Pieter Morlion was the driving force behind the creation of TMaaS. And it was at his initiation that the city of Ghent moved away from the idea of building a traditional traffic centre – a control room full of screens with images of the traffic and the different car parks. He is also the man who put Ghent in contact with the different partners who have now put their names behind the project.
How did the idea of TMaaS as an alternative come up?
Pieter Morlion: “The idea of a joint venture with companies that were in possession of the data we required took shape gradually and over time. So I’ve consumed quite a lot of coffee over the last three years with people from companies like Google, TomTom, Coyote, NMBS, De Lijn, the police, etc. Our request was always about whether we could exchange data. We succeeded with most of our requests. The result is that we did not have to install expensive hardware ourselves because De Lijn knows perfectly well which buses are running late, the Roads and Traffic Agency knows how many cars are present on the ring road at any point in time, etc. Thanks to the input of all this data, we didn’t have to do everything ourselves. We then started a number of pilot projects to process this data automatically and then sent a message to residents via twitter informing them if there were problems anywhere. We soon noticed that this way of working held a lot of promise. We no longer had to stare at a screen all the time, but were able to concentrate on the essential things. If something happens, or when events like the Gentse Feesten are taking place, we are still present at the command post. But there’s no longer any need for all the other tasks and permanent presence, which is still the case in other cities and towns.”
How did the idea come about to roll out the idea beyond Ghent?
Pieter Morlion: “At a certain point in time I realised that, with just a few adjustments, we could roll out our concept to the rest of the world. The contacts with a few international players were already in place, which made the project practically feasible. We wanted to set up a kind of Spotify of traffic centres, to which everyone has access. If, for example, a city like Barcelona wants to register on our platform, they can do that and immediately receive all the data about their city. This is made possible thanks to our contacts at TomTom, Waze, etc.”
We wanted to set up a kind of Spotify of traffic centres, to which everyone has access.
How did you put the concept into practice?
Pieter Morlion: “This was not something we took lightly. It took a while before we were sure that we could transform the concept into reality. That’s only normal as it is a project that requires significant investment. In the end, we thought the best solution for us was to apply for financial support from Europe. One advantage of our project is that it can also be taken up by other European cities and towns, so it was certainly pertinent all over Europe. But first we had to be sure that our project was really worth investing time and money in. I wanted to find out if another project of this kind existed elsewhere and if other cities were interested. We presented the project at a number of conferences where there might be a potential interest, including in Tampere, Finland and ITS Europe in Paris. We also travelled to the UN in Geneva to find out whether the concept might also be useful in a radically different environment such as Africa. We received positive feedback everywhere. A great number of major cities, such as Copenhagen or New York, also confirmed that it offered interesting potential. The cooperation of big names like Tom Tom also added credibility to the project. This convinced us to put in an application for a grant, the result of which is now common knowledge. ”
At what point do you consider TMaaS to be a success?
Pieter Morlion: “My primary ambition is that what we do should serve some purpose. You can come up with as many great ideas as you like, but if they don’t work in practice, they are meaningless. I think above all about the people who work in the traffic centres and who spend most of their time sitting glued to screens. But we also want to make this interesting for end users. The focus has to shift from people who sit in front of the screens to people who talk with residents. When that that has been achieved, I think the rest will look after itself.”
What’s your particular hobby horse?
Pieter Morlion: “The link between mobility and technology has endless fascination for me. It is something that impacts on people every single day and it is the subject of great interest at the moment. But when you look at mobility-related technology you see that it is really lagging behind. All you have to do is check out the possibilities that social media has to offer and then compare them with the applications relating to mobility, and the picture you see is not a very good one. This may well be because there is a lot of opposition to it. People see mobility as their last area of freedom, a bit like smoking in cafés. The difference being that when it comes to driving and people’s relationship with cars, they are even more stuck in their old habits.”
How do you get to work?
Pieter Morlion: “By bike. And I think that’s great!”
About Pieter Morlion
Pieter Morlion studied IT and languages and literature (Dutch and Spanish). He then went on to work at Volvo as international project manager on IT projects. When he saw the advertisement for a vacancy to set up a traffic centre for the City of Ghent, he didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. And as they say… the rest is history.