The Mobility Ecosystem: the changing landscape and the need for fresh, new ideas (Part 3: Economics of Electric Vehicles and the Decline of Oil)

As with other subjects, the literature and development of electric vehicles (EVs) and oil is vast and evolving. What can be gleaned, generalized, and estimated is this (Reichert, 2017; Idaho National Laboratory, n.d.; Skeptics, n.d.; Evannex, 2018; Schmidt, 2017):

  • there are growing advantages to electric vehicles
  • a battery charge can go 400-600 miles
  • there are approximately 20 moving parts in a EV versus 2,000 moving parts in internal combustion vehicles
  • there is zero maintenance except for tires
  • EVs are 90 percent cheaper to operate
  • The estimated life of an EV may be 500,000-1,000,000 miles

Globally, peak car ownership is projected to occur by 2035. Cars are used only 4% of the time, and by 2023 it is estimated that EVs will reach parity with the cost of gas-fueled vehicles (Ingham, 2019; Weiland, et al, 2017; Gearino, 2020). As younger generations consider the cost of car ownership, a review of vehicle registration records in more than 200 metro areas revealed that per-capita car purchases increased 0.7 percent on average in the years after Uber, Lyft and other e-taxi giants deployed their fleets, compared to projected registration rates prior to the entry of the companies. These were very slow years for car dealerships, partly due to the pandemic in 2020 (Naughton and Welch, 2019; Wilson, 2021).

The first nine months of 2020 saw car sales crater (Figure 2). Every major automaker was impacted with the exception of Tesla. The electric automaker sold more cars than ever before. Even as the rest of the economy froze, Tesla posted its longest stretch of profitable quarters, increased stock value over 750 percent, is now the largest U. S. vehicle manufacturer, became the 6th largest U. S. company, and ended the year with inclusion in the S&P 500 stock index. A closer look reveals AVs in general managed to thrive even as sales of traditional cars declined. Both Volkswagen and Daimler saw record-setting losses in total sales while sales of their EVs doubled.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is electric-vehicles-defy-slump.png
FIGURE 2. Electric vehicles defy the COVID slump. EV sales grew in 2020, while the rest of the industry crumbled. Sales volumes compare the first three quarters of 2020 with the same period in 2019. R-N-M refers to the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors alliance. (Randall and Warren, 2020)

While the sale of electric vehicles has been increasing for some years, there is also a need for the infrastructure and charging stations to support it (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3. Electric cars and the needed infrastructure are still rare in the U. S., but are becoming more common each year (Source: U. S. DOE; Transportation Research Center at Argonne National Laboratory in Welch, 2021).

The Biden Administration wants to increase charging stations by half a million as part of their effort to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050. As such, new gas-powered cars and trucks would have to be phased out rapidly, probably by 2035 or sooner. That means aggressive action would have to continue. (Welch, 2021).

The energy sector is undergoing a major transformation and it will intensify as more and more consumers, especially in the transportation industry, change their purchase decisions to cleaner and less expensive options in the marketplace (i.e. EVs over internal combustion vehicles) (Figure 4).

FIGURE 4. Clean energy market caps have surpassed those of oil companies. NextEra Resources is the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. Enel is an international manufacture and distributor of electricity and gas. Iberdola is the world’s largest producer of wind energy. Orsted is a Danish renewable energy company. Exxon is one of the world’s largest petroleum companies. Eni is a multinational fossil fuel company. Repsol is a multinational fossil fuel company. BP is a nultinational fossil fuel company. (Source Eckhouse, et al, 2020)

Batteries are a technology, not a fuel, which means the more that are produced, the cheaper they are to make. However, up until now, EVs have been more expensive to build than gasoline cars. That’s changing (Figure 5).

FIGURE 5. In 2020, some batteries were built for $100 per kWh, paving the way for EVs to become the cheapest option compared to oil. (Source Randall & Warren, 2020)

This past year saw the first companies producing batteries at a cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour. That’s the point that analysts believe will bring the cost of building electric cars in parity with similar gasoline vehicles. After that, EVs should only get less expensive.

Volkswagen, the biggest automaker by cars sold, confirmed that its batteries had reached the $100 threshold for its 2020 ID.3 sedan and upcoming ID.4 compact SUV (Matousek, 2019). China’s CATL, the world’s biggest battery supplier, also claimed $100 battery nirvana as it struck deals across the auto industry (Schmidt, 2020). In addition, Tesla plans to manufacture battery cells, a first for any automaker, and to reduce battery costs 56% by 2023 (Spector, 2020).

Most recently, President Biden has announced his intent to convert the federal vehicle fleet of 645,000 vehicles to electric (Dow, 2021). Still, we need to remain aware of the basic infrastructure required for migration to electric vehicles, charging stations scattered across the Nation, and power generation and network to provide adequate electricity.

General Motors has announced it intends to stop making gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and go all electric by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040 (Colias, 2021).

Amazon is also in the process of having 10,000 electric delivery vans on the road by 2022, and 100,000 by 2030 (Hawkins, 2020).

In spite of the Pandemic, 2020 experienced a 30 percent increase in electric vehicle sales and that is expected to increase to 72% in 2021, charging stations infrastructure has lagged (BlastPoint, 2021).

We are near a “tipping point”.

Another aspect to consider, the cost and weight of a power train goes up for large EV vehicles (trains, heavy trucks, and buses), essentially losing any EV advantage. That is a reason Cummins Diesel is looking to use hydrogen fuel cells for these types of large vehicles (Nagel, 2020; Ohnsman, 2020).

A dirty secret of EV— the extraction of minerals such as cobalt used to make batteries is frequently done by child labor (Broom, 2019).

Literature Cited

BlastPoint (2021). 2021 EV Outlook. BlastPoint. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://blastpoint.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/BlastPoint-2021-EV-Outlook_Report.pdf

Broom, D. (2019, March 27). The dirty secret of electric vehicles. World Economic Forum. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/the-dirty-secret-of-electric-vehicles/

Colias, M. (2021, January 28). GM to phase out gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/gm-sets-2035-target-to-phase-out-gas-and-diesel-powered-vehicles-globally-11611850343

Dow, J. (2021, January 25). President Biden will make entire 645k federal vehicle fleet electric. electrek. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://electrek.co/2021/01/25/president-biden-will-make-entire-645k-vehicle-federal-fleet-electric/

Eckhouse, B., R. Morison, W. Mathis, W. Wade, and H. Warren (2020, November 29). The new energy giants are renewable companies. Bloomberg Green. Retrieved January 30, 2021 from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-renewable-energy-supermajors/

Evannex. (2018, September 22). Here’s seven reasons why electric vehicles will kill the gas car. InsideEVs. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://insideevs.com/news/340502/heres-seven-reasons-why-electric-vehicles-will-kill-the-gas-car/

