In the past, the City of Toronto has provided congestion information about the road ahead on its variable message signs. These messages have been qualitative such as:

  • DVP moving well
  • DVP moving slowly
  • DVP moving very slow

Since 2014, these qualitative messages are being supplemented with actual travel times to specific destinations on its expressways.

The City will be expanded to operate on selected arterials roads as part of the City’s Congestion Management Plan.

Motorists will now be more informed about delays and the impacts that they will have on their commute. More detailed information will allow motorists to make better decisions regarding whether or not to stay on the expressway or seek alternate routes. Along the Lake Shore and Gardiner, the system will provide valuable comparative information to motorists regarding the two viable options they have to reach their downtown destination.

The system automatically provides travel times to the signs, however, the City’s traffic operators who monitor the roads 24 hours a day, seven days a week, have the ability to monitor and override the system to display messages in the event of an emergency, incident or amber alert.

The City conduct periodic audits on the system by comparing the system logs against travel time runs to ensure that the system is running as it should.

The system uses a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi readers to detect vehicles anonymously on the road that are either equipped with such enabled devices or have drivers or passengers with enabled cell phones. The system takes an average of the readings and then reports a representative travel time to be displayed on the variable message signs.

Bluetooth/WiFi readers are small, low powered devices that have the ability to anonymously pick up Wifi or Bluetooth enabled devices such as those found in cell phones, cars, or other electronic devices such as printers, faxes, etc. When two such readers are placed in sequence along a particular segment of a road, readings can be matched up between units to estimate the average travel time experienced along the route segment.

When a Bluetooth or WiFi device is in ‘search’ mode for a connection, the device sends out ping pulses. The Bluetooth/WiFi readers pick up on the pulses, encrypt the device MAC ID and stores the information until a match is found at a downstream location. Once the encrypted device IDs are paired, the ID information is deleted and a record is generated based on the time/stamp and segment travel time. Unpaired device readers are also discarded after a certain period.

The actual Bluetooth readers are installed in the existing roadside traffic controller cabinets on Gardiner Expressway, Don Valley Parkway and Lake Shore Blvd.

The system has the capability to adjust the polling frequency. The system is currently polling and updating the signs every minute.

The device MAC IDs are completely anonymous and not traceable as there is no database linking device MAC IDs to specific users. Moreover, the IDs are not stored in the system records and even while the system is looking for a match, the stored IDs are encrypted.

There are no specific link travel times stored for specific users (i.e. the system cannot be used to identify a specific user’s speed or travel time). Hence, there is no way for anyone to be capable of working backwards through the system to identify specific users and times as the information simply isn’t there. The anonymous nature of this technology has made it a very common approach to detecting general traffic conditions by road authorities throughout North America and other parts of the world.

The system stores travel time records as well as the messages that are being displayed on the signs. The travel time records include: date/time stamp, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi pair, and average travel time based on specific readings. No information regarding specific ping readings is stored by the system. The messaging records include sign location, date/time stamp, and actual message displayed.

The records are stored on a secure local database at the City of Toronto’s Transportation Operations Centre.