sheffield's bus and tram lanes had proven to be very successful but after some time, had become prone to infringement from motorists, who were increasingly contravening the facilities, particularly during peak traffic periods. It soon became apparent that the escalation in contraventions was impeding the flow of public transport. Howard Saffer, Technical Project Manager for the Bus Lane Enforcement Project explains: "When the bus and tram lanes were installed in the Hillsborough area in 1996, they had an immediate and positive affect on public transport journey times. However, in the last ten years, we have seen public transport journey times become slower, as contraventions by motorists have increased."

Addressing the problem

Councils were granted legal powers to carry out civil bus lane enforcement (i.e. without police involvement) in November 2005. Anticipating this change, Sheffield City Council began to seek an effective resolution to bus lane contraventions in the city, and following a detailed investigation of various options, sought to implement a solution involving the further development of their existing state-of-the-art CCTV control room. Equipped with an advanced Synectics SynergyPro software control and Modular Digital Recording System, the technological answer was provided by the introduction of a bus lane enforcement system, specifically designed by Synectics to tackle bus lane traffic issues.

The Traffic Enforcement system is developed for towns and cities where existing CCTV cameras can be utilised 

The Synectics Synergy Traffic Enforcement system has been developed for towns and cities where existing CCTV cameras can be utilised for both public safety and Traffic Contravention monitoring. The Synergy enabled system assists with the gathering of relevant bus lane contravention data for processing by any authority's back-office system that is used to generate Penalty Charge Notices. Synergy also assists in the management of shared camera access, where surveillance is split between the two monitoring environments of traffic enforcement and public space surveillance.

Sheffield's Synergy Traffic Enforcement system began service in summer 2007. Howard Saffer takes up the story: "A key target for us is the attainment of consistent public transportation journey times and these were beginning to be significantly affected by drivers abusing the bus and tram lanes. To rectify the situation, the Council decided to invest in a traffic enforcement system that would allow us to improve the level of compliance of bus and tram traffic regulations."

"The problem of congestion affecting public transport journey times has been an issue for some considerable time. As soon as Councils were given powers by the government to carry out enforcement, we were keen to assume this authority. We realised that this would be the ideal tool to allow us to reduce bus and tram journey times, increase public transport patronage - and hopefully reduce private vehicle usage and emissions in Sheffield at the same time."

Effective enforcement

Using the Synectics bus lane enforcement system, control room staff can observe the busy network of bus lanes and gates in the Hillsborough area and other parts of the city. The design of the Synectics system enables both dedicated and existing cameras to be used for either traffic, or public space monitoring activities, as and when required. Using Synergy's user-friendly features, system operators can commit to archive individual bus lane contraventions. The digital recordings are archived in Synergy's ‘Evidence Locker', for further processing by Sheffield's Synergy Traffic Enforcement software. Daily reviewing of the contraventions captured is carried out by a second operator, to preserve impartiality in the enforcement process. On selecting ‘Contravention Review' in Synergy's step-by-step menu controlled operator environment, the second operator can review contraventions recorded from the CCTV system's network of fixed cameras or from third party sources (such as CCTV equipped vehicles, planned for a later phase of the system's expansion).

The Synergy Traffic Enforcement system presents the operator with a list of all contraventions captured within a selected time period. Each one can then be verified as a valid contravention, at which point a vehicle's information can be added or edited (if this was entered initially), such as its vehicle registration number (VRN), colour, make and model. The Synergy software then automatically checks the VRN against its own ‘vehicle exceptions' database, which contains private hire vehicles and other vehicles authorised to use the lanes.

Surveillance software from Synectics makes traffic management easy for Sheffield
Contraventions recorded from the CCTV system's network can be reviewed with the help of Synergy
With these checks completed, two images of the offending vehicle are captured; a close-up shot which verifies the VRN and a wider image showing the vehicle in the context of the bus lane. Once this process is completed, Synergy's data export service integrates seamlessly with Sheffield's back-office enforcement software and automatically passes the relevant contravention data and captured images through to the Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) system for processing of the contravention.

As a part of enforcement procedures, motorists are allowed access to the recorded footage of their contravention. This can be burnt directly on to a CD or DVD from the Synergy software, providing the public and Sheffield City Council with an open and auditable enforcement procedure. Synergy's intuitive operational procedure, from incident to PCN, will allow Sheffield control room staff to expand their monitoring of bus lane contraventions to other traffic offences over the coming years. Howard Saffer explains: "Using Synectics' technology we are fully equipped to monitor box junctions and parking offences through the system, when in the future, the powers to issue PCNs for these contraventions are made available to us by the Government."

Quantifiable results

Since the inception of the Synergy Traffic Enforcement system, Sheffield City Council has experienced a significant improvement in bus lane and tram gate compliance. Coupled with an active marketing campaign informing the public about the new system and the importance of keeping public transport lanes free from obstruction, Sheffield Council used a ‘softly softly' approach during the first weeks of its operation. As such, they issued only warnings to offenders, to raise drivers' awareness of the start of enforcement. "The initial marketing campaign assisted greatly to inform the public about the existence of the system and how effective it was at catching offenders," adds Howard. "This approach proved very successful, and quite soon we started to see bus lane contravention rates fall. Income from the PCNs is being used to offset against the initial capital cost and running of the system - and we are hopeful that the system will pay for itself within the first few years of operation. Later income from charges will be used to fund an expansion of the enforcement system to other bus lanes around the city - and possibly to expand the bus lane facilities themselves."

Howard concludes: "Deterring unauthorised use of bus lanes has resulted in a marked rise in compliance to our bus lane regulations, which in-turn has led to a quantifiable improvement in bus and tram journey times, with a reduction by as much as 3 1/2minutes through the Hillsborough area alone at peak times. We believe that equivalent improvements will be seen across the city, as later phases of the system's development continue. This improvement has already had a positive effect on the greater use of public transport, and with less cars being used in the city, we all hope to benefit from less road congestion, cleaner air and improved road safety."

"The Synectics system has provided the highly effective means to help us resolve the problems of increasing bus lane and tram gate contravention with a technical solution that not only provides an intuitive and simple to use operator interface, but also complements our existing camera and CCTV system infrastructure."

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