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Public Roads - Fall 1996

Intelligent Transportation Systems in Japan

by Hideo Tokuyama

Photos/illustrations courtesy of the Japanese Ministry of Construction.

Japan, with a population density almost 12 times greater than the United States, has an abiding interest in developing intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to resolve its traffic congestion and other transportation problems. Indeed, the Japanese Comprehensive Automobile Traffic Control System (CACS) program from 1973 to 1979 was the first public-private partnership effort in Japan -- perhaps in the world -- to test in urban areas an interactive route guidance system with an in-vehicle display unit.

But recently, Japanese officials have started looking at ITS from a much greater perspective. ITS is an essential element in creating a global advanced information and telecommunications society. This advanced society will realize the free generation, circulation, and sharing of information and knowledge that are the products of all human intellectually creative activities, thus leading to a new socioeconomic system that can forge a balance between living/culture, industry/business, and nature/environment. As a result, it is expected that there will be an expansion of economic frontiers, balanced national land development, and the creation of a standard of living for the people such that they can realize a truly comfortable and affluent lifestyle.

To put this in context, let's briefly review the history of ITS before taking a look at the Japanese approach to ITS and the status of development efforts in Japan.

ITS History

I see three stages in the history of ITS to date.

Stage 1 is the beginning of ITS research in the 1960s and 1970s. This early research was characterized by Japan's CACS, the Electronic Route Guidance System (ERGS) in the United States, and a similar system in Germany. All of these systems shared a common emphasis on route guidance and were based on central processing systems with huge central computers and communications systems. Due to limitations, these systems never resulted in practical application.

The next period from 1980 through about 1995 could be called stage 2. Conditions for ITS development had improved by the 1980s. Technological reforms, such as the advent of mass memory, made processing cheaper. New research and development efforts directed at practical use got under way. In Japan, work on the Road/Automobile Communication System (RACS) project, which formed the basis for our current car navigation system, began in 1984. Two projects were going on in Europe at the same time: the Program for a European Traffic System with Higher Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety (PROMETHEUS), which was mainly set up by auto manufacturers, and the Dedicated Road Infrastructure for Vehicle Safety in Europe (DRIVE), set up by the European Community. The U.S. Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS) project was also progressing.

History of ITS development in America and Japan.

It seems to me that we have now entered a new stage -- Stage 3. Several trends support this view. First, we are beginning to see practical application of earlier programs. Second, we are at last beginning to understand the full potential of ITS, and intelligent transportation systems are being thought of in intermodal terms rather than simply in terms of automobile traffic. Third, intelligent transportation systems have started to gain recognition as critical elements in the national and international overall information technology hierarchy.

Consolidating Diverse Perspectives

Competing philosophies of ITS have become diversified in this third stage, and as a result, the current discussion may appear somewhat confused. It may, therefore, be necessary to adjust our approach a little bit.

I believe that we have two areas for discussion. The first is the concept that ITS constitutes a transportation revolution. The second is the more important issue of the potential of ITS to become a leading model for information technology applications in general. I call the first area "small ITS" and the second, "large ITS."

I don't think I need to explain "small ITS." There is already sufficient discussion regarding user services and their efficacy in the field of transportation. The more important point, which I call "large ITS," is the vital role that ITS can and should play as integral elements of the larger information technology systems that are being developed.

In Japan alone, there are approximately 14,000 traffic fatalities each year. I wonder if there is any other application that could help to save so many lives. Traffic congestion costs Japan 5.5 billion person-hours of lost time annually; in financial terms, this translates into a cost of $120 billion each year. Is there any other application that could save so much time and money? ITS projects offer truly universal benefits, so there is clear value in investing public funds.

Not only are these projects large and important, but, having taken a pioneering position in practical applications, ITS should have an important impact on information technology in general. For example, the ITS standard may well determine mobile communications standards, and the automatic toll collection system standard may well influence electronic money standards.

The Approach to ITS in Japan

ITS as Part of a Global Advanced Information and Telecommunications Society

In August 1994, Japan created the Advanced Information and Telecommunications Society Promotion Headquarters, headed by the prime minister of the nation, and the Japanese government in February 1995 released its "Basic Guidelines on the Promotion of an Advanced Information and Telecommunications Society." These guidelines establish a goal to promptly develop a high-performance information and telecommunications infrastructure to accelerate and advance the development of a society in which information and knowledge is freely generated, circulated, and shared. Under these guidelines, six fields are placed under the leadership of the central government. ITS is one of these six fields.


As of March 1996, approximately 40 different models of in-vehicle navigation systems were being sold in Japan by 25 companies. Total sales exceeded one million units.

