This post originated from introspection and experience over the past year. During this past year I have been trying to digest what the future of transportation will be. Although still relevant, I also realized my post of February 16, 2016 “One Seamless Transportation System” (now I consider it 1.0) was even more simplistic than I realized. As our current transportation system currently exists, each mode and multi mode does not get people where they need or want to go quickly.

I’m a synthesizer of sorts, and have had the opportunity this past year to communicate with many in the transportation space including automobile and truck manufacturers, shared vehicle providers, consultants, construction contractors, information technology professionals, start-up businesses, business intelligence/analytics businesses, state departments of transportation, local public agencies (cities and counties), and others to reflect on the future of transportation. In fact the word “transportation” may be better referred to as “mobility.” The world is flooded with new books, articles, technology and ideas on our changing world and mobility. I have been especially influenced by three books and one article:

  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY
  • Move (Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead), 2015 by Roasbeth Moss Kanter, W. W. Norton and Company, NY
  • Thomas L. Friedman’s latest book, Thank You for Being Late (An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations), 2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY and
  • The More Senior Your Job Title, the More you Need to Keep a Journal by Dan Ciampa, Harvard Business Review, July 7, 2017

The central premise of these articles is that we live in a complex world, it is very rapidly changing, we have biases, and these publications provide some methodologies for mentally slowing things down so that learning and the associated problem-solving and innovation are maximized. This was the genesis for this post.

While I believe the two primary drivers of this rapidly changing world are increasing demand for collaboration and digital technology, there are no simple answers. Although I have focused predominately on the built environment, the rapid changes in our natural environment make solutions exponentially more complex. I will fall short in this post of a complete understanding and synthesis.

There may be more changes in the in mobility in the next ten years than the previous 60, or maybe even 100. The rate of change in autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, shared vehicles, unmanned vehicles or drones (aerial and underwater), intelligent vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, mining big data, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printers, robotics, data acquisition (e.g. mobile LIDAR), building information modeling, geographic information systems, remote sensing, delivery methodologies, contracts, roles and responsibilities, allocation of risk, and others are accelerating and acting synergistically as part of the internet of things in the changing mobility marketplace. Thus, these are some reflections toward “One Seamless Transportation System.” There is a story behind each.

