Are we managing traffic for results?

There are 7 critical success factors

Road users, travelling in cars, buses and trucks, are being caught up in bigger traffic jams, with greater, unexpected traffic delays.

Governments are crying poor as they dont have the budget for any big fixes.

What can we do to help this problem?

Lessons from Road Safety

Best practice in road safety policy deployment has resulted in sustained improvements, particularly since the mid 1990’s.

The key to the road safety success has been the implementation of a management system that comprises a systematic, sustained and accountable response to problems. It treats road safety as a ‘production process’ – institutional management, with a focus on developing and implementing initiatives that produce strong results, which are subsequently evaluated and adjustments made.

The critical success factors cover seven institutional functions: results focus; coordination; policy; resourcing; promotion; evaluation; and knowledge transfer.

Do these institutional functions translate to managing traffic operations? I believe so.

Effective traffic operations requires shared multi-agency responsibility for results, with a lead agency adopting a guiding, encouraging and catalytic role. So what are these critical success factors?

1. Results focus

Having an agreed strategy that establishes an ambition to improve, and a clear and an accountable focus on results is the first key to success. The strategic orientation drives a series of progressive actions and a performance framework to monitor expected results.

To be able to develop a strategic direction requires consensus on the key problem areas – those where the greatest impact can be achieved with least effort – in consultation with key partners and develop initiatives that have the potential to achieve improvements. These initiatives need to be challenging but achievable, cost-effective and importantly, acceptable to the public.

The lead agency also needs to identify and build mechanisms to ensure partner and key stakeholder accountability for results, such as through a memorandum of understanding.

For example targetting the road network which has the highest concentration of high risk problems, such as heavy vehicle incidents causing long delays, is a useful place to start. Something like 20% of the road network probably accounts for 80% of the traffic problems, so this should be the first focus of activity to get the best return on resources invested.

2. Coordination

The orchestration and alignment of deliverables by key partners is the second key of success.

This involves having accountable, decision-making working arrangements at two levels (management and operations) between government agencies and key delivery partners, such as traffic agencies, police, emergency services, incident response and towing services and private toll road operators.

Roles and responsibilities of the key agencies need to be set out in agreements, preferably formal.

3. Policy

Establishing the policy parameters that outline the legitimate bounds of key partners, including responsibilities and accountabilities is the third key to success.

Due consideration again needs to be given to cost effectiveness, practicality and public acceptability.

This aspect includes developing and updating necessary legislation and regulation requirements and cooperative working processes, to provide the basis for effective traffic operation, taking into account innovative international developments.

4. Resourcing

Financing of initiatives on a sustainable basis using accepted resource allocation processes to achieve the desired results is the next success factor. This means building strong business cases based on sound economic appraisal to ensure cost-effectiveness based on research. Documenting the outcomes from demonstration pilot programs is useful here.

Establishing an ongoing program of funding, including consideration of dedicated funding sources is also recommended.

5. Promotion

Sustained communication, both with key delivery partners and government, and also with the travelling public is vital to ensure shared responsibility for achieving the desired results.

Fostering key stakeholder professionals involvement in continuing education events, from the traffic, police, emergency services and insurance industries, among others, is one means of generating a shared understanding and vision of success.

6. Evaluation

Monitoring of performance, in the form of systematic and ongoing measurement of key outputs and outcomes against agreed measures and targets, is needed to achieve the desired focus on results. This should be published at regular intervals in terms of cost to the community – either socio-economic cost, lost time due to delay and/or variability in the reliability of travel times.

Evaluation of key initiatives, such as before and after studies, assessing what was achieved against the proposal, and at what cost, provides the basis for future investments and for other jurisdictions.

7. Knowledge transfer

Transfer of research and experience is key to ongoing development in capability and contributes to improved efficiency and effectiveness.

This includes developing an agreed research program with partners and other jurisdictions, commissioning research, monitoring international developments and promoting the findings.

It also includes providing training and knowledge transfer activities, developing good practice guidelines and undertaking demonstration projects to test new concepts.


Building sustainable mobility and safety management capacity requires a long-term approach, with priority activities undertaken to an agreed program.

What do you think are the key success factors needed to go beyond good practice and achieve best practice?

Based on an article written for Thinking Highways

3 thoughts on “Are we managing traffic for results?”

  1. Phil

    Great article
    Key to the evaluation section, policy development is having good accessible information regarding the network, its health and its services. In some regards this is the reearch platform that remains a relatively untapped resource

    RMS has commenced on a journey to publish network performance and health information see link

    The idea of managing traffic (generally interpreted as manging vehicles )is the traditional approach however tthinking about this as the provision of road services and a well performing network is wider and enables the systematic approach that has worked so well for road safety to be more holistic encompassing more than engineering and encompassing a suite of policy interventions and management systems including behavioural. Is it not a behavoural issue that we all travel near or abour the same time in the AM as PM ?

  2. Hi Phil,

    Interesting piece, if we are to consider best practice then I think we need to take a step back and think of some fundamentals – for example I am convinced that the vast majority of our community think that traffic congestion is the Government’s problem, not theirs. While this attitude persists it is difficult to remotely come close to achieveing the best from our road network let alone our transport network. For example because the community does not “own” the problem of traffic congestion it is difficult to restore capacity on major roads by removing parking even during selective periods because of community opposition and a lack of will by politicians. Similarly the “health” of a road network can also be measured by how quickly it recovers from incidents and yet I know of no Australian jurisdiction that has set targets to clear incidents on major roads regardless of its circumstances. Again I would suggest that the issue of “ownership” is a problem, this time from the state agencies perspective. We have lots of work to do and much of it lies in the political domain, unfortunately!

  3. Good article! Traffic congestion is endemic worldwide. Some cities do better than others, but most large cities will take an eternity to make much of an impression on their traffic jams unless more effective and affordable actions are adopted. Affordability is crucial and is the real bone of contention when it comes to reconciling needs and resources. I have penned an eBook around this dilemma. It emerges that roads can be the solution rather than the problem, and they are pivotal not peripheral to successful public transport. This is partly about road management, but also very much to do with how the available funding is deployed. For more see


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