Gearino, D. (2020, July 31). Electric cars will cost same as gas models as soon as 2023, researchers say. KQED. Retrieved January 30, 2021 from https://www.kqed.org/science/1967914/electric-cars-will-cost-same-as-gas-models-as-soon-as-2023-researchers-say

Hawkins, A.J. (2020, October 8). Amazon unveils its new electric delivery vans built by Rivian. The Verge. Retrieved January 31, 2021 from https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/8/21507495/amazon-electric-delivery-van-rivian-date-specs

Idaho National Laboratory. (n.d.). How do gasoline & electric vehicles compare? INL. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://avt.inl.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/fsev/compare.pdf

Ingham, L. (2019, January 4). Peak car approaches: car ownership will decline after 2034. Verdict. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.verdict.co.uk/peak-car-ownership-decline-2034/

Matousek, M. (2019, September 10). Volkswagen has reportedly reached a big milestone in battery costs that would heat up its competition with Tesla. Business Insider. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/vw-electric-cars-battery-costs-versus-tesla-2019-9#

Nagel, M. (2020, September 22). From advanced diesel to hydrogen: Four ways Cummins is committed to meeting energy demands. Cummins Newsroom. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.cummins.com/news/2020/09/22/advanced-diesel-hydrogen-four-ways-cummins-committed-meeting-energy-demands

Naughton, K. and D. Welch. (2019, February 28). This is what peak car looks like: For many people, new forms of mobility are making privately owned vehicles obsolete. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-02-28/this-is-what-peak-car-looks-like

Ohnsman, A. (2020, November 16). Diesel engine giant Cummins plans hydrogen future — with trains coming before trucks. Forbes. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2020/11/16/diesel-engine-giant-cummins-plans-hydrogen-futurewith-trains-coming-before-trucks/?sh=3bb5e8266ad2

Randall, T. and H. Warren (2020, December 1). Peak oil is suddenly upon US. Bloomberg Green. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-peak-oil-era-is-suddenly-upon-us/

Reichert, E. (2017, May 11). Electric car components: gas vs. electric. NAPA. Retrieved January 31, 2021 from https://knowhow.napaonline.com/electric-car-components-gas-vs-electric/

Schmidt, B. (2020, May 22). CATL boss opens up about Tesla electric car battery deal. The Driven. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://thedriven.io/2020/05/22/catl-boss-opens-up-about-tesla-electric-car-battery-deal/

Schmidt, E. (2017, September 6). Top 12 reasons why electric cars are better than gas cars. Fleetcarma. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.fleetcarma.com/why-electric-cars-are-better-than-gas-top/

Skeptics. (n.d.). Do electric cars inherently consist of fewer parts than combustion engine cars? Stack Exchange. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/40383/do-electric-cars-inherently-consist-of-fewer-parts-than-combustion-engine-cars

Spector, J. (2020, September 22). Tesla battery day: expect battery cost to drop by half within 3 years. gtm. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/tesla-battery-day-cost-reduction-three-years

Weiland, J. and J. Walker (2017, December 6). Why peak car ownership in 2020 Isn’t So Farfetched. HuffPost. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-peak-car-ownership-in_b_12200628

Welch, C. (2021, January 22). Has the electric car’s moment arrived at last? National Geographic. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2021/01/has-electric-car-moment-arrived-at-last/

Wilson, K. (2021, January 8). Study: e-taxis increase private car ownership in many cities. StreetsBlog USA. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://usa.streetsblog.org/2021/01/08/study-e-taxis-increase-private-car-ownership-in-many-cities/

The Mobility Ecosystem: the changing landscape and the need for fresh, new ideas (Part 2: Safety, Smart Cities)

Safety

There is likely not a transportation agency or company that does not consider safety as their number one priority. This is how it should be. The very first roadway powered vehicle fatality in the United States was on September 13, 1899, when Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old local real estate dealer, was dismounting a southbound 8th Avenue trolley car in New York City when an electric-powered taxi cab struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. Bliss died from his sustained injuries the next morning (Eschner, 2017). A plaque was dedicated at the site on September 13, 1999, to commemorate the centenary of this event. It reads:

Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.

Since then, it has been a continual challenge to reduce fatalities, injuries, and property damage. Entire industries have grown up during this time (insurance, roadway policing, etc.).

More recently, while technology and autonomous vehicles hold promise to reduce and perhaps eliminate crashes, it will be many years and probably decades before a significant impact occurs. The United States alone averages 30-40,000 roadway deaths a year. Globally there are 1.35 million people annually killed on roadways around the world (3,700/day) with a $1.8 trillion economic cost in 2010 U. S. dollars (Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem, n.d.). In the meantime, efforts must continue to protect people. Within the past decade, many in the industry have set goals for zero fatalities. As an example, one of these is Houston’s Vision Zero Action Plan (Begley, 2020). The city’s plan identifies 13 “priority actions” the city is committing to take. Among them:

  • construct at least 50 miles of sidewalks annually
  • build at least 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes annually
  • evaluate road projects for options to include sidewalks, bike trails and other amenities
  • redesign 10 locations with high numbers of incidents every two years, and make those changes within the following calendar year

Additionally, the plan calls on the city to train its employees on how to talk about crashes to avoid victim-blaming or playing down safety issues. It also calls for a detailed analysis of Vision Zero’s progress to be made publicly available.

These are not particularly unique actions to improve safety, as professionals work every day—through planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, education, and collaboration—to reduce, if not eliminate, crashes and the circumstances that lead to them in an effort to keep people safe. However, “action” is the operative word just as Houston is doing.

Smart Cities and Concepts

Advances in policy, planning, partnerships, and innovation are being developed at all governmental levels in an effort to provide a framework for the public and private sectors to work in unison within an architecture to increase effective and efficient mobility. An early example of this is the Intelligent Transportation System or ITS Architecture developed by the U. S. Department of Transportation in conjunction with many partners and issued in 2001.

There are a number of concepts that can and have been referred to as “Smart Cities” or “Smart City Concepts”. These have evolved especially during the technology revolution of the past two decades. This list is far from exhausting the myriad concepts or disciplines. The following discusses some of these disciplines and concepts, in no particular order, and none fit neatly within one topic.

