To some extent, transportation, mobility, and its infrastructure has always been a bit of a “Rorschach test.” That is that everyone, at least every American, sees something different as to what it is, what it is supposed to do, and what they want. So it is little wonder that there is a challenge in developing a strategy, consensus, and alignment in an industry with increasing social, economic, and environmental aspects to address.
No one really knows what the future holds although there is merit in the statement that “the only way to determine the future is to invent it.” There is a premise by futurists that the future can be viewed as a “cone of possibilities” which seems a reasonable approach. A Buzz Feed internet article entitled “Futurists tell us the most amazing and scary things to expect in the future” was posted on Apple News December 3, 2020 (Spohr, 2020). Some of the future mobility is described as follows.
…thinking about BuzzFeed’s younger readers, many of whom will live to see calendar years even more mind-bogglingly futuristic, like 2080, 2090, and even 2100. What will life be like for them over the course of their lives? How many changes will they see over the next 10–80 years?
To find out, BuzzFeed connected with some of the world’s leading futurists and asked them to forecast what the years to come might bring. Here are their fascinating and thought-provoking insights:
Public transit will be radically different in the future — and traffic will be a thing of the past.
Twentieth century public transit will be replaced by private transportation in van-sized smaller vehicles and single-person pods, driving on roads that are rarely congested because everybody follows tools like Waze which work together with cities to stop too many cars bunching up in the same place before they get there.”— Brad Templeton
Family road trips will be in self-driving recreational vehicles accessorized with robot assistants and food replicators.
Self-driving RVs will pick you up from your home and be pre-programmed to drive the route you chose (including parking themselves in the designated spaces in RV parks), and they’ll stop along the way at national parks…with reservations, of course. The RV will have internet-on-the-go to allow the kids to play computer games when the vehicle is in motion. The entertainment module will be tailored to the child’s age and interests so that you will never hear, ‘Are we there yet?’ The RVs will be equipped with food replicators, so if the parents don’t want to cook, they won’t have to. Robots will handle the setup and tear down, including making sure that the black water is flushed. All the family has to do is enjoy their time together on this all-inclusive holiday.”— Joyce Gioia
There is increasingly speculation on the future, not to mention the impact of changing technologies on skill sets and the need to re-educate the changing workforce (Shea, 2021; Michal, 2021). Even Warren Buffet was slow to recognize the important role of technology in our society (Gandel, 2021). The point, we must remain open to change otherwise we risk getting stuck (Hawrylack, 2021). This is a dynamic in human nature.
There are also studies and ideas that have been generated such as what should the future of the interstate highway system be? (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2018)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA innovations and products for space exploration have been adopted for use by our society. Most recently, NASAs 2020 Rover, a car sized vehicle has been developed along with a helicopter to learn more about the Martian planet (Adams, 2021). NASA developments will likely continue to add to our transportation-mobility arena and society as a whole.
While this series of blogs has dealt primarily with ground surface transportation and mobility, changes are afoot in other modes. For example, some airlines and investors are betting on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) to replace helicopters (Subin, 2021; LeBeau, 2021). Many want an improved passenger rail system (Benson, 2021). The Elon Musk inspired Hyperloop is estimated to exceed speeds of over 700 miles per hour and there are companies around the world working to make this a reality. Still, there are technical and economic issues to overcome (Silic, 2021; Kim and McNabb, 2020). Musk has even asserted that while the California High Speed Rail costs exceed $68 billion, the Hyperloop could be built to span the same distance for $6 billion (Nicol, 2018). There is the topic of smart roads (Integrated Roadways, n.d.).
The only thing that is certain is that the transportation and mobility space is changing, and rapidly.
