European integration has seen dramatic changes in mobility patterns to meet developments in economic activities. However, the statistical tools to monitor these patterns and support policy-making have changed little. In particular, there is a lack of data on international flows, Trans-European Networks, new logistic services, transport chains and intermodality. Moreover, software tools are needed to combine and analyse these data in a decision-useful form. Therefore, the European Commission is promoting the development of a European Transport policy Information System (ETIS). ETIS is intended to support decision-makers in both public and private sectors in understanding changes in mobility, logistic patterns and the effects of policy measures.
The goal of BRIDGES was to develop a software structure to support ETIS. More specifically, the aim was to provide a software technology or 'toolbox' to link models, geographic information systems (GIS) and databases into user-friendly multi-software decision support systems.
BRIDGES has developed a software architecture and tools that supports the integration of external software modules, driven from personalised and user-friendly interfaces. The main tools (or 'bridges') are:
- Digital Data Guide - a directory of information sources relevant to ETIS.
- Generalised Transport Format (GTF) - a proposed standard format for data exchange between transport databases and models.
- GTF/GIS Translator - an application for transferring data between GTF and GIS formats.
- Decision Support System - an application to simplify the interface between end users and the output from complex transport models.
- Network Utilities - a set of routines for database management and graphic analysis.
- Communication System - a technology to manage the transmission of commands between independent software applications integrated into an open system in an Intranet environment.
The BRIDGES software tools are 100% owned by the European Commission, and therefore available for wide exploitation with no licensing fees. There are no commercial software 'bridging' tools that serve the same specialist application of transport modelling and policy development.
Although BRIDGES was aimed at meeting the needs of ETIS, it can be used in a variety of other transport applications. Several support systems have already been developed using these tools, and are being used by planners and decision-makers in the European Investment Bank and local planning authorities.
The modular architecture supported by BRIDGES is seen as essential. Information and communication technologies are expected to evolve rapidly, and new databases and more advanced transport models are expected to emerge in the next few years. Only a highly decentralised, interconnected and open architecture will have the flexibility to adapt. BRIDGES allows such connections to be made, and its Communication System is being developed further to support communications over the Internet.
BRIDGES should cut the cost of future software developments, as well as enhancing the value of other models (e.g. by improving data presentation and facilitating data transfer between incompatible systems).