Bluetooth technology is being used by Ontario's Ministry of Transportation to predict traffic flow, and the ministry wants to use it to estimate border wait times.

In Windsor, Ont., city council approved permits on Tuesday for the ministry to install tracking equipment on streetlights and lampposts on streets leading to the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Once installed, the vehicle detection stations and Bluetooth readers will be used to better predict border wait times at the bridge and tunnel, the province says. The Ambassador Bridge is North America's busiest land border crossing, connecting Windsor and Detroit.

According to the province, the technology is not yet being used at any border crossing in Ontario. There are plans for the same detection devices to be installed in Sarnia and Niagara Falls.

Other detection devices, called “loops,” would be installed beneath the pavement on roads leading to border crossings. The loops would be used to monitor and differentiate between truck and passenger vehicle traffic.

Every Bluetooth device has a "transceiver chip" that continuously transmits a unique ID to establish a link with responding devices.

Bluetooth transportation device

Every Bluetooth device has a 'transceiver chip' that continuously transmits a unique ID to establish a link with responding devices (Courtesy Ministry of Transportation)

The Bluetooth readers along Huron Church Road and parts of Highway 401 would scan the area for Bluetooth devices, track their travel and compile an average travel time that could be accessed by commuters online at Ontario's traveller's road information portal and through 511 phone service.

The ministry has been testing and deploying Bluetooth detection systems by BlueFax to collect data and analyze it with BluStats software.

In the spring of 2010, the ministry was the first in Canada to deploy units to monitor traffic. They were used in a construction zone.

Ministry of Transportation officials maintain the data collection would be done anonymously and used only to calculate travel times.

Vehicle detection equipment is already being installed under the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel Plaza as part of a reconstruction project in downtown Windsor, according to the ministry.

“It certainly raises a number of concerns for those who care about their privacy,” said David Christopher of OpenMedia.ca, an organization that works to protect the privacy of Canadians. “People have the right to not have every movement tracked by the government.

“One question people should be asking is ‘Does this system actually store the data and, if so, who gets access to that data?’ It could be used to track people’s movement through the area.”

Helga Reidel, Windsor's city's chief administrative officer, feels there is nothing to worry about.

"I know that the ministry would not enter into anything that would violate privacy, and certainly the city would not either," she said. "So we will be looking at that as we go further in these early stages of the process."

The system should be running within two years.

The Bluetooth project is part of the ministry's intelligent transportation systems strategy.

In a letter to the City of Windsor, the ministry says it will:

  • Pay for ongoing costs for the power and communications.
  • Co-ordinate with the city and Enwin for the removal/reinstallation of the equipment if required due to city maintenance.
  • Maintain the equipment and mounting hardware.

The city says if it is “in the best interest of the City of Windsor to maintain and operate the system, a separate operating agreement will be negotiated with all costs recovered from the Ministry of Transportation.”

The loops and Bluetooth readers are part of a border advisory system project, which is part of the nearly 10-year-old Let’s Get Windsor-Essex Moving Strategy, which began in 2005.

In November 2005, the federal and provincial governments committed $300 million to invest in Windsor-Essex infrastructure.