There are discussions, trends, and research on the departments of transportation of the future (Fuchs and Shehadeh, 2017), thinking beyond cars (Busch, 2017), automated drive-thru meals (Metz, 2021), need for greater equity (Lydersen, 2020), easing poverty (Korman, 2021), electrifying transportation for low income communities (Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, 2020), data management (Center for Digital Government, 2020), big data to relieve congestion (Neumann, 2015), getting broadband across the United States and especially rural areas (Harrison, 2021), reducing traffic congestion and saving costs using AI and V2X (V2X=vehicle to everything) technologies (Carey, 2021), 5.9 GHz (Bhatt and Tymon, 2021), 5G (Fulton, 2021; Wachsman, 2021), smart roads and inductive charging (McFarland, 2021; Stout, 2020; Integrated Roadways, n.d.), cloud services for transportation agencies (AWS, n.d.; Silver, 2021; Matteson, 2021; Silver, n.d.), increasing citizen needs for digital technology in local governments (Schiavone, 2021; Rock Solid, n.d.; Pew Research Center, 2021), growth of micromobility (Miller, 2021), reimagine delivery with drones (Drone Delivery Canada, 2021), reinventing container shipping (Saxon and Stone, 2017), changing logistics (vanValkenburgh, 2021), renewed nature-based solutions (Miller and Huber, 2021), renewed emphasis on resiliency (Schmitz, 2021), increasing environmental issues (Teirstein, 2021; Woodyatt, 2020; Phillips, 2019; Irfan, 2019), how to rebuild America’s infrastructure (Della Rocca, et al, 2017), funding (Wehrman, 2021; Lombardo, 2021), bridging infrastructure gaps (Woetzel et al, 2016), private infrastructure financing (Budden, 2017; Parsons, 2021), new innovations in project financing, delivery, and public-private partnerships (U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highways Administration, 2021; Glazier, 2020), and many others. Others speculate on the future of mobility in cities (Harrouk, 2019), the future of autonomous vehicles in business (Gifford, 2017; Lamb, 2019), and an increasingly long line of public and private organizations committing to 100 percent electric vehicles in the next 10-20 years (Bascome, 2021), lessons in electric vehicle launches (Turkel, 2021), generator-equipped electronic vehicles (Morales, 2021), electric buses (Carroll, 2021), growing fleets of electric cabs (Lambert, 2021), electric delivery vehicles (Adams, 2021), electric heavy trucks (Reuters, 2021), design changes in electric vehicles (Korn, 2021), death of the gas-fueled vehicle (Hamza, 2021; Westbrook, 2020; van Lierop, 2020; Evannex, 2018; King, 2016), electronic vehicles will have 100% of the market by 2040 (Entrepreneur, 2021), the need for additional electric power production (Markets and Markets, 2020; Hull and Malik, 2021), new tools (Remix, 2021), some future implications of zero emission vehicles ( Robinson, 2021), expanded broadband (Pressgrove, 2021; McEwen, 2020), smart cities (Napolitano, et al, 2021), mundane mobility including sidewalks (Descant, 2021), fragility of the supply chain (Naughton and Colias, 2021; Ziady, 2021; Thorbecke, 2021), use of highway medians for other transportation purposes including monorail (Ohnsman, 2021), where Covid-19 has accelerated change (McKinsey & Company 2021), flying cars and driverless buses (Broom 2021), continuing developments in mobility technology (Heineke, et al, 2019), and the need to view infrastructure as a system (Smith, 2020). For now in the transportation space, cities are becoming greener, climate change continues largely unabated, and the impacts of the Pandemic continue with an uncertain future (Baruchman, 2021; Ariza and Harris, 2021; EPA, n.d.; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering Medicine, 2021; vanValkenburgh, 2021b; Frueh, 2021; Lowry, 2021). These are all legitimate forward-looking “think pieces”, products, and services and are needed.
It is also important to remember we live in one world with one global economy and environment (Shalal and Lawder, 2021; Whalen, 2021; Reuters Staff, 2021).
Some aspects of these futures and ideas may materialize but they are just that, speculations on what the future of mobility may look like. What the future holds will likely be messy and not simple (Putnam, 2021; Gifford, 2017). While it can be entertaining and thought-provoking to consider these futures, no one really knows what the future holds.
To emphasize that no one really can predict the future even though many have some basis, it is interesting to look back at some predictions made only a few years ago. For example, pre-2015 (Carroll, 2014; Eaves, 2007; Frey, 2008; Threewitt, 2012) and post-2015 which is closer to what we know now (Marsh & McLennan Agency, 2018; The National Express Transit, 2019; Mire, 2019; Cunningham, 2017; Thansis1997, 2018; Goodnet, 2016; Frey, 2021). To my surprise, there are even futurist schools (The Futurist Institute). And then there are the pundits speculating on the future of transportation stocks and companies that are disrupting the transportation industry (Whiteman, 2021; Sandre, 2017).
There is the issue of what long term effects the Covid-19 Pandemic will have on transportation, mobility, and freight (Furchtgott-Roth, 2021; Polzin and Choi, 2021; Goodman et al, 2021) and warning signs of a longer pandemic (Baker, 2021).
There is also the continuous drumbeat of the need for infrastructure investment (Landers, 2021; Infrastructure Report Card, 2021). I would add to this the need for social and environmental investment since they are not mutually exclusive.
Throughout this series of blogs there has been very little attention to other areas of the transportation and mobility space such the arena of logistics and supply chains which reflect the entire system through a freight lens.
Being somewhat simplistic, we know a few things with a very high level of certainty relative to the future of transportation and mobility:
- America’s transportation systems are long overdue for increased investment. As the new Biden Administration proposes massive funding initiatives for transportation infrastructure, technology will play a critical role in enabling a modernized, next-generation transportation system. A new reliable and sustainable funding model to replace the fuel tax is part of this.
- Autonomous, electric vehicles, V2V, V2I, V2X, adaptive traffic signals, electronic tolling/user fees, advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence, 5G, and asset management tools using the Internet of Things, will all be foundational building blocks of a modern system.
- A modernized system will combat climate change and meet constituents’ changing needs, including equity, social and environmental justice.
- These systems will require a fresh approach to how information is acquired, managed and analyzed as they require the processing of petabytes of data in real time. Cloud computing and edge computing will be part of this mix considering the enormous amount of data involved.