Some disciplines in these concepts:

  • Strategic Planning. This is the starting point for virtually everything else. It is, of course, preceded by the necessary outreach, listening, team building, and collaboration needed to build a strategy.
  • Performance Metrics. Tracking progress toward meeting the goals imbedded within the strategic plan is equally important. Any plan becomes useless without progress toward obtaining it and performance metrics provide that tool to measure progress.
  • Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV). Driven by rapidly developing technologies, CAV primarily provides more capacity from infrastructure, essentially reducing costs and improving safety.
  • Clean Energy—Maturing Alternative Fuel Technologies. The Industrial Age and resulting pollution and climate change that resulted have demanded clean energy in all its forms—solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cell, and electricity. Electricity is currently most dominant.
  • Electrification. As electricity emerges as the clean energy fuel, vehicle manufactures and governments are rapidly moving forward to increase electric vehicle use and reduce carbon-based vehicle use. The Governor of California has mandated no new internal combustion vehicle sales within California after 2035 while electric vehicle use continues to rise, and many states and communities are encouraging their use with supporting infrastructure. California has led many areas in the mobility space so this is one to watch.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Recently, the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins is developing hydrogen fuel cell engines that they believe will be efficient and compete favorably with electricity for heavy vehicles such as buses, heavy trucks, and trains.
  • Mobility as a Service/Mobility on Demand. Mobility as a Service, or MaaS, also known as Transportation as a Service, provides services typically with a joint digital channel that enables users to plan, book, and pay for trips. This is part of a more global shift from personally-owned vehicles to mobility provided as a service. Micro-mobility and micro-transit are also emerging (Regional transportation study suggests ‘’micro-transit’, 2020).
  • Car and Ride Sharing. Car and ride sharing has been around for decades, but the technology of recent years has allowed it to become much more effective and efficient as evidenced by the rise of Lyft and Uber.
  • Increasing Biking, Scooters, and Pedestrian Mobility. In recent years as a means to reduce car usage especially in metropolitan areas, bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and scooter/bicycle rentals are increasing. These have the ability to also improve health while reducing congestion and increasing the capacity of infrastructure.
  • Big Data. This is the best of continuous improvement. Virtually every organization has legacy systems of data, physical (e.g. file cabinets) or electronic (e.g. servers or the cloud). For a variety of reasons, these data have resided in ”silos” and are not easily accessed and analyzed from broader, more complex perspectives. New technologies and related tools are now allowing “big data” to be accessed and analyzed with resulting increases in efficiency and performance.
  • Risk. Risk has always existed and is dominant in mega and giga projects as evidenced in projects such as the California High Speed Rail. While private companies have had risk management programs for years, the most recent federal transportation act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or “FAST Act,” 2015) requires states to have a risk management program. Using different tools to anticipate potential challenges (e.g. lost revenues) as well as opportunities (e.g. lost opportunities to increase revenues), these tools allow proactive development of strategies to mitigate and address the challenges as they occur vice the turmoil and problems associated with surprises. Of course this does not eliminate surprises termed “black swans” but these tools do significantly reduce most risks.
  • Resilience. Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, connecting people, enhancing quality of life, and promoting health and safety. But climate change is revealing infrastructure vulnerabilities (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020). Like risks, resiliency or the lack of it, has always existed. As our built environment has increased, come into conflict with, and impacted the natural environment, the demand for protecting the built environment has increased. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Lindsey, 2020) estimates a sea level rise of one foot to 8.2 feet by 2100. The variables are such that it is impossible to project more precisely. These apparently man-induced climate changes have increased hurricanes, other storms, coastal erosion, flooding, and other events that erode or destroy man-made structures including roads and bridges. This has demanded more resilient infrastructure through better materials, protective structures, relocation to less exposed areas, improved construction practices, and others (Parsons, 2020). One of the more recent efforts to improve the built-natural environment coexistence is the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” (https://ewn.el.erdc.dren.mil/).
  • Environment. This discipline, like other disciplines, interacts together. As living beings, we depend on and are part of the natural environment. Thus, while risk and resilience are critical to the built environment, the healthy functioning of the natural environment is essential to our well-being. There is general recognition that climate change, biological diversity, populations, species loss and other insidious environmental impacts are undermining the natural world on which life (including humans) depends. (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020; UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, 2019; Bongaarts, 2019; Duckett, 2020; Sofia, et al, 2020; Kann, 2020). There are emerging lab cultured meats that may reduce greenhouse gases 20-30 percent, slaughtering of 80 billion animals a year, improve land use, and reduce creation and transmission of diseases such as coronavirus. In the end we must take care of our natural environment. There is an increasing demand for the transportation/mobility space to not only mitigate but improve the natural environment. While many techniques are not new, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” increases the attention to the importance and techniques to live well within and take care of the natural environment.
  • Internet of Things (IoT). This is technology taken to a high level. There is increasing demand for seamless mobility and IoT provides tools to achieve that future. As the title of this blog infers (The Mobility Ecosystem), the IoT allows an increasing emphasis on a “systems perspective” of our lives. Technology is allowing us to not only see the mobility ecosystem more clearly but how to improve its performance in all of its myriad impacts and relations…economic, social, environmental etc. (Joshi, 2020).

Some Smart City Concepts

  • Incentivize High Density Development. Our society has seen in an ebb and flow in regards to this concept—rural agriculture migrating to cities during industrialization, migrations to suburbs during metropolitan growth, migrations to more rural areas with increased opportunities for remote work, and a return to metropolitan areas primarily for work. This latter has dramatically increased traffic congestion and no one likes that. So, metropolitan areas are employing solutions to address this issue, such as providing incentives for high density development, not only of businesses, but housing and support services such as health care and  grocery stores that are within walking distance. Due to population densities in European and Asian metropolitan areas, high density development has been occurring for some time. The United States is a much younger country so, we can learn from looking at their experience.
  • Incentivize Core Downtown Development by Charging Fees for Increases in Traffic. This is more of a technique than a concept. Nonetheless, charging fees for development that results in traffic increases can be a powerful tool while developing downtown areas, reducing traffic congestion, and increasing pedestrian/bicycle/scooter traffic.
  • Electrify Transportation: While electrification is a discipline, its application to traffic is considerable and is rapidly occurring. The economics driving this are discussed in a later post in this series.
  • Use More Shared and Connected Transportation. While shared transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and used by many, especially millennials, there is little question that these and other providers will continue to expand. Connected transportation is beginning to emerge essentially in two forms. One is connecting various modes into one seamless multimodal transportation system, largely through technology. The other is by linking buses, trucks and cars into essentially “trains of vehicles or platoons” with little or no separation (i.e. virtually or physically connected). This has the net effect of increasing the capacity of infrastructure and increasing the productivity (and safety) of vehicles.
  • Use Traffic Calming Devices that Slow Cars and Enhance Pedestrian, Bicycle, Scooter, and Transit Mobility. This is likely one of the less obvious smart city concepts. However, the use of traditional traffic lights, traffic circles, pavement markings, and signs can have the net impact of slowing cars and enhancing pedestrian, bicycle, scooter and transit mobility.
  • Adopt User-Friendly App(s) for Routing and Paying for Multimodal Trips. This may be more of a technique for increasing connected vehicle use by a user-friendly app that allows for routing and paying for multimodal trips. These are being developed in locations such as the Denver RTD.
  • Free Public Transportation. As population densities increase and the impacts are valued and assessed via more “systems thinking,” the results may be that free public transportation may be more advantageous and cost-effective than alternatives. Dunkirk France concluded that free public transportation was more advantageous and cost effective than other alternatives, and thus provide free public transportation. Kansas City, Missouri, is providing free public transportation in a one year test to determine whether to do the same.
  • Stay Healthy Streets. Making more use of streets has gone by various names including complete streets, but Stay Healthy Streets is a more recent terminology. Essentially, this concept increases the usage of roads from motorized vehicles to pedestrians, bicycles, and other micro-mobility. This can be accomplished by closing or limiting streets to vehicle access, pavement markings for bicycle lanes, etc. The cities of Seattle and Minneapolis saw increases in pedestrian and bicycle traffic during the COVID-19 Pandemic while other cities saw little or no change. The question now is whether to keep these Stay Healthy Streets or not.