Basic Guidelines for ITS

Based on the above "Basic Guidelines," the Interministerial Council of five ITS-related ministries and agencies the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and National Police Agency produced "Basic Government Guidelines of Advanced Information and Communications in the Fields of Roads, Traffic and Vehicles." These guidelines, published in August 1995, contain 11 policies for promoting ITS research and development and integrating individual projects into one coherent ITS program. These policies include development of a system architecture, research and development (R & D), standardization and international cooperation, and so on. The Interministerial Council works in cooperation with the national and international organizations -- such as the Vehicle, Road, and Traffic Intelligence Society (VERTIS) -- and supports a variety of activities, including the ITS World Congress in Yokohama in November 1995.

The World Wide Web home page of Japan's Ministry of Construction. By approving nine ITS areas of development, the government has officially defined the future direction of ITS in Japan. The nine areas of development include navigation systems, automatic fee collection, safe driving efforts, optimization of traffic management, road management methods, public transit, commercial vehicle operations, programs for pedestrians, and emergency vehicle operations. For more information about the overall information and telecommunications program and about the nine ITS areas, please refer to the Ministry of Construction's home page --

ITS Comprehensive Plan

Now, the five ITS-related ministries are in the process of formulating their "Comprehensive Plan for the research, development, and deployment of ITS. It should be published soon in English and will be made available on the Internet.

ITS Budget

The Japanese fiscal year starts in April and ends in March. The budget allocated to ITS for the five ministries is $596 million for deployment and $74 million for R & D -- a total of $670 million. The most striking feature of this year's budget is the increase in R & D expenditures. This increase will expand and accelerate research and will promote international cooperation and information exchange.

 Maps comparing the existing Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS) to the expanded VICS system to be completed by March 1997.

 Maps comparing the existing Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS) to the expanded VICS system to be completed by March 1997.

Development Projects

Advances in Navigation Systems

Car navigation systems became commercially available in Japan in 1989. As of March 1996, approximately 40 different models were being sold by 25 companies. Total sales now exceed one million units. Note, however, that almost all of them are stand-alone systems that have no real-time function for receiving information on traffic congestion or accidents.

The latest version, called the Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS), can receive information. It was released on April 23, 1996. The Ministry of Construction has been building VICS in conjunction with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the National Police Agency, and beacons have already been installed along main trunk roads in Tokyo as well as expressways linking Tokyo and Osaka. Approximately 600 beacons have been located along these expressways. The plan is to expedite the placement of another 1,800 beacons and the development of information centers so that by March 1997, VICS service will be available throughout the nation's expressways.

Automatic Toll Collection Systems

Japan has about 8,530 kilometers of toll roads. Collaborative research is now under way between the public and private sectors to produce an automatic toll collection system common to all toll roads in Japan. This exercise combines the efforts of the Ministry of Construction, four related public corporations, and 21 private companies. The 21 companies include AT & T, Amtech, AT/Comm, and IBM Japan. Test operations are scheduled to start by March 1997, and we hope to have the entire system up and running by 1999.

Safe Driving Assistance

In this field, research has been conducted under the name Advanced Safety Vehicle (ASV) by the Ministry of Transportation, Super Smart Vehicle System (SSVS) by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and Automated Highway System (AHS) by the Ministry of Construction. I am also expecting that our R & D will be integrated following the "Guidelines" of last year. In November 1995, as part of AHS research, public driving tests were conducted at a test course owned by the Ministry of Construction. This year, the R & D organization will be strengthened.

Optimization of Traffic Management

Traffic control systems have been in use in Japan for some time to tackle the problems associated with heavy traffic flow. Now, Japan also seeks to enhance safety, comfort, and the environment through the use of the most appropriate means of traffic management, including signal controls, traffic information to in-vehicle units, priority to public transit vehicles, dynamic route guidance systems, monitoring commercial vehicles, better detour information, and controlling signals to reduce traffic pollution

This is a joint effort of the Ministry of Construction, which is in charge of expressways, and the National Police Agency, which looks after surface streets. The approximately 250 kilometers of metropolitan expressways contain a total of 2,077 vehicle detectors to measure the number of passing cars and their speeds, 862 television cameras, and 456 information or graphics displays. Information is updated every minute on the metropolitan expressways. We must consider how to combine this existing system with new systems that will be developed in the future.


Field tests of radio communication and mixed lane operation were performed at the Ministry of Construction's test course and at toll plazas on actual roads.

Future Directions

ITS is at last finding practical application in the United States, Europe, and Japan. People the world over will benefit from the transportation revolution. We must encourage greater international cooperation than we have seen to date, to enable effective development of new systems and to ensure their compatibility, as well as to create large markets by sharing knowledge. Working in cooperation with other countries, Japan aims to develop and deploy its ITS through technical development, formulation of international standards, and technological aid to developing countries.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the United States in this international effort to provide these important new systems to our respective nations.

Hideo Tokuyama is the deputy director of the Planning Division of the Road Bureau in the Japanese Ministry of Construction. He graduated from Tokyo University with a degree in civil engineering and joined the Ministry of Construction in 1979. He is currently working on a one-year assignment with the Federal Highway Administration at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center as part of efforts to strengthen cooperation between the United States and Japan.