Many are looking, exploring, and building the future of mobility and transportation, it happens a piece at a time, and like other infrastructure and systems that society depends on, is sorely needed (The Commission on the Future of Mobility, 2021). The potential for information overload is a likely risk and part of this mix, as it is presently, and must be effectively dealt with (Sammer, 2021).
The interests and impacts of transportation and mobility are vast with far-reaching impacts to our society, the economy and environment. There is likely no one that is not impacted. Although what an average family spends on transportation can vary from 13 percent to 30 percent of their income depending on various factors to include income, a common percentage used is 16 cents of every dollar, and 93% of this goes to buying, maintaining, and operating cars, the largest expenditure after housing ( Elite Personal Finance, 2021; Cautero, 2021; ITDP, 2019; Financial Samurai, 2020; Miller, 2021; U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, n.d.; American Public Transportation Association, 2021).
This has been a broad, somewhat rambling, series through the mobility ecosystem and has not touched a great many areas and topics but, hopefully, has touched upon the major ones. As travelers, explorers, and citizens of the earth, we must continue our aspiration to understand and sustain our built-natural environment, and the mobility ecosystem, before they become unsustainable. This series has not given proper attention to a host or organizations (public, private, academic, and others) that are making substantial contributions toward the challenges and opportunities facing the mobility ecosystem. Some of these and associated organizations include the United States Department of Transportation and its modal administrations and offices, state departments of transportation, city and county associations, the National Academies including the Transportation Research Board, American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials and their regional associations, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of America and their state chapters, American Council of Engineering Companies and affiliates, National Society of Professional Engineers and affiliates, National Society of Black Engineers and affiliates, Women in Transportation Society and affiliates, Women in Transportation Society International, Society of women Engineers, National Association of Women in Construction, American Society of Civil Engineers and affiliates, Society of American Military Engineers and associated posts, Green Roads, World Road Federation, International Road Federation, International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association, Engineering News Record, American Trucking Association and state chapters, American Public Transportation Association and state affiliates, Association of American Railroads, colleges and universities including University Transportation Centers, and others. Other companies too numerous to name helping to lead the way include auto and truck manufactures, technology companies (including AI, 5G, web services, data services, edge computing), safety (National Safety Council and affiliates, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Association of Transportation Information Safety Professionals, and many others), finance agencies including bonding, other agencies (federal, state, and local), interest groups of all kinds (including the American Automobile Association), and many other important organizations that not only add to our body of knowledge through studies, reports, webinars, conferences, news and other means to advance our mutual interests reflecting a cross-section of our society, economy, and environment. My apologies for the many organizations I have not acknowledged.
Dr. “Kevin” Bao also provides an interesting perspective on how leaders should respond to crises and opportunities. (Steele, 2021). Perhaps this can help in our efforts to clearly, objectively, and urgently address the challenges ahead.
The National Academy of Engineering, National Academies, is bringing many previously disparate and fragmented disciplines and areas of scholarship of complex systems into more holistic thinking (Madhavan et al, 2020). It is challenging and difficult work to digest such broad knowledge but it is an important start to a better way forward, in transportation, mobility, and other areas. After all, a unifying characteristic of complex systems is that they are driven by human behavior, and human thinking.
Of course an elephant in the room is what impact will the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package have on our society, economy, environment, and people’s lives to include the transportation and mobility space (Pramuk, 2021; Morris, 2021).
The new Biden Administration also envisions a once in a century opportunity to change transportation—a new transportation era—comparing this opportunity to the interstate highway system started under President Eisenhower and the transcontinental railroad started under President Lincoln (Yen, 2021). As such, the Administration continues to pursue a robust $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan (Tankersley, et al, 2021). While the majority of Americans support this and there is a verifiable need, it is also a “heavy lift” considering the complexities of our modern day society and politics.
There is also the underlying discussion of how to best democratize the Internet and social media without interfering with the great good these tools provide (IoTeX, 2020; Newcomb, 2016; Smith, 2019; Edinger, 2021; Vicente, 2020; Susaria, 2021; Edinger, 2021).
Recently, the first Nobel Prize Summit was held and attended by Nobel Prize Laureates and other experts. The summit was convened to promote a transformation to global sustainability for human prosperity and equity. As was pointed out, time is the natural resource in shortest supply. This summit was established amid a global pandemic, a crisis of inequality, an ecological crisis, a climate crisis, and an informational crisis. Without transformational action this decade, humanity is taking colossal risks with our common future. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included requires us to become effective stewards in creating a harmonious biosphere and society. This includes inherent infrastructure and mobility. The bottom line, there is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it. In summary, we need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth as we build this new future. (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2021)
There is an adage that says the only way to predict the future is to invent, or create, it. There are myriad efforts in that direction. To that end we may be seeing the private sector emerging to lead that future while the public sector follows.
Which takes us back to the quote at the beginning of Part 1 in this series:
The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein
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