The fDis Global cities of the future (fDiintelligence.com, a service of the Financial Times LTD) also offers a variety of great insights, including by competitions to identify the best practices for future global cities.

Smart Rural Concepts

In an effort to be holistic, it is appropriate to provide some discussion of Smart Rural Concepts. The needs in largely agriculture-based communities for access to hospitals, schools, jobs and other communities is equal to that of more urban communities although the challenges may vary, including longer travel distances. Nearly every element in the above discussion of Smart Cities also relate to rural areas, the need for strategic planning, clean energy, electrification, big data, resilience, 5G, ITS, variable message signs, CAV, GPS, IoT, user-friendly apps for routing, etc. One exception is that most rural communities are not burdened with traffic congestion in their downtowns so incentivizing high-density development downtown makes little sense. However, many rural communities strongly desire more downtown traffic as a perceived means of economic development. Traffic can be a two-edged sword depending on your perspective. Truck traffic routing is another area rural communities may struggle with more than more urban communities.

One of the more challenging aspects of rural areas is that 45 percent of the nation’s fatalities are on rural roads while only 19 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural areas (Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities, 2020). This warrants counter measures not usually used in more urban areas. With more than 30 people a day dying in roadway departure crashes on rural roads, inexpensive countermeasures like SafetyEdge, rumble strips, lane markings, signage, and edge lines can and are bringing that number down.

Literature Cited

Begley, Dug (2020, December 16). Houston has a plan to end road fatalities. Now the work to implement it begins. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/transportation/article/Houston-has-a-plan-to-end-road-fatalities-Now-15809563.php

Bongaarts, J. (2019, September 4). IPBES, 2019. Summary for policy makers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/padr.12283

Duckett, M.K. (2020, March 4). Nature needs us to act – now. National Geographic. Retrieved January 14 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/03/partner-content-nature-needs-us-to-act-now/

Eschner, K. (2017, September 13). Henry Bliss, America’s First Pedestrian Fatality, Was Hit By an Electric Taxi. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/henry-bliss-americas-first-pedestrian-fatality-was-hit-electric-taxi-180964852/

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or “FAST Act.” (2015, December 4). U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.transportation.gov/fastact

Joshi, N. (2020, December 16). How IoT Can Enhance Public Transportation. BBN Times. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.bbntimes.com/technology/how-iot-can-enhance-public-transportation

Kann, D. (2020, December 3). Salmon have been dying mysteriously on the West Coast for years. Scientists think a chemical in tires may be responsible. CNN. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/03/us/microplastics-tire-rubber-chemicals-killing-coho-salmon-scn/index.html

Lindsey, R. (2020, August 14). Climate Change: Global Sea Level. NOAA. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level

Parsons, J. (2020, December 16). Shoring Up for Rising Sea Levels. Engineering News-Record. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from https://www.enr.com/articles/50899-shoring-up-for-rising-sea-levels

Regional transportation study suggests ‘micro-transit’. (2020, December 11). Mid Hudson News. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://midhudsonnews.com/2020/12/11/regional-transportation-study-suggests-micro-transit/

Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem. (n.d.) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/global-road-safety/index.html

Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities. (2020, May). NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2018 Data. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://ruralsafetycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/812957.pdf

Sofia, G., E.I. Nikolopoulos, L. Slater. (2020, March 16). It’s Time to Revise Estimates of River Flood Hazards. Eos. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://eos.org/opinions/its-time-to-revise-estimates-of-river-flood-hazards

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rate ‘Accelerating.’ (2019, May 6). United Nations. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/

Will infrastructure bend or break under climate stress? (2020, June). McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Sustainability/Our%20Insights/Will%20infrastructure%20bend%20or%20break%20under%20climate%20stress/Will-infrastructure-bend-or-break-under-climate-stress_case-study.pdf

The Mobility Ecosystem: the changing landscape and the need for fresh, new ideas (Part 1: Introduction, Setting the Stage, The Future of Transportation)

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” 

― Albert Einstein

Introduction

This is the first in a series of blog posts on The Mobility Ecosystem: the changing landscape and need for fresh new ideas.

There is no one in our society who does not depend on and is impacted by mobility in its various forms. Moreover, mobility, its near-synonym transportation, and their associated agencies are increasingly responsible for helping to resolve an expanding number of issues—economic, societal, environmental, etc. While some are at the margin, others are at the core.

This narrative interweaves the perspectives and insights of multiple disciplines—engineering, economics, technology, natural, environmental and climate sciences, analytics, equity, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, business, philosophy, and history—and borrows from entire bodies of scholarship and discussions that I have sought to learn from, synthesize and build upon.

The primary reason for the title “The Mobility Ecosystem” is biomimicry, which is defined as the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. The imitation of natural biological designs or processes in engineering or invention is not new. It has existed for thousands of years and has inspired airplanes from birds flying and roads from animal trails. Recently, Netherlands-based architecture firm GG-Loop along with engineering company Arup is developing ‘Mitosis’, a modular building system created by a parametric design tool following biophilic and user-centric design principles inspired by nature (Netherlands-based firm brings biophilic regenerative architecture to urban developments, 2020). The human society development has been largely inspired or driven by the natural world. We are continuing to learn from nature in creating and saving our world from human impacts.

A more thorough review of the increasingly rich, diverse mobility literature with citations, bibliography, notes, or epigraphs is beyond the scope of this blog and is intended for a longer future article.

Mobility is emerging as a human right, literally and figuratively, and an inherent part of freedom. Governments, city builders, and communities are faced with seemingly limitless possibilities which can be both liberating and paralyzing at times—a virtual smorgasbord.

Setting the Stage

There is general recognition that mobility, broadband, and cloud services are the 21st Century infrastructure. Infrastructure development (physical and digital) is a catalyst for economic development and jobs. There is a universal dislike of traffic congestion, fuels and technologies are changing, and personal vehicle ownership has begun to decline. These trends and others are part of what is emerging as transportation or mobility as a service, are changing our world, and collectively incorporate many of the aspects of this blog series.