Some Reflections

  1. Mobility is changing fast, but traditional planning, design, construction, maintenance and operations will remain for the foreseeable future.
  2. We will increasingly speak less in terms of transportation and more in terms of mobility. More deeply, this reflects a needed change in thinking.
  3. Autonomous vehicles are coming and being tested in a small number of cities in the United States and other countries. Widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles is likely decades away, although they may be fielded within a small number of communities in the next few years. Widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles within the next few decades is unlikely. It is just too complex.
  4. Part of the challenge of fully autonomous vehicles, and a seamless mobility system, is the unpredictability of human nature for not always following the rules, even in a rules-based society.
  5. Another challenge is the enormous amount of processing speed and storage capacity that will likely be needed to accommodate large fleets of fully autonomous vehicles. While Moore’s Law has been effective in predicting the processing speed and storage capacity in the past, it is unknown if it will in the future.
  6. The entire mobility industry must remain mindful of the accelerating rate of change and plan for it to the extent possible. The industry is always in search of ways to improve design and construction means and methods.
  7. The time has essentially passed when one individual can be an expert in more than one area. Keeping up with the increasing information being created in one area of expertise is a struggle and beyond most of us. Teams and teams of teams will become increasingly important.
  8. Security of these increasingly complex systems is becoming paramount to protect us from the forces that would do us harm.
  9. The need for sincere, honest, and truthful collaborations will be fundamental to making the technology and system work. Trust and mutual respect will increasingly be needed for success in the mobility business, whether between modes, sharing resources, sharing risks, sharing research and knowledge, sharing security, and in making the whole more than the sum of its parts. Without these critical elements our changing world will experience unnecessary setbacks and will not achieve our full potential in the mobility space.
  10. Mobility systems must become increasingly redundant to make them resilient, secure and smart enough to seamlessly transition without interruptions.
  11. While auto and truck manufacturers will continue, some will increasingly become mobility providers, as is already occurring.
  12. Likewise, technology companies will increasingly become mobility providers as is already occurring.
  13. The traditional lexicon/vocabulary used to communicate in the transportation space will change as the transition to the mobility space continues.
  14. The future will put a higher value on project and program management as techniques to bring technical experts together to develop and deliver future products and services.
  15. Traditional modes of transportation (air, road, rail, transit, water and their associated vehicles) will likely continue to change and new modes will evolve, especially vehicles and means of propulsion such as the envisioned Hyperloop, rocket engines, solar power, electric vehicles, etc. Mobilities which have been science fiction may become realities in the not too distant future.
  16. The future will not be sequential or homogenous. It will be messy with many starts, stops, interruptions, failures and successes as there have been in recent decades, except that these changes will be much more rapid.
  17. Government institutions are currently not well suited to accommodate these accelerating changes. Departments of transportation must increasingly have a mobility mind set, focus on seamless mobility, and develop laws, policies, rules, regulations, and architectures that are nimble and flexible that can be quickly changed and adapted while enabling and collaborating with the private sector to develop technologies that serve the public good. This must be a true public-private partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, with neither side over stepping, and finding the right fit.
  18. Leading change is critical. The need for leadership will increase in the future along with the ability to collaborate, accept accountability, responsibility, and risks, while providing needed decisions and direction.
  19. The mobility workforce will increasingly have digital technology skills. Traditional infrastructure skill sets (planning, design, construction, maintenance) will continue for the foreseeable future while intelligent infrastructure and other technologies develop.
  20. There is general agreement that fuel taxes are not sustainable as a reliables means of funding transportation, primarily due to more fuel efficient vehicles and alternative fuels. The new funding mechanism will be based on a mobility mindset and likely be a version of the user-fee system researched and developed by the State of Oregon and others over the past decade. California and Oregon are currently collaborating to test the vehicle miles traveled user- fee on an interstate basis.
  21. Building information modeling will likely increase in use as a more collective hub throughout the asset life cycle.
  22. 3D printed infrastructure will increase, especially bridges and other discrete assets. As I write this the Dutch robotics firm, MX3D, is printing a steel bridge which is expected to be completed in 2018.
  23. Data acquisition will accelerate, especially through use of mobile light detection and ranging. Other remote sensing technologies will increase as well.
  24. Unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles (drones) will be increasingly used, and at far less cost, for surveying, inspections, and other uses in combination with rapid improvements in data acquisition and other technologies.
  25. Not long ago, design-bid-build was the dominant, if not the only, delivery methodology used in the transportation business. Contracts and delivery methods will continue to change and evolve as the industry seeks ways to accelerate delivery time, squeeze out inefficiencies, reduce costs, mitigate risks, improve accountability, productivity and predictability. Owners will also continue to consider risk transfer, favorable financing and life cycle cost benefits as they have in the past. These changes began within recent decades with design-build, construction management-general contractor, public-private-partnerships and integrated delivery. The contractual models for delivery of these methods will continue to evolve. Once commonly used contracts like lump sum, cost-plus fixed fee, and time and materials will likely be less homogenous. There are contractual/delivery arrangements made between owners, consultants and contractors such as construction-management-at-risk, general engineering consultants and many others. While these terms have some meaning, how they operate can differ substantially. Thus, the “devil” is in the details of a contract and the long used design-bid-build delivery methodology will likely be used less in the coming years.
  26. Safety will continue to be priority one in the industry. The advances in technology, coupled with increasing collaboration, hold the promise of zero deaths, injuries and property damage in our mobility system and work sites.
  27. The natural environment must be protected and improved. While we may take our natural environment for granted and it has a high degree of resilience, it is beyond dispute that the natural environment is changing. While we can debate the cause and effect of these changes, there are changes in weather patterns and severity of storms, sea levels are rising, the numbers and diversity of species are declining and others. Nonetheless, we must find ways to mitigate the impacts and improve the natural environment. The earth is our home and “Mother Nature” rules supreme. Our built environment is subordinate, not superior to the natural environment.
  28. Work sharing will increase, enabled by advances in technology. We will also rediscover the value of face-to-face communications as a means to build trust, mutual respect, teams and broader collaboration.
  29. I enjoy, and put a high value on, history but it seems the old ways of capturing and writing history are growing increasingly difficult and complex. Understanding history will remain important as we learn from the past and not repeat it.
  30. Effectively dealing with accelerating change requires special skills. The tools that enable these skills include frequent reflection, keeping a journal, team work, collaboration and generating trust and mutual respect so that the entire team feels safe to express their ideas and suggestions. These tools help mitigate our inherent biases which can increase risks and sub-optimize decisions and direction-setting.

—The future will be what we make it, and it’s going to be great!