The future of transportation/mobility is about leadership. Seven tenants to improve this include:
Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
At its base, every department of transportation, their partners, and stakeholders hold their first priority as safety. This is the value we put on life. As the future of transportation and mobility evolve, driven by demand for technology and collaboration, a safe system can be achieved with zero crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. However, human nature cannot be controlled and periodic mishaps are bound to occur. Nonetheless, the future is bright for a safer transportation/mobility system.
Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
Every transportation department, their partners, and stakeholders were formed to improve mobility, whether that was getting out of the mud or the interstate highway system. Earlier, these departments were focused on engineering and construction using concrete, asphalt, and steel to predominately build a network of roads and bridges. The complexity for these departments has long since become increasingly multi-faceted, demanding additional disciplines, skill sets, and more understanding. The future of transportation and mobility, again driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, portends the opportunity for one connected, intermodal, seamless transportation system. The parts to this system are fast emerging in autonomous vehicles, one shop stop apps for routing, transfers and payments, and increasing demands from the public to make it so. This latter is driven largely by demand for access, social justice, greater diversity and other social values for fairness.
Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, and transport
There is a strong argument that transportation and mobility have been a primary driver of economic growth. This is an especially strong argument in valuing the interstate highway system. Other countries recognize that, too. That is why China is building the “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world and India’s National Highways Development Project which will result in a road network of over 30,000 miles as an element of their industrial revolution. Our entire society depends on transportation and mobility for access to jobs, public safety, health care, food, recreation, and many others. This access can be as large as the interstate highway system or as small as handicap ramps at intersections and curbs. Transportation and mobility are important at every level of our society although many take it for granted. Increasingly and rightly so, departments of transportation are using various and emerging systems to more directly value the impact of transportation and mobility in the economy. In fact, many have this reflected in their mission statements.
As the future emerges and more efficient, environmentally friending fuels come into the market, the future transportation and mobility system may include a newer user-based system such as a vehicle miles traveled tax or VMT, emerging from the fuel tax invented by the State of Oregon in 1919. This has been demonstrated as feasible for over 10 years by Oregon and other states. As such, the transportation and mobility system may operate more like a utility than it does now.
As the demand for digital technology and collaboration has increased, it requires a workforce that knows and understands how to use them. The rate of change is so rapid that the entire transportation and mobility industry, educators, and job seekers are challenged to keep up.
Environment: improve air, land, and water
As the social consciousness of environmental pollution, impacts, and climate change has increased, the efforts to control, mitigate and cleanup those impacts have correspondingly risen. While the environment and the impacts put upon it are often complex, the ownership is often ambiguous. Although many businesses are leaders in improving the environment, governments at all levels are frequently the leaders in regulating, mitigating and cleaning up impacts. As such, it is increasingly common for departments of transportation to be looked to lead in the environmental arena and mitigate the impacts on air, land, or water. My own sense is that these departments are generally very sophisticated and are up to the task.
Costs: reduce overall costs
Most people, governments, and businesses look closely at the costs in dollars since that is a primary measurement of value in our society. We view our savings, reduced costs, or costs avoided to a lesser degree. These can be significant, especially when viewed broadly such as the time-value to the driver either sitting in traffic, not being able to get to work or appointments on time, emergency responders including ambulances being slowed or stuck in traffic, and the increased opportunity for secondary collisions. Still, other impacts on the environment may be affected and add to global warming. What are the impacts on plants and animals which share our planet and sometimes may represent the “canary in the coal mine”. While direct costs in dollars serve an important purpose, viewing the wider range of costs, including those that are difficult or may not lend themselves to being valued in dollars, can be a challenge. In fact, progress in some areas such as environmental impacts and climate change may not be adequately valued in dollars, in spite of the fact that there are real financial impacts. Taking the “big picture” of the real or estimated costs in dollars or other value systems is difficult. Still, this must be done to more fairly assess the impacts to and within the built and natural environments. Otherwise, decision-making, which always has inherent flaws or risks, will not result in optimal judgments. Our ability to make more informed decisions on the total costs is evolving and improving in many parts of our society, including in transportation and mobility. Some of the systems enabling decision-making are well founded and continue to be well used, such as engineering economics. Others such as balancing the built and natural environments are more challenging but are improving within the emerging discipline of sustainability.
Time: reduce travel time
There is only so much time. Most of us are very protective of it. If we cherish our time, then it makes sense to place a value on it. Increasingly this is done. For example, placing a dollar value on a driver’s time and doing a calculation for a construction contractor’s incentive if work is completed early, or conversely charging a disincentive if work is completed late. Driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, the transportation/mobility system future promises a transition from a fragmented multimodal system to one connected, seamless, intermodal system that will optimize travel time for each of us.
Support: leverage emerging, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems
The six previous tenants are ideas that cannot be achieved without an underlying support system. While these are based on education and research and development, emerging technologies are building tools for creating better built and natural environments. The rapidly evolving arena of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence, and analytics, augmented and virtual reality and others are great, especially when considering the Apple iPhone was only released in 2007. Digital technology is a significant driver in this brave new world of transportation and mobility. Another significant driver is our human ability to collaborate for the greater societal good. Using these emerging tools to create a better transportation and mobility system will be a significant step.
The above seven tenants do not supplant the process of planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessments and their costs or savings, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, assessing and documenting infrastructure condition, and monitoring and managing traffic speed and volume.
It is the utility of all tools that will optimize outcomes in creating a better world for us and our posterity.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”