It is impossible to identify a point in time when technology began to emerge. It pretty well parallels the evolution of humankind. While the real shift to digital technology began with the launch of the first personal computers in the 1970s, the fielding of the first Apple iPhone in 2007 was a dramatic advance in technology. With that event, the rate of change and demand for collaboration and technology increasingly accelerated, act synergistically, and offer the potential to improve safety, the economy, the environment, society, and people’s lives.

The Future of Transportation

The future of transportation may be reflected in the incoming Biden-Harris Administration priorities of defeating the COVID-19 Pandemic, economic recovery, racial equality, and climate change. Within those priorities are some likely Biden-Harris Administration transportation priorities as reflected by John Porcari, former Deputy Secretary of Transportation and member of the Biden-Harris Administration Transition Team.

  1. Safety
  2. Technology
  3. Climate Change
  4. Resilience
  5. Transit and passenger rail

Trends and issues on the horizon involve revisionist urban systems and identifying tangible, integrated solutions that exceed the status quo’s diminishing returns. The ability to envision and improve communities, public spaces, networks, and services is critical to influencing the path ahead.

FIGURE 1. A safe, seamless multimodal transportation or mobility system.

What’s needed? A truly safe, seamless, multimodal 21st century transportation system for the movement of people and goods (Figure 1).  The future is exciting, limitless, and rapidly changing. These are tenants for the mobility ecosystem.

  1. Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
  2. Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
  3. Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, transport
  4. Society: mobility is emerging as a human right; equity, social justice, equality, mobility for the under served
  5. Environment: environmental justice for all is emerging as a human right; improve air, land, and water
  6. Costs: reduce overall costs
  7. Time: reduce travel time
  8. Support: leverage advancing technologies, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems

The above eight tenants and the contents of this blog do not supplant the process of good, sound planning, project development, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these tenants also do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessment of infrastructure condition and their associated scope and cost, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, 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.

Literature Cited

Netherlands-based firm brings biophilic regenerative architecture to urban developments. (2020, November 16). Construction Canada. https://www.constructioncanada.net/netherlands-based-firm-brings-biophilic-regenerative-architecture-to-urban-developments/

One Seamless Transportation System 3.0: 7 Tenants for the Future

The future of transportation/mobility is about leadership. Seven tenants to improve this include:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

– Socrates

Transportation and Mobility: Past, Present, Future

Setting the stage: a brief history

Transportation and transportation infrastructure (heretofore referred to simply as mobility) have been around since the beginning of humans. In fact, the history of people and civilization could be told in terms of mobility. Mobility allowed our species to move out of Africa and around the world in roughly 50,000 years (starting around 60,000-80,000 years ago and completing this global journey around 15,000 years ago). Early components included walking on animal trails and along waterways (rivers, lakes, and ocean), increasingly large and sophisticated floating craft (boats, canoes, ships, and others), and animals domesticated to increase transport (horses, alpacas, camels, and others) over larger and larger expanses. The invention of the wheel (and associated axle) appears to date back to about 5,000 years ago and was a milestone that has resulted in vehicles of increasing size and capability ever since. For at least the last few thousand years virtually all of the mobility system developed based on available data, mathematics, and trial and error. Over time, these components have evolved into an increasingly sophisticated mobility system. The Apian Way allowed the Roman Empire to travel and dominate much of the known world. The Silk Road and others increasingly expanded trade and cultural exchange over vast areas of the globe.

Our forefathers had a great interest in roads, particularly in a “National Road” to connect the emerging United States of America. What eventually became the National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road, Cumberland Pike, National Pike, and Western Pike) was created by an Act of Congress in 1806 and signed into law by President Thomas Jefferson. In many ways, it was an early precursor to the Interstate Highway System. The Act was revolutionary and called for a road connecting the waters of the Atlantic with those of the Ohio River. Federal funding began in Cumberland, Maryland. The predecessors of the National Road included buffalo trails, Native American footpaths, Washington’s Road, and Braddock’s Road. The latter two were developed over part of the Nemacolin Trail, an Indian pathway, as part of the British campaign to evict the French from the forks of the Ohio River. Congress paid for the National Road, in part, by establishing a “2 percent fund” derived from the sale of public lands for the construction of roads through and to Ohio. Construction took longer than expected and the costs of maintenance were underestimated. As a result, tolls were eventually collected to pay for maintenance. To this day underestimating the cost of maintenance is likely true in many states and communities.

In 1919, Oregon was the first to develop a reliable funding mechanism—the fuel tax—which has been the primary funding mechanism for roads and bridges. By 1929, all states had a fuel tax. It was not until 1956, that the federal government created a federal fuel tax—Federal Highway Trust Fund— to pay for construction (not maintenance) of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System. As of December 2007 (“Peters Quick Action” in Better Roads), the U. S. Secretary of Transportation reported that 40 percent of the Federal Highway Trust Fund is used for other purposes. While much of the first half of the 20th Century was spent “getting out of the mud”, the 50 years subsequent to 1956 were spent building and maintaining the interstate highway system under the responsibility of state departments of transportation. In large part, the 21st Century appears to be ushering in an era of system preservation, due largely to inadequate funding.

As indicated earlier, data for improving mobility is not new and it is reflected in virtually every aspect of the mobility ecosystem. These include engine oil diagnostics which serve to extend engine life, data-based preventative maintenance checks and services and scheduled services for all types of vehicles, data-based structural and functional capacities of roads and bridges, data-based pavement management systems, data-based bridge management systems, data-based needs assessments and estimated costs for repair and replacement of infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, runways, etc), data-based asset management for determining priorities of spending within and between modes, analytic tools such as life-cycle costs, return on investments, and many others. In fact, it would be difficult to identify an element of the mobility ecosystem that is not or cannot be managed by data. Of course, this requires good data and that does not always exist. There are many examples of entities that attempt management without good data that is fairly analyzed and with actionable outputs.

In 2007, the first iPhone was fielded, and this serves to mark the beginning of a new era, one driven largely by rapidly evolving digital technology but other elements as well. These elements include other technologies and increasing demand for collaboration. While 2007 was not the beginning it is convenient to view it as an inflection point, especially for mobility. The United States is, and has been, a leader in mobility and that has been a significant multiplier in building our nation’s strong economy.

While much of the rest of the world has lagged behind the United States in the mobility space, it is rapidly catching up. Two examples are China’s “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.

Introduction

Transportation is the aging term. Mobility reflects the emerging mobility ecosystem and marketplace. This ecosystem is at an inflection point coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT) and new ways of thinking in the 21st Century. It is an exciting time, with more changes in the next 10 years than perhaps the previous 100, driven by increasing demand for technology and collaboration. It is not an overstatement that today’s new gadgets are tomorrow’s antiques.

