If you think our North-South highway, operated by PLUS Expressways Bhd, is a low-tech operation, think again.
The highway concessionaire runs one of the most high-tech operations around, with access to equipment and services that make the experience of travelling not only safer but more comfortable.
PLUS headquarters, located in Menara Faber, is a very unassuming building which houses a traffic monitoring system that looks like it came off of a sci-fi movie set.
Once you go through the doors of the Traffic Monitoring Centre, you enter a room that looks like the bridge of the starship Enterprise; there's a giant viewscreen and chairs with smaller consoles arranged in a semi-circle around it.
From here, PLUS employees monitor the huge amount of traffic that goes up and down the highway daily, utilising some 1,377 CCTV (closed-circuit televisions) cameras situated along the PLUS and ELITE stretches of the highway.
The entire 878km stretch starts from the Thailand-Malaysia border at Bukit Kayu Hitam in the north to the causeway that links Singapore to our country in the south.
According to Hamdan Kamaluddin, chief engineer of the Traffic Safety department, the cameras are used primarily to monitor accidents on the highway and also to identify traffic congestion.
"However, our traffic-monitoring system is sometimes used to (help the police) track down criminals who are trying to make their escape on the highway," he said.
The fact that the monitoring system can be used for tracking cars will give you an idea of just how high-resolution some of these cameras are – high enough, in fact, that car number plates can be read from the images.
PLUS' traffic monitoring system is augmented by a 24-hour callcentre (1-800-88-0000), where road users can use emergency phones (located every 2km on the highway) to call in case of an accident or breakdown.
From this central hub, a call is sent to the PLUS Ronda centre nearest to the problem and a rescue truck is sent out, usually within minutes thanks not only to the efficient emergency response system but also to the CCTV cameras, which often reveal a mishap even before a call is made.
As an example of how efficient PLUS Ronda is, 96% of the emergency calls last year were attended to by PLUS Ronda within 25 minutes of being alerted, with the total average response time being just 5.4 minutes.
In total, there are 113 PLUS Ronda patrolling teams operating, with a total of 95 vehicles operating on the North-South highway throughout the year.
All the vehicles are equipped with GPS (global positioning system) tracking devices so that headquarters can keep track of them at all times and make sure they keep to their assigned routes, while the teams are equipped with walkie-talkies and pagers.
You may think that pagers are outdated, but they serve a useful function. This now-defunct piece of consumer technology is alive and well on the highways because it's the only system that will work in telecommunications "dead spots" (such as inside tunnels).
During festive seasons, where traffic, and accidents, on the highway are at their highest, an emergency response team is also utilised. This would include policemen, firemen and St John's Ambulance members.
PLUS Ronda teams provide many services. Apart from free breakdown services, the teams have been used for tasks like clearing road obstacles, and even bizarre ones like removing snakes from inside car bonnets.
They also provide assistance to passengers left behind by buses, remove mentally disturbed individuals found wandering on the highway, and have even saved several abandoned babies.
Apart from attending to emergencies, PLUS also provides high-tech services to road users.
Over the last few years, it has been updating its Rest and Service Areas (RSAs) and Overhead Bridge Restaurants (OBRs); making them bigger, installing improved toilet facilities, and adding shops.
Now, tech-savvy travellers can access the Internet wirelessly because some RSAs have been equipped with WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) hotspots. Access is provided for free.
At this time, the RSAs in Sungai Perak, Gunung Semanggol, Tapah, Sungai Buloh and the USJ Go Kart track have this upgrade. That's a total of 10 rest stops if you count both the north-bound and south-bound stops.
Azman Masbah, assistant general manager of PLUS' Electronic & Telecommunication Projects department, said it will have all the 18 major RSAs (not including the lay-bys) covered by WiFi before the end of next year.
But PLUS is trying to achieve this by the end of this year, he said.
"It would be great if we could blanket the entire highway with hotspots so that kids can surf, leaving the adults to concentrate on driving," he added.
However, this is just a pipe dream at this time because the North-South highway goes through some very remote areas where telecommunications is not available.
Right now, Internet access is provided by TM Net's Streamyx ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) service, offering the 1Mbps (megabits per second) package that many home users are familiar with.
According to Azman, PLUS is looking into going with satellite-based Internet access for the more remote areas, but this may or may not happen because of the high cost of such a service.
By TAN KIT HOONG
http://star-techcentral.com/tech/story. ... =itfeature