Ministry of Transportation / Ministère des Transports
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About Compass

COMPASS

Compass is a high-tech Freeway Traffic Management System developed by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to respond to traffic congestion problems on urban freeways. Compass helps reduce traffic congestion and increase safety by:

  • allowing for the prompt detection and removal of freeway incidents and vehicle breakdowns;
  • providing accurate and timely freeway incident and delay information to motorists; and,
  • effectively managing peak rush hour traffic flow through innovative traffic control devices.
COMPASS road image

The initial leg of the Highway 401 Compass System - a 16-kilometre section between Martin Grove Road and Yonge Street - was completed and put into operation in January 1991. The system used state-of-the-art technologies and was regarded as one of the most advanced traffic management systems in North America. Over the years, the Highway 401 Compass System has been upgraded with more advanced equipment and computer software programs. The geographical limits of the system have also been expanded both easterly and westerly to cover the entire section of Highway 401 within the Toronto region.

In addition, new initiatives are being designed for the Greater Toronto Area Freeway Network and for Highway 417 in Ottawa. Other systems on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in Mississauga and Burlington are also going through a series of upgrade and expansion activities.

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How Does Compass work?

Vehicle Detector Stations

Vehicle Detector Stations

Closed Circuit Television Cameras

Closed Circuit Television Cameras

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Maintenance Patrol

Maintenance Patrol

Arrow Photo: The traffic operations centre is the focal point for all communications and control Arrow
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Traffic Operations Centre

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Changeable Message Signs

Changeable Message Signs

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Emergency Response Agencies

Emergency Response Agencies

Traffic and Road Information Systems

Traffic and Road Information Systems

  1. Traffic flow on the freeway is monitored continuously by Vehicle Detector Stations (VDS) composed of inductance loops embedded beneath the pavement with a minimum of one loop per lane. Stations that have a double-loop arrangement are specifically designed to measure averaged vehicle speeds and lengths as well as traffic volume count and occupancy information. These VDS are installed at frequent intervals along the main freeway (approximately 500 m to 800 m apart) and on transfer roads, exit and entrance ramps, and nearby connecting freeways.
  2. The traffic information collected by the VDS is transmitted to the Traffic Operations Centre (TOC) over a Communications System (fiber optic and coaxial) installed along the freeway. Information is processed by the FTMS Computer System and then displayed to the operator on a computer terminal and a colour graphics system.
  3. Maintenance staff patrolling on the freeway also act as an additional means of detection and are directed to call in any incidents they may observe. They also have an important role to play in providing clean-up and traffic control services for major incidents.
  4. Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras located approximately one kilometre apart along the freeway, transmit live images to the traffic operations centre to confirm information from the vehicle detector stations and to identify problems on the freeway quickly.
  5. Upon confirmation of a freeway incident that slows or obstructs traffic, the operator will coordinate and dispatch the appropriate emergency response agencies such as Ontario Provincial Police, fire departments, ambulance services, and towing companies.
  6. To inform motorists of upcoming traffic conditions, operators approve computer generated messages for display on the Changeable Message Signs (CMS) located at strategic diversion points along the freeway. Compass signs also have the ability to automatically display real-time congestion information as detected by the VDS. When congestion information is not required, the signs are automatically changed to indicate upcoming exits or safety education messages.
  7. Traffic information is also disseminated to the public through the Traffic and Road Information System (TRIS). This system is an automated Fax system designed to provide provincial highways traffic reports to a large subscriber list, primarily the radio media. With an increasing demand for traffic information in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), motorists can receive timely and accurate reports in their vehicles through commercial radio. The Compass traffic operations centre has a great deal of traffic information regarding the provincial highways in the GTA. Through TRIS, Compass operators enter event information into a computer which is automatically formatted and faxed to subscribers.

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System Benefits

Improved response
Increased safety
Reduced congestion
Reduced pollution

Traffic management systems like Compass have been successfully used by many large cities in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Their track record has shown significant benefits for motorists.

Improved emergency assistance for motorists in the case of collisions or vehicle breakdown.

More detailed and timely traffic information available to help motorists anticipate conditions ahead.

Decreased number and severity of motor vehicle collisions on the highway.

Increased safety assurance in highway travel particularly around construction zones.

Reductions in congestion and the associated delay during rush hour periods and emergency situations.

Adjacent communities benefit from more effective utilization of available road capacity.

Commercial traffic benefits from reduced travel times and more uniform traffic flow.

Less time spent idling in traffic leads to reduced fuel consumption and vehicle emissions.

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