While some things will remain the same, this new mobility ecosystem will move inextricably forward as it evolves. We’ll increasingly think and speak in terms of one seamless, connected, efficient, user-friendly, intuitive, multimodal mobility system. Over time we will speak less in terms of buying and owning vehicles, “hard” infrastructure without embedded technology and planning individual modes to get where we want to go. Moreover, this new emerging mobility ecosystem will better connect one global community and economy, with all of its challenges, risks, and opportunities.

In short, mobility is being reimagined.

Current Situation

The mobility ecosystem is complex if it is anything. Modes vary across the world. These modes and some components include planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, transit providers of all types, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, airports, marine/lake/river ships, roads, rail, bridges, marine and freshwater ports, dredging to enable navigable ports and rivers, pipelines, public safety providers, governance in both the public and private sectors, and many others. These provide us access to jobs, medical care, food, fuel, emergency response, vacations, and many others. The size and capacity of many vehicles are growing increasingly from large to gigantic in an effort to gain economies of scale in moving people and goods as much of the supporting infrastructure races to keep up.

Using the United States as a yardstick, the first half of the 20th Century was marked by increasing motorized road, rail, air, and river and blue water conveyance. The second half of the 20th Century was marked by improvements in all areas of conveyance but largely by the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Simplistically, these can be referred to as the motorized conveyance era and Interstate era, respectively. I think it is important to note that the Interstate era also increased the emphasis on safety in an effort to decrease losses in lives and property. This is critical and continues to this day, as it should.

According to historian Jonathan Kenoyer, the concept of using a valueless “technology” instrument to represent transactions dates back 5,000 years, when the Mesopotamians used clay tablets to conduct trade with the Harappan civilization. While cumbersome, a slab of clay with seals from both civilizations certainly beat the tons of copper each of which had to be melted down to produce coins. Fast forward to the mid 20th Century, the Diners Club Card was the first credit card in widespread use by 1951. American Express introduced the first plastic card in 1959. Within five years, one million American Express cards were in use. In the 1950s-1960s my father, who worked for DX Oil Company, talked about them working on a card that could be used to pay for gas and enable self-service dispensing of fuel. The card became one of the ubiquitous credit cards. While credit cards have been upgraded over time to include passwords, security codes, and chips, today’s technology changes at increasingly rapid rates (the iPhone with its camera, GPS, apps and other associated technologies is just one example).

With the rapid advances in technology in the early 21st Century, the opportunities for mobility to be reimagined has never been greater and this has only just begun.

New technologies do not have to function on their own and frequently do not. For example, Iteris and Lindsay Corporation recently announced a smart work zone collaboration, leveraging the existing Lindsay Road Zipper for placing concrete jersey barriers and the industry-leading technology of Iteris. This collaboration promises to improve safety while getting more capacity at a lower cost with existing infrastructure. This also holds promise, on a temporary or permanent basis, for real-time lane reconfiguration in separating today’s traffic from autonomous and connected vehicles.

Currently, much of the mobility ecosystem is siloed to protect proprietary interests, growth, and profits. Silos must be broken down to achieve one efficient, connected, and seamless mobility system focused on the movement of people and goods, not vehicles alone. This can require a significant change in mindset.

New models and methodologies are developing. The emerging 5G coming out in 2019 is estimated to be 100 times faster than current mobile technologies, have more capacity, and dramatically reduce power consumption and communication response times. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing, driven partly by more effectively “mining data” such as IBM’s Watson. Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) has undergone dramatic growth in recent years in an increasing number of markets. Fully autonomous vehicles have arrived although it will likely take longer to have a significant impact than many have projected. Semiautonomous vehicles are increasingly mainstream as manufacturers add new technologies. Final destination methodologies are increasingly deployed whether through mobility as a service, Amazon, FedEx, ridesharing (Uber, Lyft, and others), high-speed transport such as high-speed rail, Hyperloop, and others. Finally, we are on the cusp of technology providing “one-stop shops”, such as Expedia does for airlines and hotels, for simple, connected, seamless, user-friendly trips for people. This has been ongoing in the primarily private sector-based freight industry which is driven by economies of scale, efficiency, and profit. Business to business has recognized for a long time the value of breaking down silos in spite of their need to protect their proprietary interests, growth, and profit. The public sector is more dominant in the movement of people and they seem to struggle more in breaking down silos, in part, to protect public interests including personal data and privacy. Breaking down the silos between public, private, and public and private entities, makes the task of creating one mobility ecosystem enormous. Still, this is an opportunity as the demand for collaboration increases to provide more efficient, cost-effective, environmentally and economically sustainable mobility for the movement of people and goods. This has become a quality of life issue for our planet and our global society.

Reimagining Mobility

Some elements

The future will be what we make it. It will likely be messy, and no one has the answers. The Transportation Research Board 2019 report on Critical Issues in Transportation reflects a smorgasbord of issues, challenges, and opportunities. The report states, “Changes are coming at transportation from all directions, including potentially revolutionary technologies such as drones and automated vehicles, rapid innovations in urban transportation services, unreliable funding for infrastructure and operations, and possible changes in national policies affecting trade, climate, environmental protection, and sources of energy. The potential consequences of these changes could make future congestion, fuel consumption, and emissions either markedly better or markedly worse. Correspondingly, these potential changes could positively or adversely affect commercial truck, rail, aviation, and waterborne networks, with significant implications for the delivery of goods and services, personal travel, and the economy.” What will likely not change is the general systematic process for developing vehicles and infrastructure—planning, design, construction, manufacturing, operations, maintenance.

Despite concerns over privacy, identifying travel patterns is important. Technology has enhanced our ability to do this enabling plans and designs to be developed for improvements.

Sharing data is another important component. How? Simple vehicle/people trackers are available and used while protecting privacy.

Gaining trust is critical and that takes time. This is also easily lost, and everyone must stay mindful of how important this is for the system to work properly, even efficiently. The technology should include the ability for the user to turn the location off unless it has potential safety risks or system impacts which may relate to safety and/or efficiency.

So, what’s in it for me? This has the potential to reduce costs financially and environmentally while improving the overall quality of life, decrease travel time, increase the efficiency of the system, maintain and/or increase the profits of data collectors/owners.

A determination should be made of what is the proprietary in both the public and private spheres.

What are some drivers in reimagining mobility? These include reducing costs for users and the environment, reducing congestion, increasing the capacity of existing infrastructure, reducing travel times, and increasing safety.

What are some obstacles? Privacy continues to dominate, including as an issue in exploring a replacement for the fuel tax such as the vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT) initiated by the State of Oregon. Fielding is another issue. How do you efficiently field new technologies into a fleet of varying types and ages? That is likely messy and will require a long transition. Consolidation, analysis and meaningful output is likely another obstacle. Collecting data is only useful if it can provide meaningful outputs. While 5G will greatly enhance rates, the overall capacity of the system is a predictable obstacle to include adequate data storage capacity. Data centers being developed by Facebook, Microsoft and others may be examples of what will be needed to accommodate this new, emerging mobility ecosystem.

How to Move Forward

Finding a framework is key for the needed public-private partnership to develop. The Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) architecture developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) may be a good model. This architecture attempts to define a system of governance and key architectural elements that must be met by participants, public or private, while not being overly prescriptive. This can be a fine line to walk. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) is a consortium that continues to bring the public and private sectors together to augment USDOT in developing and deploying emerging technologies. In 2019 the Transportation Research Board published the results of a three year study on the future of the interstate highway system, originally planned for a 50 year life, that made several recommendations including that its future should be modeled after the original interstate approach, adjusting the federal fuel tax to the original 90 percent federal share, creation of an Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program (RAMP), increasing the federal fuel tax to a level commensurate with the federal share required of the RAMP investment and adjusting the tax as needed for inflation and vehicle fuel economy, and with an assumption that it would be at least 2040 before large scale automation occurred. These frameworks of governance have worked in the past and there is every reason to believe they will work in the future. It is critical that the federal and state governments, and their conventions such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), lead the way.

It is important to tie this effort to safety, congestion reduction, climate change, resilience, security, economics, quality of life, health, business, asset management including the true costs of travel and supporting infrastructure, sustainability, and overall system performance. This also has the potential to improve other associated elements to include social justice, equity, diversity, increased access, reduced energy consumption, and others. Reimagining mobility has the potential to improve all of these.

In a mobility ecosystem, everything is related to everything else and the progression to it will be challenging, messy, and a long road (no pun intended). However, there are some human elements that will enhance, if not be critical to, success. These include being resilient, collaborative, maintaining a focus on the big picture goal, not getting stuck or lost in the details, and continuing to leverage emerging technologies.

Transportation and Infrastructure Executive Daily Operations: a Generic Outline and Primer

Executive leadership requires a complete and evolving set of tools, including maintaining a big picture perspective and delving into details as necessary. This spectrum of leadership, management, and oversight manifests itself in daily activities. As such, I have borrowed from my own experience in developing the generic outline below for conducting daily activities. Every person develops their own unique daily routines. Thus, I emphasize that this is simply a generic outline and primer based on my own experience.

Leadership Style

People-Based, Results-Driven

A basic premise

Opportunity + Preparation = Success

Personnel Management

People-based: You lead people and manage things, but it is all about people: first who, then what (Good to Great).

  • “feedback loops” and continuous improvement
  • trust
  • relationships
  • collaboration
  • alignment
  • humility
  • listening
  • common courtesy
  • consistent communication

What’s most important? Employees. Select the right people, set the right expectations, provide the right tools and training, provide opportunities, help them succeed and develop leaders. They will take care of the clients. “We listen, we solve.”

Overall, set the vision, values, direction, culture, priorities, and coach within a framework where people can flourish.

Results-driven

  • “feedback loops” and continuous improvement
  • strategic plan: goals and performance measures
  • the future of transportation is at a “tipping point”
    • public-private partnerships (ramped up collaboration)
    • digital technology revolution

Daily Operations

  • “feedback loops” and continuous improvement
  • outreach to employees, clients, client’s clients, stakeholders and partners
  • ensure trust/relationships
  • ensure collaboration
  • leverage emerging technologies
  • ensure alignment
  • identify issues, problems, obstacles and fix them: continuous improvement

Goals

  • routine goals:
    • ensure linkage to strategic/long-term and near-term goals
    • balance everything against risks
    • do an assessment of employees, new and existing clients, stakeholders and partners
  • new goals to consider:
    • expand market share with existing clients…understand client interests and issues, win work, exceed expectations, repeat clients
    • develop new clients and expand transportation (roads, bridges, rail, transit, aviation, ports etc), through planning, design, construction management, CEI, program and project management, and other services as the preferred provider, including through staff augmentation
    • be a tier 1 provider of planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, and support services
    • build image-increase visibility with various interests, including existing and new clients-legislatures, city councils, county commissions, transportation commissions, dots, aeronautics/airports, economic developers and departments, emergency management, AGC/contractors, ACEC/consultants, ASCE, AASHTO, ARTBA, ITSA, ATA, APWA, PMI, IHEEP, universities/colleges, MPOs, ACO/counties, LOM/cities, UP, BNSF, short line railroads, USDOT, FHWA, FAA, FTA, FRA, USACE, and others
    • assess the efficacy of acquisitions/mergers
    • support and collaborate with other line business sectors
    • monitor and assist growing bridge programs…design and construction
    • assess the efficacy of alternative delivery…DB, CMGC, PPP
    • assess economic stimulus of work…jobs created, taxes generated, spending/re-spending, etc
    • prepare, emphasize and execute sustainability across all business sectors
    • explore/expand:
      • teaming with contractors, consultants, and others-collaborate to win business
      • efficacy of targeted acquisitions/mergers
      • efficacy of new markets

The world is changing and we must change with it. Traditional engineering and construction are not enough.

Commit to the success of team, organization, clients, partners, and stakeholders.

Good to Great by Jim Collins, 2001, HarperBusiness, NY

One Seamless Transportation System 2.0—Refections on Mobility

Introduction

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!

Owner’s Readiness

An owner’s readiness to the success or failure of projects is not limited to major projects as described by Prieto (PM World Journal, Volume III, Issue 1, January 2014, entitled “Owner’s Readiness Index”) although this provides a useful background for discussion. Experience suggests risks to all projects unless certain owner elements are in place to enable project success. I will briefly touch upon some of these elements.

These elements are structured in the following areas.

  • Owner readiness with respect to clearly articulated strategic business objectives.
  • Owner readiness with respect to a clearly articulated decision framework and process.
  • Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution.

Owner readiness with respect to strategic business objectives

Vulnerabilities can unwittingly enter owner readiness like any human-designed system. This can especially be true when owners lack project experience and attempt to manage myriad relationships that are so complex that they can defy thorough understanding. There are several dimensions to this shortcoming to include:

  • Poorly defined or articulated vision, mission and objectives.
  • Inadequate alignment between various partners including elected officials, appointed officials, interest groups, planners and executors, the public and similar or corresponding partners in the private sector.
  • Inadequate communication and support of the “intent” to include the vision, mission and objectives.

Thinking through a strategy with clearly defined objectives requires experience. If this is not done well from the beginning then the project is at risk and the likelihood of failure increases. This is made increasingly complicated since many owner partnerships with differing agendas may be involved. Public sector partnerships might include federal, state and local elected and appointed officials, planners and executors, interest groups and private sector expertise as an extension of the public workforce. A similar collection of partnerships may exist with private sector owners.

While alignment and buy-in are essential to the success of any project, this is greatly facilitated by strong leadership and direction. Moreover, the strategy, to include the strategic business objectives, must be continuously communicated and supported. This greatly impacts maintaining alignment.

Inadequate focus on the strategy and strategic business objectives also allows biases to enter the process, causing increased risks to include delays, uncertainty and confusion. The assumption that there is a shared understanding of the strategy and strategic business objectives may result in suboptimal performance, delays and even failure.

Owner’s readiness with respect to decision framework and process

Planning and execution frameworks and processes greatly impact project success. As such, owners must have a secure grasp on these frameworks to provide stability and direction through the processes. These include but are not limited to:

  • Business model and scenarios with regards to the project.
  • Governance structure that provides clear leadership, accountability, alignment and confidence in the strategy.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities to include an approval matrix and constraints. Executive involvement must be defined as a part of this without inhibiting the initiative of planners and executors.
  • Phasing and who needs to be involved at each phase.
  • Process clarity and timing to include approvals.

Decision frameworks and processes are key dimensions of an owner’s readiness. As such, owners must have a secure handle on them to provide stable and confident leadership and direction. As with the strategy and strategic business objectives, an assumption that there is a shared understanding can be a significant risk to project success.

Owner readiness with respect to planning and execution

The owner’s organization must have a clearly defined capability to provide oversight of project implementation, to include planning and execution. This includes:

  • An ability to assess his or her own project team’s performance, partly to ensure they are enabling contractors and consultants to implement the project efficiently and effectively while not duplicating efforts or erecting barriers to success.
  • Ensure reports on project progress are efficiently provided to partners and stakeholders.
  • Ensure that the project is in compliance with the scope, schedule and budget and clearly defined in the contract and as augmented by other administrative requirements.
  • Ensure that plans and execution approaches are aligned and staffed with individuals with the right competencies to achieve the strategic business objectives. Plans should support required owner approvals and associated processes.

Summary

The owner’s strategy for a successful project must be supported by strong leadership and a transparent and clear business strategy. A shared understanding of the strategy, strategic business objectives, decision framework and process, planning and execution is key to project success. The assumption that a shared understanding exists puts a project at significant risk.

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

– Confucius

Some Common Causes of Program Failures

Throughout complex, long-duration mega-programs, changes occur, many between the “white spaces”. That is events, activities and risks that are not specifically identified and addressed. Some of these might include changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in staffing, changes in politics, reinterpretation of contracts, and others. The following is a list of common causes for program, or project, failures and problems.

  1. Inadequate leadership
  2. Inadequate planning
  3. Inadequate relationships, trust, engagement and alignment
  4. Inadequate or dysfunctional organization, including lack of needed skill sets
  5. Inadequately prepared client, stakeholders, partners and/or program manager
  6. Inadequate culture of accountability, responsibility and authority (for decision-making)
  7. Inadequate communications
  8. Inadequate feedback loops, reports and reporting
  9. Inadequate quality control/ assurance plans, execution and/or not inculcated throughout the organization
  10. Inadequate team, defined roles, responsibilities and buy-in
  11. Critical path not identified and followed
  12. Performance metrics not adequately used
  13. Scope does not reflect realities of the program and/or scope creep
  14. Schedule does not reflect realities of the program
  15. Budget does not reflect realities of program
  16. Issues not aggressively resolved
  17. Inadequate continuous improvement, change management, lessons-learned and good practices
  18. Inadequate and/or continuous training, including safety culture
  19. Failure to identify, assess and manage risks
  20. Failure to allow for changes in technology
  21. Inadequate program closeout

This list is not intended to be comprehensive, so please add to it based on your own experience.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”

– Henry Ford

Transportation Asset Management

The essence of asset management is to better prioritize resources to optimize outcomes, basically institutionalizing a business-like approach to managing infrastructure. This is not so-called “rocket science”. It is simply what any organization, public or private, should be doing to best use its resources in achieving desired results for its customers and stockholders, whether referred to as asset management or not. To my knowledge, no organization has sufficient resources to do everything it needs or wants to do. Thus, a systematic approach of setting priorities must take place—asset management.

In the bigger picture, asset management is an extension of engineering economics. Utilized for over a hundred years, engineering economics has, and continues to be, a primary means for decision-making for infrastructure development. The ability to retain, retrieve, and analyze increasing amounts of data in recent decades has enabled evidence-based decision-making on a network scale. Made possible by computer and digital technology, other “big picture” analyses are increasingly emerging to include the discipline of sustainability that facilitates decision-making between economic, social and environmental realms.

Every public and private body is under increasing pressure to justify investment and that it is making best use of its resources. It is tempting to generate an office of asset management in addressing these pressures. However, inculcating an asset management approach requires a cultural change where the entire team thinks in more holistic terms on how to better utilize resources to optimize outcomes.

Many organizations have developed a strategic approach that identifies better allocation of resources for the management, operations, preservation and enhancement of infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future customers and stockholders. As an example, in the mid-1990s the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) formed an Asset Management Committee. I was privileged to serve as Vice Chair and Chair. Within a short period of time, the entire transportation industry in the United States recognized the value of asset management and has been refining processes ever since.

At about this same time, the value of performance measures was emerging in conjunction with asset management. There are essentially four traditional elements of asset management that interact:

  1. Performance measures (what target is desired and achievable)
  2. Asset:
    1. Inventory
    2. Condition
    3. Utilization
    4. Value in dollars
  3. Life-cycle cost prediction
  4. Agency or organization cost
  5. User cost
  6. Trade-off analysis and investment strategies (by combining the above to produce an optimized budget)

An example of asset manage, while Director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, determined that the optimal allocation of resources in a broad sense (including budget) was:

  1. Critical bridges
  2. System preservation
  3. New capital investments

Asset management is quite literally the best of continuous improvement. That process never ends. An account of the full collection of resources must be pursued. Some are visible and some are not. This is a partial list of assets commonly owned by transportation agencies:

  • roads, including for all modes
  • trails
  • bridges, including vehicle and pedestrian
  • public transportation assets and systems, including buses and trains
  • culverts and drainage structures and systems
  • other structures such as sound walls
  • signs of all kinds
  • lighting and electrical systems
  • heating and air conditioning systems
  • buildings, including for people, equipment and materials
  • airports and aircraft
  • waterborne ferry systems and craft
  • land
  • roadside vegetation
  • rest stops and visitor centers
  • rail grade crossings
  • traffic control signals, devices and systems
  • changeable message boards, fixed and portable
  • vehicles
  • equipment to include heavy wheeled and track, construction and maintenance, snow and ice, mowing
  • materials of all kinds
  • tools of all kinds
  • intelligent transportation systems
  • intelligent infrastructure systems
  • transportation management centers
  • information systems, including software and hardware
  • data of all kinds
  • economic impacts
  • environmental impacts, including aesthetics and views
  • societal impacts, including access for the disabled
  • user impacts, including to traffic and safety
  • human resources

There are other resources so feel free to add to this list. They must all be managed in an asset management framework to make best use of available resources and to optimize outcomes. This is what customers and stockholders expect.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

– Mark Twain